Port and Sherry are two popular types of dessert wines. Even if you don’t have a sweet tooth, there’s a dessert wine out there for you. There is such a wide variety of styles and sweetness levels, you’re bound to find something you like eventually — you just have to keep trying them all!
What is the difference between Port and Sherry?
Are Sherry and Port the same thing?
Port and Sherry are both fortified wines. Some of these wines are sweet because the grapes are picked very ripely. Sometimes the grapes are left on the vine to either dry out or freeze which concentrates the sugars and flavours. Others have alcohol added at some point during production. Understanding the differences and similarities in the styles is one important step in figuring out what kinds of wines you like to drink.
What is Fortified Wine?
Wines that have alcohol added to them are called fortified wines. A base wine is started and at some point during the production process, alcohol is added. Sherry and Port fall under the category of Fortified Wines. Read here to learn more about fortified wines and how they are made.
What is Sherry?
Sherry vs Port – What makes a Sherry a Sherry?
Sherry is a dessert wine from Spain. It comes in a variety of different styles, ranging from dry to quite sweet. Sherry uses white grapes for the base wine. Usually, Sherry is made using the Palomino grape variety, but you’ll sometimes see PX (Pedro Ximénez) used. Alcohol is added after fermentation which means Sherry is dry when fortified, however, after the ageing process is complete Sherry can be sweetened. It is aged in old barrels using the solera system (think: a pyramid of barrels) which blends young wines with older wines.
How is Sherry Made?
There are specific production processes, regions and grapes varieties used for of each type of Sherry. Here is a brief description of each different style of Sherry and how it is made:
Types of Sherry
Dry, light to medium-bodied and pale in colour with about 15% abv (alcohol by volume). Because of the production method, Fino Sherry has notes of pastry as well as citrus and nutty flavours. Consume young (do not cellar) and serve chilled.
Pale Cream Sherry is a Fino Sherry that has been sweetened.
A regional-specific Fino-style Sherry made only in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Drier than Fino Sherry with more intense, often pungent aromas. Serve chilled.
Cask-aged Fino Sherry. More grape spirit is added than with Fino Sherry. Dry, medium-bodied and deeper in colour than Fino. More intense flavours of almond and toffee. Serve slightly chilled.
Medium Sherry is an Amontillado that has been sweetened.
Fortified to 18-20% abv. Dry with rich, complex flavours of coffee, dried fruit and nuts. These Sherries have already been oxidized during production, so they will keep for a few weeks after opening. Serve at room temperature.
Oloroso Sherry that has been sweetened is called Cream Sherry
PX (Pedro Ximénez)
A very sweet Sherry made from PX grapes. The grapes are sun-dried until they are nearly raisins to concentrate sugar and flavour. PX Sherry is often used to sweeten Sherries, but may also be seen as single varietal Sherry.
What is Port?
Porto vs Sherry – What makes a Port a Port?
Port or “Porto” is a dessert wine that gets its name from the city of Oporto in Portugal. There are Port-style fortified wines from all over the world, but only Port from Portugal will have Porto on the label. Like Sherry, there are many different styles of Port with various flavours, but the one thing all Port has in common is that it is sweet. Port can get complicated, so here are the basics:
- Port most often uses red grapes for the base wine. There are over 80 different varieties that can be used in Port, but 5 are frequently used.
- Alcohol is added during fermentation which means Port is always sweet.
- Port is aged in barrel for 2 to 40+ years.
- How long the wines age and whether the wine is from a single vintage or several years are blended determines the flavours and style category of Port.
- White Port exists, but it is not nearly as common as red.
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Types of Port
If you though Sherry styles were complex, Porto has that beat by a mile! With all sorts of ageing categories, label regulations and of course, so many different grape varieties available, the styles and flavours of Port can get a little confusing. Here is a brief description on each style to help guide you through.
Ruby Style Ports
This style of Port has lots of ripe fruit flavours and is ready to drink now. It will not benefit from any further ageing in the bottle.
Non-vintage. Inexpensive. Simple, sweet, fruity.
Reserve Ruby Port
Non-vintage. Better quality. Up to 5 years barrel ageing. More complex than simple Ruby Port.
Late Bottled Vintage (LBV)
Similar to Reserve Ruby Port, but the grapes are from a single vintage (although not usually the very best vintages). Full-bodied and intense fruit flavour.
Vintage Character Port
Premium Ruby Port but not from a single vintage. Generally, a signature style for the winery and will be labelled with a proprietary name like “First Estate” (Taylor Fladgate), or “Six Grapes” (Graham). Rich style and good value.
Vintage Style Ports
The grapes from Vintage Ports are all from one single harvest. This style of Port spends a shorter amount of time in oak barrels before bottling and benefits significantly from bottle ageing.
The grapes from these Ports come from the best vineyards in the best vintages. Intense fruit flavour, spice and leather notes with higher tannins. They can be enjoyed young, but are best after cellaring to soften out the potentially astringent tannins.
Single Quinta Vintage Port
The grapes from Single Quinta Vintage Port come from a single estate in one vintage. Usually the very best vineyard but not necessarily the very best vintage. they are generally less expensive than vintage Port and a bit more approachable in their youth.
Tawny Style Ports
Tawny Ports have notes of caramel and are lighter in body and colour than Ruby Ports.
Non-vintage. Inexpensive. Simple fruit and toffee flavour. Sometimes White Port is added to adjust the colour.
Reserve Tawny Port
Non-vintage. Better quality. Spends minimum six years in oak. Oak ageing
Tawny Ports with Indication of Age
These are the Ports you often see in restaurants and have 10, 20, 30 or 40 on the label. The indicated age is an average, not a minimum. The blend can contain 2 year old Port or 75 year old Port as long as the average is about what is stated on the label. A bottling date will also be stamped on the label. You want to drink the wine closer to the bottling date because Tawny Port doesn’t benefit from bottle ageing. Depending on the age, the Port will have flavours of caramel, nuts, espresso, chocolate and dried fruit of varying intensity. Best served slightly chilled.
A Tawny Port from a single vintage. These Ports have their own category and are not labelled as a Vintage Port. Unlike Vintage Port, Colheita has been barrel-aged for many years before bottling.
Now that you know the difference between Sherry vs Port, here are a few recommendations to get you started on the road to discovering a style you’ll like:
JustWine Sherry Recommendations
JustWine Port Recommendations