Port Wine vs. Sherry: What’s Difference?

Are you stuck between choosing between port wine and sherry? Not sure which is best for your evening indulgence? Port Wine and Sherry are two renowned types of fortified wines, each with its unique characteristics and history. The understanding of the differences between these two wines extends beyond mere curiosity and into the realm of appreciating the rich diversity and traditions embodied in the world of wines.

In this comparison, we’ll first explore the origins, production process, and typical flavors of both Port Wine and Sherry. Afterward, we’ll delve into the distinct characteristics that set them apart, including aspects such as sweetness, the aging process, and serving suggestions. By the end of this comparison, you’ll not only appreciate the nuances of these fortified wines but also be able to make an informed choice between Port Wine and Sherry based on your preference.

What’s Port Wine?

Port Wine, often simply referred to as ‘Port,’ hails from the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal. It was named after the seaport city of Porto, where these wines were historically exported to other countries. The production of Port involves the addition of distilled grape spirit, also known as aguardiente, during fermentation. This process not only halts fermentation but also increases the alcohol content and retains the natural sweetness of the grape.

There are several varieties of Port Wine: Tawny, Ruby, White, Late Bottled Vintage (LBV), and Vintage.

  1. Tawny Ports are aged in wooden barrels, and have a nutty flavor, and a rich amber color. Ruby Ports are the most extensively produced Ports, aged for a shorter time, with a rich red color and a fruity, vibrant flavor.
  2. White Port is made from white grapes and varies from dry to very sweet.
  3. Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) Port is from a single year and is bottled between four and six years after the vintage.
  4. Vintage Port is made in exceptional years, with all the grapes from the declared vintage year.

Port Wine is typically a sweet, red, fortified wine, but it comes in dry, semi-dry, and white varieties. The key characteristics of Port Wine include its rich, fruity taste and its smooth, velvety texture. Furthermore, it boasts a higher alcohol content (typically between 19% – 22%) due to the addition of aguardiente. Another unique characteristic is its aging potential, with some high-quality vintage Ports aging gracefully for several decades.

What’s Sherry?

Sherry is a type of fortified wine made from white grapes that are grown near the town of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia, Spain. The name ‘Sherry’ is an anglicization of Xeres (Jerez). Sherry is produced in a variety of styles, ranging from light, dry versions to darker and heavier ones, and each style is characterized by its degree of oxidation during the aging process.

Sherry comes in a delightful array of varieties, such as Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Oloroso, and Pedro Ximénez.

  1. Fino is the lightest and driest type, aged under a layer of yeast known as ‘flor’ and is typically consumed soon after bottling.
  2. Manzanilla is a variety of Fino, produced in and around the port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
  3. Amontillado is a variety that has been aged first under flor, then exposed to oxygen, resulting in a wine that is darker and richer than Fino.
  4. Oloroso is oxidatively aged and is darker and richer still, while Pedro Ximénez, made from dried grapes, is intensely sweet and dark.

Sherry’s key characteristics are its complexity and variety. Sherries can be very dry or sweet, light or full-bodied, subtle or flavorful, depending on the type. They are typically higher in alcohol, ranging from 15% to 22%. Sherry wines are also known for their nutty, rich flavors, and oxidative aging process, which gives them their distinct character.

What is the Difference Between Port and Sherry?

The fundamental differences between Port and Sherry primarily hinge on grape varieties, winemaking processes, aging, and region of production.

Production Process and Aging

Port and Sherry undergo different production processes and aging. Port involves halting the fermentation process by adding distilled grape spirit, while Sherry’s fermentation is completed, with fortification occurring afterward. Aging for Port happens in bottles or wooden barrels, with some high-quality Ports aging gracefully for decades. Sherry, on the other hand, ages in a Solera system, which involves a complex fractional blending process.

Grape Varieties Used

Different grape varieties are used in the production of Port and Sherry. Port is typically made from a blend of indigenous Portuguese grape varieties, with Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, and Tinto Cão being the most common. Sherry is primarily made from the Palomino grape, although Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel grapes can also be used, particularly in sweeter styles.

Terroir and Climate

The terroir and climate substantially influence the character of both Port and Sherry. Port is produced in the rugged, hilly terrain of Portugal’s Douro Valley, known for its hot, dry summers and cold winters. The terroir of the Sherry region, on the other hand, is characterized by the Albariza soil, which is high in chalk content and ideal for grape growing. The climate of Andalusia in Spain, where Sherry is produced, is warmer and more consistent year-round.

Flavor Profiles

The flavor profiles of Port and Sherry differ notably. Port boasts rich, fruity flavors with a smooth, velvety texture, while Sherry can range from very dry to sweet, exhibiting a complexity of flavors from nutty and yeasty to rich and caramel-like, depending on the degree of oxidation and style.

Serving and Glassware

As for serving and glassware, Port is traditionally served in a port glass, slightly smaller than a standard wine glass, perfect for sipping and enjoying the wine’s rich flavors. It is usually served at room temperature. Sherry, on the other hand, is served in a copita, a small tulip-shaped glass that allows the aromas to concentrate. Fino and Manzanilla Sherries are served chilled, while Amontillado and Oloroso Sherries are served at room temperature.

Alcohol Content

Both Port and Sherry are fortified wines, meaning additional alcohol is added during the winemaking process. This results in higher alcohol content compared to most standard wines. Port typically contains an alcohol content of 19-20%, whereas Sherry can vary more widely depending on the style, ranging from 15-22%.

Tawny Port vs. Sherry

Tawny Port, aged in wooden barrels, undergoes oxidative aging that gives it a beautifully nutty, caramel flavor, and a rich amber color. The aging process can range from 10, 20, 30 to over 40 years, with the age indication on the bottle referring to the flavor profile and not the exact age of the wine. On the other hand, Sherry, specifically an Oloroso Sherry which is the closest comparison to a Tawny Port, also undergoes oxidative aging. However, it’s often aged in a Solera system, providing complex, layered flavors with a nutty, rich taste.

As for suitable occasions, Tawny Port, with its rich, smooth, and dessert-like quality, is often served after meals, making it an excellent choice for dessert or post-dinner conversations. Its sweet profile matches beautifully with a wide array of cheeses, nuts, and dessert dishes. Sherry, due to its incredible range from dry to sweet, is versatile in food pairing. Dry Sherry styles like Fino or Manzanilla are great aperitifs, pairing well with olives, nuts, and charcuterie, while richer styles like Oloroso can accompany a meal or be enjoyed post-dinner with cheese or dessert.

Taylor Port vs. Cream Sherry

Taylor Port, a popular variety of Port wine, is known for its full-bodied, fruity character, and a rich, sweet profile. It boasts robust flavors of dark fruits like blackberry and plum, often with hints of chocolate and a velvety texture. The higher sweetness level makes Taylor Port an excellent partner for strong, blue-veined cheeses like Stilton or Roquefort, as well as rich desserts like chocolate mousse or black forest cake. It is typically enjoyed as a dessert wine, perfect for sipping at the end of a meal.

Cream Sherry, on the other hand, is a sweet style of Sherry, created by blending Oloroso Sherry with Pedro Ximénez. It offers a deep, rich, and velvety palate with flavors of dried fruits, vanilla, and caramel. Its sweetness is perfectly balanced with a hint of nuttiness, making it a versatile wine. Cream Sherry pairs well with a variety of desserts, particularly those featuring chocolate, caramel, or cream. It can also accompany blue cheese and foie gras effectively. It’s a delightful choice for afternoon tea or as an after-dinner treat, served either chilled or at room temperature.

Port Wine vs. Sherry for Cooking

Both Port and Sherry are exceptional wines for cooking, imparting distinctive flavors to a wide range of dishes. Port, with its sweet, robust character, is commonly used in reduction sauces for red meats, adding depth and complexity to the dish. It also serves as an excellent base for fruit compotes and dessert sauces. Particularly, a reduction of Taylor Port can enhance the flavor of duck or venison, its sweetness complementing the gamey flavor of the meat.

Sherry, on the other hand, is a versatile cooking wine used in a multitude of dishes. Its dry variants, like Fino and Manzanilla, are great in light soups, seafood dishes, or chicken recipes, adding a subtle complexity without overpowering the dish. The richer styles, like Oloroso or Cream Sherry, can be used in stews, braises, and reductions, imparting a nutty, rich flavor to the dish. In particular, Cream Sherry is superb in dessert recipes, such as custards and trifles, where it adds a delightful hint of sweetness and depth.

Port vs. Sherry vs. Brandy vs. Cognac

Brandy and Cognac, although not wines, are often considered in the same category as Port and Sherry due to their high alcohol content. However, they are fundamentally different from these fortified wines. Brandy is a spirit made by distilling wine, and Cognac is a specific type of Brandy produced in the Cognac region of France under strict regulations.

In terms of production, Brandy and Cognac undergo a process of distillation, which involves heating the wine to create steam and then cooling it to create a concentrated spirit. This is in contrast to Port and Sherry, which are fortified during fermentation by the addition of a spirit, typically grape brandy, to halt the fermentation process and retain some of the grape’s natural sweetness.

As for flavor profiles, Brandy and Cognac, being spirits, are generally more robust than Port and Sherry. Brandy often has notes of caramel, vanilla, and fruit, while Cognac is known for its complexity and balance, with flavors ranging from flowers and fruit in younger variants to spice and rancio in older ones. Meanwhile, the flavors of Port and Sherry have been discussed in detail above, varying from the sweet, fruity richness of Port to the dry to sweet, nutty complexity of Sherry.

Lastly, when it comes to consumption, Brandy and Cognac are typically served neat or used in cocktails, and are often enjoyed as an after-dinner drink, similarly to Port. However, their high alcohol content (typically around 35-60%) and strong flavors make them less versatile in food pairing compared to Port and Sherry.


Tawny Port vs. Ruby Port

Taylor Port vs. tawny Port


Which is sweeter Port or Sherry?

The sweetness level varies within both Port and Sherry due to the different styles available. Generally, Port tends to be sweeter than Sherry, with its main varieties being Ruby, Tawny, and White Port, all of which have a sweet profile. Meanwhile, Sherry can range from dry to sweet, with styles like Fino and Manzanilla being dry and Oloroso and Cream Sherry being on the sweeter side.

Can Port be used as a substitute for Sherry in cooking?

While Port and Sherry are both fortified wines, they have distinct flavor profiles that may not make them interchangeable in certain recipes. However, it ultimately depends on the dish and personal preference. Port tends to be sweeter than most styles of Sherry, so it may not work well in savory dishes that require a dry wine. On the other hand, Sherry’s nutty and complex flavors may add an interesting depth to certain desserts or sauces.

Is Tawny classified as a Sherry or a Port?

Tawny is a style of Port, created by blending different vintages and aging the wine in wooden barrels. It has a distinct tawny or brown color, giving it its name, and offers a smooth, nutty, and slightly spicy palate. Sherry does not have a Tawny variety, but its Oloroso style can be similar in taste and appearance.

What sets Sherry apart from wine?

Sherry is a fortified wine, meaning that it undergoes a process of adding distilled spirits during fermentation to halt the fermentation process and retain some of the grape’s natural sweetness. This results in a higher alcohol content compared to regular wines.

What is the difference between a sherry glass and a port glass?

Traditionally, a sherry glass is smaller and narrower than a port glass. This is because Sherry is typically served chilled or at room temperature in small servings, while Port is often served at room temperature in larger quantities. However, nowadays, the glasses used for both wines can vary in size and shape depending on personal preference.

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Williams T. Edwards
Williams T. Edwards, the visionary founder of Williams Minneapolis, has not only shaped a vibrant and dynamic venue but has also brought his expertise in wine coolers to the forefront of the local scene. This unique establishment, with its blend of history and modernity, invites patrons to experience its welcoming ambiance, diverse beverage selection, and entertainment options. Whether you're a local looking for a reliable favorite or a visitor seeking a memorable night out, Williams Minneapolis is a must-visit destination in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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