Sherry vs Port Wine – What is Fortified Wine?

When it comes to selecting the best wine, bold red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, pleasing white wines like Chardonnay, and sparkling classics such as French Champagne are often mentioned. But those wines are now being compared to the rise of other options, like Port and Sherry wine.

Fortified wines, which include Sherry, Port, and Madeira, are growing in popularity, both on a national and global scale. Persistence Market Research is forecasting that the demand for wines like Sherry and Port will increase substantially for the next six years.

Part of this is driven by the continual rise of alcohol consumption in developing nations, and part in general recognition, as well as changing patterns in wine consumption as a whole. However, there are a number of factors complicating the rise of Sherry, Port and Madeira, most notably changes in climate, and fluctuating government restrictions.

Despite these possible restrictions, you can still expect to see the demand, and perhaps options for Sherry and Port wines continue to expand. According to current market forecasts, Sherry and Port sales are expected to rise four percent over the next several years, which is a modest estimate–seeming to account for possible restrictions. By the end of 2024, fortified wines, Sherry, Port, and Madeira will be worth just under fifty-three billion U.S. dollars.

But regardless of market worth, one thing is clear: Sherry and Port are growing in popularity. The question is, why, and is there really any significant differences between these two wines?

In this article, we’ll look at how Sherry vs Port wine stacks up when compared side by side, and even help you find the best wine for you.

Why were fortified wines created?

Fortified wines have been around for a while, as a matter of practicality. Before refrigeration existed, transporting wine posed issues, mainly that the wine would go bad during longer sea voyages. Not only was wine unable to always be kept at a cool temperature, but most bottles were not as tightly sealed as they can be today.

By increasing the level of alcohol in the wine, the wine was more able to withstand long journeys and less than ideal conditions. While some were opposed to fortifying wine, it was a way to make especially long journeys more plausible.

What is fortified wine?

Let’s start with some basics. One reason Port and Sherry are often confused with one another is that they are both considered fortified wines. Even if you’ve never heard of fortified wines, chances are you simply aren’t familiar with the term.

Fortified wine actually has higher alcohol content, which is achieved by adding distilled alcohol. Brandy is among the most common.

How does the percentage of alcohol in fortified wines compare with traditional wines?

Traditional wines vary in alcohol content. Measured by ABV, or alcohol by volume, the average level for wine is in between eleven and twelve percent.

  • Any wine below ten percent is considered to have a low ABV (examples include Moscato from Italy)
  • Wines over eleven and a half percent are considered to have moderate to higher levels compared with most wines (examples include Syrah and Malbec)
  • Fortified wines average fifteen to twenty percent, which is in line with the highest alcohol wines (the closest is Zinfandel; most other wines are under fifteen percent).

How does fortified wine vary around the world?

From country to country you’ll find variations, mostly in terms of how fortified wine is regulated. In the United States, for instance, only alcohol made from the fruit may be added to make fortified wine. In some other countries, it is possible to also find distilled alcohol made from everything from beets to sugar cane. Even within a country, there may be differences in flavor and process depending on the region.

Are there any health benefits to fortified wine? You may have heard about benefits about wine in general, which actually are mixed in evidence. However, advocates of wine consumption in moderation cite natural antioxidants, silicon in red wine (which has been linked to improved bone density), as well as some studies linking wine consumption to a reduced risk for stroke, cardiovascular disease, and even harmful cholesterol levels.

But what about fortified wine?

All of the health benefits linked to regular wine are also shared with fortified wine. However, fortified wine does tend to be more calorically dense when it’s a dessert wine like Sherry or Port, so they are best consumed for special occasions and in moderation.

Are all fortified wines sweet? 

Not all fortified wines are sweet wines. Fortified wines come in both sweet and dry varieties, and the initial process for making those fortified wines is more or less the same. The main difference is the sugar content, as well as when distilled spirits are added.

When you add distilled spirits early during the fermentation process, you most likely will get a sweet wine.

It’s also important to note that there are variations of light and dark Port and Sherry wine.

What are the different kinds of fortified wine? While Port and Sherry are the most well-known types of fortified wine, there are actually a total of four main forms of fortified wine:

  • Sherry is a Spanish wine, specifically from Jerez de la Frontera
  • Port is a Portuguese wine, from Douro Valley
  • Madeira comes from the Madeira Islands, an autonomous region of Portugal off the tip of Northwest Africa. While it is commonly compared with Sherry, it is often sweeter.
  • Marsala is an Italian wine, from Sicily and usually incorporates Brandy.

What is Sherry?

Sherry is produced only in the Jerez region in southern Spain. It can be produced with three types of grapes:

  • Palomino Fino – used in majority of production
  • Pedro Ximénez – aka PX
  • Moscatel

Sherry is produced using a unique aging system called the solera. Older barrels of Sherry are topped off with younger wines as the older wine is bottled. This eventually leads to a blend of older and younger wines that contains all the vintages from when the solera system was first created.

There are two methods of categorizing Sherry:

  • Dry or sweet
  • Oxidative or non-oxidative

Type of Sherry

Dry

Sweet

Oxidative

Non-Oxidative

Flavor

Aging Potential

Flor, Manzanilla

X

X

Almond, Citrus, Saline

No

Oloroso

X

X

Dar brown, caramel, coffee, vanilla

Amontillado, Palo Cortado

X

Semi/Semi-biological

Nutty, tobacco, herbs, oak

Yes

Cream, Moscatel, Pedro Ximénez

X

X

Fig

Yes

History of Sherry

Sherry originated with the Phoenicians on the Iberian peninsula. The first mention of Sherry is from Strabo, the Greek geographer, in the 1st century BC. The triangle-shaped region between Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa Maria, and Sanlúcar de Barrameda are the limits of the denominación – meaning Sherry can only be produced within that region. Sherry is one of the world’s oldest types of wines and has been influenced by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Moors, Spanish, and British.

Cádiz was founded in approximately 1104 BC as a trading post by the Canaanite tribe. The Phoenicians brought grapevines with them when they established the trading post. The area was firmly established as a winemaking region when the Romans conquered the area in 206 BC. Wine from the Jerez region soon spread throughout the Roman Empire and was called Ceretanum. They used boiled grape must to concentrate the sugar and sweeten the wine.

When the Roman Empire fell, the area was then ruled by the Moors from 711 AD until 1262 AD. The Moors governed under Islamic rule which forbade the consumption of alcohol, however, winemaking continued as a form of trade and commerce with non-Muslim trading partners. The wines were produced for perfumes, ointments, and medicinal purposes. The Moors also developed a distillation process which used a type of grape liqueur to fortify the wine. Under the Moors, the Roman town of Ceret was renamed Sherish. After the area was reclaimed by King Alfonso X of Castile, the city name evolved to Jerez de la Frontera because it was the frontier town between Christian Spain and the Kingdom of the Moors.

Vines and cereals were obligatory crops by law and they became the economic linchpins of the territory. King Alfonso also owned a vineyard in the region and one of his military officers, Fernán Ibáñez Palomino, gave his name to a classic variety of grape – Palomino – which hails from the region.

Sanlúcar de Barrameda and Cádiz were the starting ports for many voyages to the New World and the East Indies during the Age of Exploration. Christopher Columbus undoubtedly had Sherry with him when he traveled to America, making Sherry the first wine brought to the New World.

Sherry became more popular at the turn of the 15th century as Venetian traders lost their supply of sweet wine from Cyprus, Romania, Greece, and Hungary to the Ottoman Empire. The British lost their access to Bordeaux wines due to war with France. The Spanish abolished the export tax on wine and gave preferential merchant status to English merchants, propelling Sherry onto the forefront of the wine market.

English sales of Sherry increased until foreign relations cooled after Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon of Spain. English merchants were watched by the Spanish Inquisition and many were jailed for failing to denounce their king.

King Philip II of Spain built the Spanish Armada in the 1580s to invade England. Sir Francis Drake captured the harbor, burned the ships, and seized 2,900 butts (each butt is approximately 1,008 pints) of Sherry to bring back to England. Sherry sales in the West Indies were frequently affected by pirates who seized cargo and sold it in London. Sherry at this time was not fortified and was usually around 16 percent Alcohol By Volume (ABV).

Both the War of Spanish Succession and the Napoleonic Wars influenced the sale of Sherry to England and the Netherlands. Port was also becoming more readily available leaving Sherry merchants with excess stock to age in oak barrels. These stocks began to oxidize and develop a more concentrated and nuttier flavor. As orders were received, Sherry merchants bottled a small quantity and topped off the rest of the barrel with wine from the newer inventory. This led to the modern concept of a solera system. This process of aging developed distinctive characteristics in the wine, as well as new flavors and fragrances. It also allowed the merchants to maintain a more consistent wine profile.

Sherry winemakers noted the success that the Portuguese were experiencing by adding brandy to their port wines. They also experimented with adding brandy to Sherry and found that the increased alcohol content killed off the flor – yeast used in making Sherry – and had greater oxidization. This experimentation led to the creation of different types of Sherry. The concept of fortification later became an oenological technique for producing Sherry.

Sherry competed with Rioja to become Spain’s most recognizable wine throughout the 19th century and also competed with Sherry-like wines from South Africa, the United States, France, Australia, and Germany. The grapes used for Sherry were also severely affected by the phylloxera plague which decimated many vines throughout Europe towards the end of the 19th century. The phylloxera plague was due to an insect which had been imported from America. It destroyed the vines and blocked their roots. The only method to solve the phylloxera problem was to uproot all the vines and replant vineyards with American rootstock varieties which were resistant to the insect. Local varieties of vine were then grafted to the rootstocks. Sherry merchants replanted vineyards and were able to produce Sherry again relatively quickly.

In the early 20th century, Sherry further continued expansion into international markets but also began to be copied in other regions, leading to Australian Sherry, Canadian Sherry, and South African Sherry. The Sherry producers of Jerez obtained a Denominación de Origen status in 1935. They worked to trademark the name Sherry; however, sales of authentic Sherry began to decline.

Different Types of Sherry

There are a variety of Sherry wines from which to choose.

Fino

Fino Sherry is a pale white, dry Sherry wine. It is produced from the Palomino grape and aged biologically under a layer of flor, or yeast. There are notes of herbs, almonds, and fresh dough. Fino is aged at least two years in wooden barrels, though most are aged between four and seven years.

There are two types of Fino Sherry:

  1. Fino – a traditional dry sherry bottled at four to seven years

Manzanilla, which means chamomile, is a delicate and coastal variety of Fino from Sanlúcar de Barrameda which is closer to the sea than Jerez. Both are produced using the solera system. There are also two different classifications of Manzanilla:

  • Manzanilla Fina – traditional Manzanilla Sherry bottled around three to five years
  • Manzanilla Pasada – richer, older Manzanilla bottled around six to seven years
  1. Fino Amontillado – darker and richer than a traditional Fino and can age up to 15 years.

There are three different types of Amontillado:

  • Jerez Amontillado – Sherry matured in Jerez de la Frontera.
  • Manzanilla Amontillada – Manzanilla Sherry where the flor (yeast) has died and has been aged in Sanlúcar.
  • Amontillado de Puerto – Sherry aged in El Puerto de Santa Maria.

Palo Cortado

Palo Cortado is an intermediate type of Sherry with the aromatic refinement of Amontillado and the body of an Oloroso. It has usually spent less than three years under flor, if at all. Instead of letting the grape juice develop a layer of flor, it is fortified and aged oxidatively. This is the rarest of all Sherry varieties with less than 100,000 bottles sold per year – compared to the approximately 60 million bottles of Sherry in total sold per year.

Oloroso

Oloroso, which means fragrant, is aged without flor and starts with a more full-structured must than Fino or Manzanilla. It is naturally dry with notes of dried fruits, nuts, wood, exotic spices, and leather. Oloroso is sometimes sweetened by adding some Pedro Ximénez.

Pedro Ximénez

Pedro Ximénez is produced with the Pedro Ximénez grape. The grapes are picked when they are very ripe or they can be dried in the sun – a process called asoleo – to concentrate the sweetness of the grape. It is very commonly referred to as P.X. Pedro Ximénez is usually produced in the D.O. Montilla-Moriles region as the climate is warmer and less humid and this protects the grapes from rotting. The P.X. wines are transferred to the aging bodegas in Jerez which allows them to be labeled as Sherry. P.X. Sherry is very sweet and excellent with chocolate desserts, spicy cheese, or as a sauce over ice cream. There are notes of candied figs, dates, chocolate, coffee, and spices.

Moscatel

Moscatel is a sweet wine produced similarly to P.X. The grape variety must be at least 85 percent Moscatel de Alejandria. The musts are very thick and sugary, and fermentation is stopped by fortification. The grapes are dried for up to three weeks in the sun which gives these raisin wines a darker, sweeter taste. The aromas are floral with a honeyed, raisiny taste.

Cream Sherry

Cream Sherry is a general name for different varieties of sweetened sherries. They are generally created by blending a dry Amontillado or Oloroso with a sweet Moscatel or Pedro Ximénez wine. A Medium Sherry is half sweet.

There are five different types of sweetened Sherry, based on sugar content and flavor:

  • Pale Cream Sherry has between 45 and 115 grams of sugar per liter. It is produced from a biologically-aged wine such as Fino or Manzanilla. It has a bright color and has rectified grape must added as a sweetener.
  • Medium Sherry has between 5 and 115 grams of sugar per liter and is often produced with a base of Amontillado.
  • Cream Sherry has between 115 and 140 grams of sugar per liter. It is a sweet wine produced with Oloroso or Amontillado and blended with P.X. or Moscatel to make it sweeter.
  • Dulce Sherry is a naturally sweet sherry produced similarly to an Oloroso but it retains some sugar when the fermentation is halted early.
  • East India Solera is named after the tradition of using the motion of a ship and specific climatic conditions to age wines in the holds of ships. The style is now recreated by blending P.X. with Oloroso and aging the Sherry in the warmest part of the ageing bodega.

What Does Sherry Pair Well With?

When trying to decide what to pair with Sherry, the choice will come down to the type of Sherry you will be drinking.

  • Fino is best served chilled about 39 to 48 degrees Fahrenheit. It pairs well with almonds, olives, seafood, light cheeses, and salted meats.
  • Manzanilla is best served chilled about 39 to 48 degrees Fahrenheit. It pairs well with seafood, olives, salted meats, and sushi.
  • Amontillado is best served around 54 degrees Fahrenheit and warmer if it is an aged Amontillado. It pairs well with poultry, spicy sausage, medium-heavy cheese, or pâté.
  • Palo Cortado is best served around 47 degrees Fahrenheit. It pairs well with cured meats, soft bleu cheeses, nuts, and foie gras.
  • Oloroso is best served between 53- and 61-degrees Fahrenheit. It pairs well with beef and game meats as well as aged cheeses.
  • Moscatel is best served between 54- and 57-degrees Fahrenheit. It pairs well with mature cheeses, fruit pastries, ice cream, and desserts that are not too sweet.

How Do You Store Bottles of Sherry?

Sherry should be stored standing upright in a dark, cool place. Fino and Manzanilla Sherries should be consumed soon after bottling. Once opened, store the bottle in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

How Long Does a Bottle of Sherry Last After Opening?

Type of Sherry

Sealed Bottle

Opened Bottle

Fino or Manzanilla

12 – 18 months

2 weeks*

Amontillado or Medium Sweet

18 – 36 months

4 – 6 weeks

P.X.

24 – 48 months

1 – 2 months

Palo Cortado

Up to 36 months

1 week*

Oloroso

24 – 36 months

4 – 6 weeks

Moscatel

18 – 36 months

1 – 2 months

Cream Sherry

24 – 36 months

4 – 6 weeks

*Stored in refrigerator

Best Sherry

Name

Winery

Wine Spectator Rating

Price

Pedro Ximénez Jerez Viejo

Bodegas Osborne

95

$380/500 ml

Best Sherry Under $50

Name

Winery

Wine Spectator Rating

Price

Pedro Ximénez Jerez Noe VORS 30 Years

Gonzalez Byass

94

$50/375 ml

Best Sherry Under $40

Name

Winery

Wine Spectator Rating

Price

Pedro Ximénez Jerez

Bodegas Fernando de Castilla

93

$35/500 ml

Best Sherry Under $30

Name

Winery

Wine Spectator Rating

Price

Pedro Ximénez Jerez Premium

Bodegas Fernando de Castilla

93

$26

Best Sherry Under $20

Name

Winery

Wine Spectator Rating

Price

Oloroso Jerez

Bodegas Dios Baco

93

$20

Pedro Ximénez Jerez Viejo

Marqués del Real Tesoro

93

$17

Best Sherry Under $10

Name

Winery

Wine Spectator Rating

Price

Manzanilla Sanlúcar de Barrameda

Bodegas Barbadillo

90

$10

Manzanilla Jerez

Bodegas Osborne

90

$8

What is Port?

Port is always sweet and comes in a variety of wine styles, including Red, White, Rosé, and Tawny. Port comes from the terraced vineyards in the Douro River Valley in Portugal and is made by using the indigenous grape Touriga Nacional and blending it with Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo), and Tinta Cão. Each grape imparts a unique flavor to the Port. Touriga Nacional brings blueberry and vanilla notes and Touriga Franca brings raspberry and cinnamon notes.

Port is a fortified wine where the fortifying spirit is added during fermentation. This kills off the active yeast and leaves the wine with higher levels of residual sugar which produces a stronger, more alcoholic wine with noticeable sweetness.

Port was traditionally produced in the Douro Valley and then aged downriver; however, smaller wineries now choose to age their Port in the Douro. It is estimated that there are approximately 52 varieties of Port.

Customarily, Port is fermented in lagars. In the past, people stomped the grapes with their feet while the wine fermented. Most Port wineries today use automatic lagars with mechanical “feet.”

The History of Port

Wine has been produced on the Iberian Peninsula – modern day Spain and Portugal – for thousands of years. The first vines were cultivated in the Tagus vineyards around 2000 BC. The Phoenicians brought many grape varieties and winemaking techniques from the Middle East in the 10th century BC. The Greek settlers in the 7th century BC also brought their knowledge and advanced winemaking techniques.

As the Romans expanded the Roman Empire into modern-day Portugal, they named the area Lusitania after Lusus, the son of the Roman god of wine, Bacchus. The Romans helped expand wine-growing and winemaking in the region for local consumption and export to Rome. Vineyards were firmly established in the Douro during Roman rule. When the Roman Empire fell around 1000 AD, Ordoño, the Gothic king of what is now northern Spain, rose to power. He gave vineyards and land to a monastic Christian order.

The Kingdom of Portugal was established in 1143 and wine became an import export for Portugal. The first wines known as Port, however, weren’t shipped until the second half of the 17th century.

Due to political tensions and wars between England and France, the English could not rely on a consistent supply of wines from France. There is evidence that Portuguese wine shipments were exported to England as early as the 12th century. The Treaty of Windsor, signed in 1386 between the Portuguese and the English, formed a strong diplomatic alliance between the two countries. Many English merchants settled in Portugal to facilitate trade. The wine that was being exported to England in the second half of the 15th century was often in exchange for the British export of salt cod, known in Portuguese as bacalhau. In 1679, the English Parliament banned the import of French wines in an attempt to control King Charles II. Charles turned to Portugal and increased importing Portuguese wines from 427 tuns (one tun equals approximately 252 wine gallons) to 14,000 tuns a year by 1685.

The Douro wine region was discovered by wine merchants who were searching for more robust, full-bodied wines that could better withstand the long journey to England. The wine had to be transported down the Douro River by boat to the city of Oporto where they would then be loaded onto ships bound for England. Today, this journey takes place overland.

The wines from the Douro Valley traveled nearly 80 kilometers to the coast and took the name of the city from which they were shipped. They became known as Vinho do Porto, which means Oporto wine and was translated to English as Port. The earliest record of wine called Port is from 1678. The wine was sometimes fortified with brandy or wine must to protect it during the sea voyage. This is different from the process used now whereby brandy is added to the wine during fermentation.

Prices were dictated by the English wine merchants due to the monopolistic nature of the relationship between England and Portugal. The 1703 Methuen Treaty decreased tariffs on Portuguese wines while increasing the tariffs on French wines. Due to the War of Spanish Succession from 1701 to 1714, French wine imports to England decreased to about four percent while Portuguese wines accounted for more than 66 percent of all wine imported into England.

The increase in popularity also led to an increase in wine fraud. Unscrupulous producers added sugar and elderberry juice to the wine to increase alcohol content and enhance the wine color less expensively than traditional Port wine production methods. Spices such as black pepper, ginger, and cinnamon were also added for flavor. Grapes grown in other regions of Portugal and Spain were also discovered to be misrepresented as authentic grapes from the Douro. The scandal caused the sales, prices, and imports of Port wine in England to drop dramatically.

The economic turmoil caused the Marquis of Pombal to create the Douro Wine Company in 1756 to regulate the Port wine trade. One of the first regulations was the demarcation of the Douro wine region with 335 stone pillars, known as marcos pombalinos, as the only sanctioned area that could produce wine which could be labeled and sold as Port. Due to this declaration, the Douro region is one of the world’s oldest established appellations. The Douro Wine Company supervised the production of Port in all stages, from harvesting to winemaking to ageing to shipping. They also ordered all elderberry plants in the Douro be ripped out to remove the temptation to commit fraud. In 1757, a comprehensive classification of the Port vineyards was undertaken. Vinhos de feitoria were the finest wines and producers were allowed to export them and demand a higher price. Vinhos de ramo were wines of a more modest quality and could only be sold domestically. These measures and regulations enabled the Port market to rebound quickly. In 1799, 44 million liters of Port were imported by England – this was equivalent to five liters for every man, woman, and child in England.

As the 18th century progressed, it became more common to add brandy to the wine during fermentation as it resulted in wines that were stronger, sweeter, and more aromatic to the English consumer. As the superior ageing potential of fortified Port wines became apparent, the practice became even more widespread and was generally universal by the 1850s.

During the Napoleonic Wars, the French and Spanish invaded Northern Portugal and the Douro to adversely affect the British economically. Two French invasions of the Douro between 1807 and 1809 caused the ports to be sealed to exports. The foreign troops consumed some of the local stock but usually through plunder and not purchase. Portuguese soldiers and growers staged guerilla attacks in 1808 and drove the French out by 1809. The Port market returned to its previous levels and did not increase, despite the growth in the British population. British tastes had become diversified without access to Port and now included teas, coffees, chocolates, beers, and other fortified wines like Sherry.

To counteract the stagnant growth in the British market, the Portuguese developed monopolistic trade policies that practically forbade their colonies in West Africa and South America from importing wines from other countries and regions or even from producing wines of their own. The Portuguese wine merchants set excessively high prices on their wines – sometimes nearly five times that which was charged in Portugal or England. Brazil achieved independence from Portugal on September 7, 1822 which effectively closed that market to Portugal.

While England still imported a vast amount of Port, the Portuguese wine growers were also devastated by the phylloxera plague in the late 19th century. Many Portuguese wine regions, especially in the south, never recovered.

Portugal suffered political and domestic instability in the early 20th century. António de Oliveira Salazar became the dictator of the Second Republic of Portugal in 1932. During his reign, the Junta Nacional do Vinhos (JNV) was founded. The JNV encouraged small vineyard landowners to consolidate and become cooperative wine producers, bringing more order and structure to the wine industry.

Portugal transitioned to a democracy in the late 20th century and joined the European Union (EU) in 1986. To comply with EU standards, the monopolistic legislation that benefited cooperatives was overturned. The EU provided millions of dollars of subsidies and grants to smaller Portuguese growers and wine producers to improve vineyards and winemaking facilities. Greater stability fostered expansions and upgrades to winemaking technology as well as upgrading the Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC) to be in line with the French, Italian, and Spanish counterparts.

The profile of the typical Port consumer has changed over the years. Through the 1930s, Vintage Port was generally consumed by the wealthy and young Ruby Ports were sold for mass consumption. Taylor Fladgate developed Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) in 1970 which was of high quality and accessibly priced. The LBV is aged longer in wood than Vintage Port before being bottled which meant that the wine was ready to drink on release and did not require decanting.

The increased demand for quality Port has helped foster advances in vineyard landscaping and environmental sustainability.

Different Types of Port

There are four types of Port:

  • Ruby Port is for those who prefer a sweet, fruity dessert wine with fresh red fruit flavors. Ruby Port has a deep ruby-red color with blackberry, raspberry, cinnamon, and chocolate flavors. It should be served around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Ruby Port is meant to be drunk young and comes in four styles:
    • Ruby – an affordable, sweet, and fruity blended Port meant to be drunk young.
    • Reserve – a premium Ruby Port similar to Vintage and meant to be drunk young.
    • Late Bottle Vintage – aged four to six years in barrel and meant to be drunk young.
    • Vintage – single vintage Port aged two to three years in barrel then bottled and aged for an additional period of time. Best drunk after ageing 20 to 40 years.
      • Crusted – includes more than one vintage, or harvest year.
      • Single Quinta – originates from a single estate vineyard.
  • Tawny Port is oxidatively aged with an amber hue. It has tastes of caramel, raspberry, hazelnut, clove, cinnamon, and fig. Serve chilled between 50 to 58 degrees Fahrenheit.
    • Basic Tawny – aged two years with minimal nuttiness.
    • Colheita – single harvest year typically released after 10 years.
    • 10 Years – a blend of vintages with a minimum of 10 years of barrel ageing. It typically has raspberry and cinnamon notes.
    • 20 Years – a blend of vintages with a minimum of 20 years of barrel ageing. It typically has caramel and cinnamon notes.
    • 30 Years – a blend of vintages with a minimum of 30 years of barrel ageing. It typically is smooth with nutty and caramel notes.
    • 40 Years – a blend of vintages with a minimum of 40 years of barrel ageing. It is typically smooth and very nutty with vanilla and soft butterscotch notes.
  • White Port is a white fortified wine with notes of honey, apricot, sweet baked apple, roasted nuts, and citrus peel. White Port is produced similarly to red Port with a shorter or non-existent maceration period. Typically, White Port has a golden color and low acidity with sweetness levels from off-dry to fully sweet. Most White Ports are matured in neutral vessels like stainless steel or concrete for no more than three years. It should be served between 42- and 50-degrees Fahrenheit. There are two types of White Port:
    • Standard – lighter with more citrus and less sweetness.
    • Reserve – aged for seven years with bolder, nutty flavors and sweetness.
  • Rosé Port was first released in 2008 (produced in 2005) with flavors of strawberry, raspberry, cranberry sauce, and caramel. It is meant to be served ice cold at 39 degrees Fahrenheit. Rosé Port is technically a Ruby-style Port, but it is fermented like a rosé wine with limited exposure to the grape skins.

What Does Port Pair Well With?

Port wine is consumed with a smaller-than-regular wine glass of approximately three ounces. Port pairs well with richly-flavored cheeses, chocolate and caramel desserts, salted and smoked nuts, and barbecued foods.

When a recipe calls for Port, use the affordable Ruby Port. Your recipe will receive the flavors of red berry and cinnamon. Port makes a delightful addition to chocolate cakes and chocolate sauces. It can be used as a reduction for savory dishes like steak. Port is also a wonderful alternative to brown sugar or maple syrup.

Type of Port

Pairs Well With…

Ruby

Bleu Cheese, Farmhouse Cheddar, Chocolate Brownie, Poached Pears, Chocolate Fondant

Late Bottle Vintage

Quiejo da Serra cheese, Stilton, aged Parmesan, German Chocolate Cake, Dark Chocolate, Chocolae Sauce

Vintage Port

Stilton, Gorgonzola, Dark Chocolate, Walnuts, Figs

Tawny Port

Pecan Pie, Almond Biscotti, Crème Brulée, Coconut Cream Pie, Cheddar, Manchego, Pecorino

White Port

Salted Almonds, Smoked Salmon, Shellfish, Sushi, Gruyere, Charcuterie, Olives, Fresh Fruit

How Long Does a Bottle of Port Last After Opening?

Unopened Port should be stored in a cool, dark place, like a wine refrigerator. It should be stored at 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Store Vintage and Crusted Ports on their sides to keep the natural cork moist. After the bottle is opened, store the Port in an upright position, either in a cool, dark place or the refrigerator.

Vintage Port can age for a long time – there are some which are over 100 years old! Most Port, however, should be drunk upon purchase. The cork type will provide information on how long you can keep your Port. Vintage Port has a long cork and the drink-now style of Port has a plastic-topped, cork cap.

Ports that are opened and stored in a cold refrigerator will need to be brought to the correct temperature before drinking. Ruby Port can be kept for two weeks once opened; up to one month if refrigerated. Tawny Port can last up to two months once opened. Young Vintage Port that is less than five years old will last between four and five days after opening. Older Vintage Port that has been aged greater than 15 years will last between two and three days once opened.

Similar Wines

Marsala and Madeira wines are similar in style to Port. Other similar types of wine to Port that pair well with desserts are Chianti, Zinfandel, Syrah, White Zinfandel, Riesling, Chardonnay, Dry Vermouth, and Black Muscat.

Best Port

Name

Winery

Wine Spectator Rating

Price

Vintage Port

Dow

100

$80

Vintage Port

Fonseca

100

$55

Vintage Port Nacional

Quinta do Noval

100

$400

Vintage Port

Taylor Fladgate

100

$55

Best Port Under $50

Name

Winery

Wine Spectator Rating

Price

Vintage Port

Croft

96

$50

Vintage Port

Graham

96

$42

Vintage Port

Quinta do Vesuvio

96

$40

Best Port Under $40

Name

Winery

Wine Spectator Rating

Price

Vintage Port Qunita da Eira Elha

Martinez

97

$30

Best Port Under $30

Name

Winery

Wine Spectator Rating

Price

Vintage Port

Martinez

95

$30

Tawny Port 10-Year-Old

Niepoort

95

$30

Best Port Under $20

Name

Winery

Wine Spectator Rating

Price

Vintage Port

Fonseca

100

16

Best Port Under $10

Name

Winery

Wine Spectator Rating

Price

Port Fine

Delaforce

89

$8

Vintage Character Port

Dow

89

$10

How does Sherry vs Port compare?

 While Sherry and Port may have many similarities, the differences, when compared, become much more clear, and there is a reason to have a preference for one over another.

Sherry and Port both can be excellent for a number of reasons, and as when comparing any other wine varieties, both have definite downsides as well. We’ll be taking a look at both some of the key difference and similarities so you can make your most informed choice possible. At the conclusion of this article, we’ll also provide a handful of specific Sherry and Port recommendations.

How does Sherry compare with Port in terms of price?

Fortified wines, in general, tend to be affordable. As with all wines, however, prices vary widely depending on the specific bottle.

Sherry ranges from as little as five dollars a bottle to a few hundred for renowned Sherry that has been aged for decades or even centuries. An average price for a reasonable bottle of Sherry sits around fifteen to twenty-five dollars.

Port also starts at around five or six U.S. dollars per bottle and can climb up to as much as a few thousand dollars. While the high-end price point of Port runs higher than Sherry, it is mostly the Vintage ports. Regular Port can also be found for around twenty dollars.

For vintage, Sherry runs a bit cheaper, but overall both Sherry and Port can be found at around twenty dollars a bottle for reasonable quality.

Is there a difference in how Sherry and Port are produced?

Sherry and Port, as fortified wines, both are made with distilled spirits–normally Brandy–added during the fermentation process. The main difference is that the spirit is added at different points during the fermentation process:

Sherry is allowed to ferment completely before it is fortified.

Port, on the other hand, is made by adding distilled spirits halfway through the fermentation process. By doing so, the sugar levels and fermentation is greatly different from typical Sherry.

How does Sherry compare with Port in terms of residual sugars?

Is one more of a sweet or a dry wine? Both Sherry and Port wines can be sweet or dry. Sweet and dry wines refer to the level of residual sugars, but also the drying sensation you get as you sip. Port is naturally sweeter, due to its fermentation process, while Sherry wine typically has to have residual sugar added in order to make it taste sweet.

The grapes used to make the two wines also differ.

Sherry is now made from just three grape varieties:

  1. Palomino
  2. Moscatel
  3. Pedro Ximénez

Port wines, on the other hand, are produced from a large variety of grapes.

  1. Red and Rosé wine is made from Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, and Tinto Cão
  2. White wine is made from Gouveio, Malvasia Fina, Moscatel Galego, Rabigato, and Viosinho

What are the different varieties of Sherry and Port wine?

In order to really compare Sherry and Port wine, we need to look at the specific varieties that exist for both.

Sherry comes in several sweet and dry varieties.

Dry varieties include:

  1. Fino: This variety of sweet Sherry is pale, light-bodied, dry and gentle, with an ABV of fifteen to seventeen percent.
  2. Palo cortado: An exceptionally rare version of dry sherry, it exhibits the qualities of many others combined, with a more decadent body and strong aromas.
  3. Manzanilla: Around the same hue of Fino, this version is extra dry, zingier, and the strongest Sherry you can find.
  4. Amontillado: Described as elegant and refined, it has a lightly nutty accent and is darker in hue. This is aged, normally in a cask.
  5. Manzanilla pasada: An amber hue, aging of at least seven years, and crispness distinguish this full-bodied and fragrant Sherry.
  6. Amontillado: This version of a dry Sherry is rather nutty, amber in hue, and more complex.
  7. Oloroso: The final common version of dry Sherry is the deepest in hue, with a signature goldish brown, a full-body, and dry taste that hints of raisins.

Sweet Sherry is available in nearly as many versions:

  1. East India Sherry: A very rich brown and heavy on sweetness, this Sherry is a favorite for a decadent option.
  2. Moscatel: Among the rarest of sweet Sherry options, this is even sweeter, with an almost syrup-like texture, deep brown hue, and lower ABV content.
  3. Pale cream: Pale cream Sherry is golden, and one of the most lightly sweetened options, featuring characteristics of Fino and Amontillado. Cream Sherry is also common.
  4. Medium Sherry: Lightly sweetened, brown in hue, this Sherry combines Amontillados and olorosos.
  5. Brown Sherry: Brown Sherry is a favorite as a dessert wine, which a dark, rich hue and coarse notes.

Port wine comes in four main varieties. While Sherry has become popular in a wide range of renditions,  much of Port sales consist of the following styles:

  1. White Port: White Port can be found also in reserve versions (aged seven or more years) and exhibits citrus and nutty flavors. Apricot and apple are also common flavors and is traditional light-bodied and dry.
  2. Rosé Port is fruit-forward, very sweet, and tends to not be aged or aged under three years. Caramel in hue, it features playful flavors like strawberries, caramel, and raspberry.
  3. Ruby Port comes in both traditional and reserve (five years or more) and features a gentle finish but darker fruit flavors, including dark cherries, plums, and blackberries.
  4. Tawny Port features raspberry, caramel, and baking spice notes, and vintage versions tend to add toasted notes. Tawny port is among the most nuanced and complex.

Can you summarize the differences in common flavors between Sherry vs Port?

Sherry wines range from light caramel notes to richer toffee and molasses. Port wines also exhibit some of these flavors, along with toasted notes, but many Port wines are more fruit-forward. Port wines, for instance, tend to be more prominent in berry and citrus notes than Sherry wines.

Is there a difference in terms of how Port vs Sherry wines should be stored?

While it’s always advisable to store wine in a cool, dry place, Port wine tends to last a bit longer. Some especially delicate Sherry wine, such as Manzanilla and Fino, are best if drunk within a few days, while Tawny Port can last up to half a year after opening.

Can you summarize the main differences between Sherry vs Port wine?

Sherry and Port are both fortified wines that can be found at a wide variety of prices. You’ll fine more dry options for Sherry, while Port is popularly a sweet wine. Let’s take a look at the main differences:

Sherry

  • Has more varieties, include many dry options
  • Can be paired with seafood, meat, cheese, and light chocolate
  • Tends to not last long upon opening
  • Exhibits caramel, molasses, and dried fruit flavors
  • Is made from just three grape varieties
  • Is aged in casks
  • Has an ABV closer to a medium-high wine
  • Comes originally from Spain
  • Has a lighter, more dry texture

Port

  • Has just four main varieties and is known for being quite sweet
  • Has caramel and toasted notes, but is more fruit-forward, including berry and citrus notes
  • Is at its best aged seven or more years
  • Can be paired with cheese and dark chocolate, as well as creamy decadent desserts
  • Has an ABV exceeding most wine, averaging up to twenty percent
  • Last for months upon opening
  • Comes originally from Portugal
  • Has a more robust, and richer finish

Can you suggest any specific Sherry or Port wines?

 Now let’s provide a few recommendations for Sherry and Port wines that are of reasonable price and provide a great option for an after-dinner (or even with dinner) wine.

For Sherry, try:

  • Bodegas Dios Baco Cream Sherry: This Cream Sherry is from Jerez Spain and is an excellent wine in terms of classic flavors in a balanced, and not overdone, profile, that can be paired with seafood and appetizers. The gentle golden hue goes hand in hand with caramel and baking spices. Deeper touches of toffee, chocolate, and honey make for a signature but crisp finish.
  • Gonzalez Byass Del Duque Amontillado Sherry: From the same region of Spain comes an Amontillado Sherry with a full-body, smooth finish and almond, and hazelnut notes. Sophisticated enough to pair with aged cheese or light meat, a touch of caramel softens a dry profile.
  • Osborne Cream Sherry: Looking for a sweet option? This well-rated and budget-friendly Sherry is described as layered, pleasant, and presenting with a long finish. Caramel, oak, and dried fruit notes pair perfectly with fruit-based desserts.
  • Emilio Lustau East India Solera: Another option for sweet Sherry wine, acidity balances more decadent notes of baking spices, chocolate, dried fruit, and toasted nuts. A balanced and layered finish also presents with toffee flavors, making this a wine great for light chocolate desserts, baked apples, or spicy-sweet dishes.

For Port, try:

  • Taylor’s Fine Ruby Port: This Ruby Port is a classic, easy to drink, and great for a variety of occasions, or even drunk alone. With both sweeter and drier touches, it can work well with appetizers and is not cloying or overwhelming.
  • Quinta Das Carvalhas Tawny: This Tawny Port full-bodied, with warm rich flavors that are not too overwhelming and add nuance to sweetness. Hazlenut, marmalade, toffee, and caramel, as well as underlying raisin notes, make for a pleasing Port suitable for a variety of desserts.
  • Quinta Nova Late Bottle Vintage Port 2013: This is an inexpensive vintage, that is at once balanced and layered enough to provide interest. This is fruit-forward, showcasing blackberries, plums, and noticeable structure.
  • Fonseca Ruby Port: This Ruby Port is a natural choice for an easy, crowd-pleaser to pair with dark fruit and chocolate. With a smooth, almost silky finish, black cherries are the primary flavor note.

Erin Jamieson

Erin Jamieson brings the latest information to you on wine flavors and types so you can enjoy your next glass to the fullest. In the past, she covered wine selections for weddings and engagement parties. She also previously worked with a private chef company to suggest the perfect wine pairings and believes there is a flavor for every occasion. Erin Jamieson holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Miami University of Ohio.

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