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Sherry vs Port: A Thorough But Quick Rundown For A Beginner Wine Taster

sherry and port comparison - featured image

Last Updated: June 11, 2024

If you've been weighing your options for Sherry and Port, you're not alone. Neither are you if you are just seeking out information.

A quick google search of "Sherry or Port wine" would feed you over 16 million-plus results for just these wines. It seems like a crazy high number, but it's not ridiculous. 

Why is that?

There are more wine sippers than you probably can imagine. A report in 2019 revealed that over 400 million cases of 9-liter wine were sold in the US alone. Indeed, many of these wine sippers reach a stage where they have to compare both wines. Well, I have and believe with a little shred of doubt that you've also joined the bandwagon. 

It's not hard to see why we seem unable to escape this "famous" comparison. Sherry and Port are both fortified wines and were once a staple dessert pairing choice. They are making a comeback too. 

Enough rambling, let's get to the rundown.

What Are The Main Differences Between Sherry vs Port?

The main differences between Port vs Sherry are: 

  • Sherry is made exclusively from white grapes, whereas Port can be made with either red or white grapes
  • Sherry is fortified with brandy spirit after fermentation, whereas Port is fortified mid-way through the fermentation process.
  • Sherry wines only from the Sherry Triangle in Andalusia, Spain, whereas Port originates from the Douro Valley in Iberia, Portugal. 
  • Sherry wine alcohol content varies between 15% -22%, whereas Port wines often hover around 18% to 22%.

Sherry And Port: Their Similar Yet Different Origins

In Europe, Sherry and Port wines under the law must be grown and produced in their native regions to have the name labeled on any bottle. 

The Sherry Triangle is a border town of three cities, Jerez, Sanlúcar, and El Puerto de Santa Maria, which mark the small Spanish region where Sherry is produced. 

Although Port is produced in countries outside the Douro Valley, such as South Africa and the USA, they can't be legally labeled "Port" wine. The real thing only from Portugal. Plus, the Douro Valley in Iberia — where Port originated from — has a unique climate that enhances the growth of olives and grapes used to produce the wine. 

How about a quick look at the grapes used to produce these wines? 

Grapes Of Sherry And Port Wine

grapes for wine production

Sherry is mainly produced with Palomino grapes. The other grape varieties are Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel, which are mostly used to make sweet sherries. Sometimes, manufacturers blend the drier Palomino grapes with these sweet wines. 

In contrast, over a hundred grape varieties can be used in the production of Port wines. However, only five are widely used in the wines with the best quality. They are Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta, Barroca, Tinta Cão, and Tempranillo. 

Unlike Sherry that usually uses a single grape variety, Port wines are made with a blend of these grapes. White Port uses a blend of white grapes - they are Gouiveho, Malvasia, Rabigato, Viosinho, and Donzelihno. 

That's all for now on grapes, let's touch on what makes them so popular. 

Fortification Process Of Sherry And Port 

Fortified wines are typically wines spiked with alcohol or a spirit such as brandy — it's nothing like commercial brandy — during or after fermentation is complete. Sherry and Port have a totally different fortification processes.

In fortifying Sherry, a grape spirit called "destilado" is used after the fermentation process to allow for yeast growth. The fortified Sherry is then stored five-sixths full in a cask to accommodate the flor cap that forms afterward. 

On the other hand, Port is fortified using a grape spirit called "aguardiente" or brandy to stop the fermentation process. This process leaves residual sugar in the wine before boosting the alcohol content. 

What's more fascinating about these wines is their aging. But which is "wowing"?

Port vs Sherry: Aging 

Sherry is aged by blending new wine juice with vintage or older ones in a series of barrels. The complex procedure, called the Solera system, carefully transfers the wine without damaging the flor cap on top. 

Ironically, there's no vintage Sherry wine since every bottle has a blend of matured or vintage wine

Port has a more straightforward aging process. The wines are simply stored in barrels inside a cellar before they are bottled. The only difference is among styles that use a wooden barrel or sealed glass bottles for maturation. Port produced in air-tight bottles tends to be darker, smoother, and with gentle tannins compared to the former that uses what's known as oxidative aging. 

ice cube and wine decanter

What Do Sherry And Port Taste Like?

Sherry is well known for its nutty flavor, with notes of plum, dried fruit, and chocolate. Sweet Sherry is dark, rich, and syrupy up your palate with the intensity of its fortification. 

Now, Port typically has fruity and citrus flavors, with notes of spice, nuts, and bitter chocolate, depending on its style. But vintage Ports have much more adventurous tasting notes of butterscotch, graphite, and almond. 

Both wines will be sweeter and richer than your traditional wines.

Port vs Sherry: Styles

One thing both wines have in common is that they have a wide range of production styles. You'd have no problem finding one that's in line with your palate, whether it's sweet or dry. 

Sherry for one; has super dry styles namely:

  • Fino, 
  • Manzanilla, 
  • Amontillado,  
  • Oloroso

They all have little to no residual sugar with an alcohol content within 15-17%, except for Olorosos. However, sweet sherry wines like Moscatel and Pedro Ximénez reach up to 22%, with over 160 grams of sugar. Don't be fooled though, it would get you drunk.

Now, let's briefly touch on Port styles. Ruby Port is the least expensive and the most popular style.

Other styles include: 

You can read some of our in-depth wine reviews for a better understanding, as this is only a glance through the styles. Now, let's clarify some popular misconceptions.

Frequently Asked Questions About Sherry And Port

Are Port and Sherry wines the same?

No, Port and Sherry aren't the same. Sherry and Port are made from entirely different grapes, so they aren't the same. Although they are fortified wines, both have varying production processes, aging, and taste differently. 

Which wine is stronger -- Sherry or Port? 

Port is stronger but the difference between port and sherry is hardly noticeable due to their fortification. Most sherries have an alcohol percentage between 16-18% but can go as high as 22% in sweeter variations. The sweeter the Sherry, the higher the alcohol by volume (ABV). 

Port, too, is closer to this range with 16%-21% ABV in the books if not the same. Enthusiasts and sommeliers think otherwise and often argue that Port is stronger. Either way, you'll get drunk very fast drinking any one of them.

port wine

Can I substitute Sherry for Port?

Yes, you can substitute Sherry for Port or the other way around. They are both fortified wines with plenty of styles that can be used at dinner, as a solo sip, or for cooking. 

Is Sherry or Port Wine Better?

It's hard to tell since they are similar in many ways -- you may have to taste each one to feel how it works up your palate. What you also compare matters as you can find dry, semi-dry, semi-sweet, and sweet styles of both wines. If you have answers to these questions, then you should already know who your winner is between Sherry and Port. 

Final Thoughts On Sherry Vs Port Wine

Sherry and Port are boozy wines that can be enjoyed alone, with food, or as culinary spices. My fingers are crossed on which is a better choice as they both tick all the necessary boxes. Although Sherry tends to be drier and more acidic, it still has a sweet variety in the same way that Port has a wide variety as well. 

Finally, a bottle of either quality Sherry or Port wouldn't break the bank. So it won't hurt to taste both and pick one as a regular or simply taste both for the knowledge. 

What are your thoughts on Sherry and Port wine? 

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