What are the differences between Port and Sherry?
July 06, 2020
Port, sherry... same thing, right? Wrongo. Sure, they share some similarities; both are fortified wine, taste great after dinner (or before) and hail from the Iberian coast. But that’s where the list pretty much ends. It's easy to believe that these two beverages are interchangeable. Don't fall victim to this blasphemy. Follow this simple port vs. sherry breakdown to get the lowdown on these fortified sippers.
First and foremost, these wines are defined by where they’re made. Port is produced in the Douro Valley region of northern Portugal. Sherry is produced from grapes grown near Jerez de la Frontera (Jerez, which the British called 'Sherry') in the Andalucia region of southern Spain.
Sadly, “fortification” in this instance does not refer to the construction of an actual fort. Fortification in wine production is the addition of a distilled spirit, usually brandy, to an existing wine. The difference between the fortification of port and sherry is when it happens. In sherry production, fortification takes place at the end of fermentation. In port production, fortification takes place mid-fermentation; this is suuuper important, because the addition of the high-alcohol distilled spirit kills yeast, cutting off fermentation. Being that fermentation was not complete, a bunch of residual sugar not yet consumed by said yeast, remains in the wine, making it sweet. Sorry for all the chemistry jabber.
The biggest difference is that sherry is made exclusively from white grapes, while port can be made from either red or white (though port is almost always produced with red grapes. You'll know if it's not, because it will conveniently be called white port.) Dry sherry is produced from the palomino grape, while sweeter versions are produced from either the pedro ximenez or moscatel grape. Port is made from a variety of red grapes, though touriga nacional, touriga franca, tinta barroca, tinta roriz (AKA, tempranillo) and tinto cao dominate.
Sherry's flavor profile ranges all over the spectrum, from bone dry to syrupy. The wines are classified from dry to sweet. If you're in need of some bar trivia, the profiles go like this: Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Palo Cortado, Oloroso, Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel. Our suggestion is to memorize it using the incredibly simple mnemonic device FMAPOPM.
Dry sherry ages under a cap of flor yeast, preventing the wine's contact with oxygen. These wines are crisp and refreshing, with a strong saline character. Other sherries are oxidatively aged, which is just a fancy way to say that the wine has contact with air. This oxidation imparts nutty, rich flavors onto the wines – and of course, the degree of sweetness varies.
On a broader note, port can be broken down into ruby or tawny; Ruby ports are younger and tend to have more syrupy sweet profiles. Tawny ports undergo extensive barrel aging, lightening their color and imparting more nutty, caramel and baking spice flavors onto the wines.
Dry sherry has the lowest ABV of them all, ranging from 15% - 15.5%. However, as sherry wines climb in sweetness, their ABV can reach up to 22%. Port's range is essentially the same, generally hovering from 16% - 21% ABV.
As with all wines, both port and sherry exist in every price range. Although you can find bottles of each for less than $10, we recommend saving those for the good ole cookin' wine. Due to both wines' fortification process, the addition of high ABV alcohol allows both wines to stay alive and intact for decades; some bottles up to 200 years in age exist in rare cellars throughout the world.
Sherry prices range depending on classification; a good bottle of dry sherry can be found for around $15, with quality sweeter bottles costing slightly more. Generally speaking, a good bottle of Ruby port can be found for around $20, with Tawny prices being slightly higher. Vintage port is what'll cost you the most, though special occasions are worth the splurge.