Written by: Tim Edison

Updated on: August 7, 2018

Port Vs. Sherry: When To Serve And How To Pair

Port Vs. Sherry: When To Serve And How To Pair

In the complex world of fortified wines, Port and Sherry are two names that stand out. Distinctive bouquets, unique aromas, and two different production methods draw a clear line between the two. Yet, when it comes to Port vs. Sherry, only a few enthusiasts know when to serve and how to pair them.

Although there are many other fortified wines worth drinking, Port and Sherry are probably the most famous. But not many are aware of the difference between them. Often served with desserts, both Port and Sherry hold dozens of nuances and flavors that are easy to pair with savory and sweet dishes.

Yet, these wines of hundred shades are rarely understood. There is a true confusion among enthusiasts who are wondering when to choose one wine over the other. Pairing them with the right dishes is another challenge. If you’re still trying to find the answers to these questions, then this guide is for you!

Let’s compare Port vs. Sherry and find out when to serve and how to pair these exquisite wines.

Understanding Port Wine

Port is the greatest fortified wine in Portugal. In the past, it was the protagonist of flourishing trade and today’s beverage still retains charm and elegance in its different styles. From many points of view, it is safe to say that the eonology of the whole country is inextricably linked to the production of Port.

The wine owes its name to the city of Oporto in Douro Valley, a region close to the Atlantic coast and famous for its rich lands.

Today, Port-style wines are produced in many parts of the world. In some countries and states, it is even possible for winemakers to denominate their wines with the same name. However, nothing is comparable with the authentic Port produced in Portugal.

Port wine, like its most famous counterparts Sherry, Madeira, and Marsala, has a history strongly linked to that of the English merchants who, in the seventeenth century, began to look for an alternative to the expensive French wines. To preserve the qualities of the wine during transport, the merchants began to fortify the wine by adding a quantity of alcohol to the barrels.

The local winemakers improved the fortification method and developed a whole new vinification process that makes Port the famous and distinct wine it is today. In detail, this beverage is obtained from stopping the incomplete fermentation of the grape must, as opposed to the traditional method which adds spirits to fermented wine.

To fortify Port, thus stop fermentation, winemakers use a brandy originating from the distillation of marc. Because the yeasts are inactivated by the excess alcohol, the wine preserves the unfermented sugars. This explains the unmistakable sweet flavor of Port, a wine that reaches a significant alcohol concentration through the addition of the spirit.

Types Of Port Wine

port vs sherry

Although the production process is similar, not all Port wines are the same. This complex family expresses its characters in various typologies.

White Port

White Port is a very young wine typically served as a summer aperitif. Aged no more than three years, the wine is made from very sweet or dried grapes. This is the most affordable and easiest to find Port wine, it doesn’t require decanting and is served chilled.

Rosé Port

Commonly known as Pink, the rosé variety is similar in many ways to the white one. Served as an aperitif, this wine has a short history and was introduced for the first time in 2008. Not all winemakers in the region produce Pink Port and some believe producing it is a felony.

This wine is light and fruity and is produced by stopping the fermentation of Ruby Port immediately after fermentation. The wine doesn’t require decanting and is served chilled. 

Ruby Port

An equally young wine, matured for less than three years in cask. A wine that doesn’t require aging, this is the easiest to find the type of Port, it is inexpensive and is usually ready for consumption immediately after bottling.

This ruby red wine is very sweet but not complex. It is appreciated by most wine enthusiasts although specialists see it as an entry-level expression of an exquisite product.

Some wineries preserve and age selected bottles. These Reserves are much more elegant than the common Ruby type, thanks to the longer maturation period. Although red, Ruby Port doesn’t require decanting and is served chilled.

Tawny Port

Tawny varietals are obtained from the same Ruby grapes and the difference stands in the maturation process. Tawny is aged in small barrels which favor the contact of the wine with the wood. Due to this contact, the wine loses its ruby color and achieves mesmerizing nuances of amber, from where it gets its Tawny name.

Due to the maturation in oak barrels, the wine also loses some of its sweetness and it gets distinctive aromas of toasted nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, and dark chocolate. The wine is fairly young and doesn’t require decanting.

Aged Tawny Port

The production is identical to Tawny but the aged varietals are maturated in casks for at least 10 years before bottling, whereas Tawny is only aged for about three years. Some selected wines are even aged for 30 or 40 years.

Aged Tawny doesn’t evolve significantly after bottling and their degree of complexity is almost exclusively linked to the maturation length and skills of the winemaker. Once opened, Aged Tawny preserves its characteristics for up to 4 months.

Aged Tawny doesn’t require decanting yet it can be exceptionally sumptuous and complex.

Colheita Port

A rare type of Port, this wine is obtained in a way similar to Tawny but from the grapes of a specific year. Colheita wine should mature in wooden barrels for at least seven years but winemakers tend to age it for much longer. As such, it is not difficult to find even 50 years Colheitas.

The law requires winemakers to indicate the year of harvest and the year of bottling on the label, but the wine doesn’t evolve in the bottle. The wine doesn’t require decanting and it preserves its characteristics for several months after opening.

Vintage Character Port

Essentially a Ruby Premium, this wine doesn’t have significant similarities with a real Vintage, that’s why Istituto do Vinho do Porto abolished its name in 2002. This Port wine is inexpensive and made from a blend of grapes.

Matured for up to 5 years in wooden barrels, the beverage is rich and pulpy. Seen as a valid alternative to the cheaper Ruby, Vintage Character doesn’t need decanting and is usually served chilled.

Crusted Port

Popular mainly in the United Kingdom, the name of this wine is given by the presence of sediment (crust) on the bottom of the bottle. Essentially, this is an unfiltered Ruby achieved by blending several wines.

This wine needs decanting and, to remove excess sediment, it should be filtered through a special funnel before decanting.

Late Bottled Vintage

Destined for immediate consumption, this wine is aged in casks for a period of 4 to 6 years. The wines aged for 4 years has a slight evolution in the bottle, while the 6 years late bottled vintage doesn’t benefit from aging in the bottle.

Some sommeliers suggest decanting for the first type and these wines are different from the Vintage Port. The label should clearly state Vintage, the year of the harvest and the year of bottling. It has an average cost but a lower quality compared to Vintage Port.

Vintage Port

Considered the king of Port wine, Vintage Port constitutes about 2% of the total production. They are only produced in years considered qualitatively exceptional and are aged for 2 years in casks. The evolution and definition of their character are given by maturation after bottling.

The evolution of Vintage Port is extremely long and justifies their expensive price.

This wine has to be decanted and filtered before serving yet the aromas and flavors are sumptuous. Some Vintage wines are ready to taste after an aging of about 20 years, while others will reach their peak much later. For example, the Vintage Port from 1994 is expected to reach its full character only in 2035.

Once opened, the wine lasts for about 4-5 days.

Single Quinta Vintage Port

These wines are produced from grapes coming from Quinta estate and they are not necessarily made from grapes used for the Vintage varietals.

These wines are often elegant and complex, they successfully compete with the Vintage Port and are very expensive.

Understanding Sherry Wine

Originally from Andalusia, Spain, Sherry or Jerez is an extraordinary beverage. Considered since its early times one of the best wines in the world, Sherry is a masterpiece of the oenological art. Full of charm, this is also one of the most complex wines to produce and requires both the skills of talented winemakers and patience.

Besides skills and patience, Sherry also asks for the irreplaceable contribution of nature, as the right vinification conditions determine the quality of the drink.

Although it is extremely difficult to produce, Sherry offers unique fragrances and flavors impossible to reproduce in other wines. Yet, despite its unique character, this wine is probably the most underestimated in the world.

The truth is that Sherry offers a pleasant series of emotions to the tasters and extraordinary olfactory experiences.

Sherry, an English name given to the actual Jerez wine, is named after Jerez de la Frontera, a small town located in Andalusia near the Strait of Gibraltar. Since the mid-fourteen century, the wine started to enjoy a great popularity and the exportations eventually led to the fortification of the wine.

Obtained from three varieties of grapes, Sherry is a complex wine fortified in various ways depending on the grapes used and the type of Sherry the winemaker wants to achieve. The grapes used for vinification are Palomino, Pedro Ximénez, and Moscatel.

Sherry obtained from Palomino is fortified after complete fermentation, while Pedro Ximénez and Muscatel are used for sweeter wines and are fortified during the fermentation.

Sherry, Jerez, and Xérès: The Names Of An Exquisite Wine

Once a very popular wine, Jerez became famous under two different names outside its home country, Spain. In England, it was given the name Sherry. The French call it Xérès. Regardless of how you call it, Sherry is the first Spanish wine to have achieved the DO (Denominación de Origen) denomination.

The true Sherry is produced in Andalusia region, more precisely in the municipalities of Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa María. The climate of this area is strongly influenced by the Atlantic Ocean and is responsible for the exquisite character of the wine.

As mentioned above, the wine is produced from three varieties of grapes, Palomino, Pedro Ximénez and Muscatel. From these three varietals, Palomino is the most important. Considered the Jerez grape per excellence, Palomino is a white variety which doesn’t produce other exceptional wines. It is the particular production of Jerez that transform Palomino must into an extraordinarily rich and complex wine.

However, the final character of the wine is not given only by the grapes, but also by the soil. The territory in which Palomino vines are cultivated is classified according to the percentage of calcium carbonate present in the soil. The best grapes for the production of Sherry come from vineyards whose soil is rich in chalk sediments and highly porous.

There are four types of soil in the area, as it follows:

  • check
    Albariza: considered the best terrain for the production of Jerez. It contains 50% calcium carbonate and has an almost white color.
  • check
    Albarizones: a mixed soil composed of Albariza and clay.
  • check
    Barros: a dark brown soil rich in organic substances.
  • check
    Arenas: a reddish-yellow soil composed of sand and clay.

Types Of Sherry Wine

port vs sherry wine

Sherry is a complex wine not only as production but also as classification. The broad range of Sherries goes far beyond the simple definition of a fortified wine, and Sherry is classified according to sweetness and production process.

In broad terms, Sherry is classified either as Fino or as Oloroso. Fino are delicate and light-color wines, with a dry character and appreciable acidity. Oloroso wines are more robust, darker in color and available in both dry and sweet varietals.

The two categories together contain seven different types of Sherry. The degree of sweetness of each wine is often a choice of the winemaker rather than a rule, that’s why is easy to find two apparently similar Sherries with different characters and flavors.

Manzanilla Sherry

Mainly produced in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, this is a highly sought-after wine, famous for its elegance and delicacy. Thanks to the strong influence of the currents coming from the Atlantic Ocean, Manzanilla is dry and characterized by a pleasant sapidity. Its flavor is often defined as “marine”.

Manzanilla belongs to Fino family and its character is given by the maturation process during which the so-called “flor” develops on the surface of the wine.

Because of its extreme fragility, most winemakers bottle it right before selling. The wine is preferably served immediately after bottling and chilled. It rarely preservers its characteristics for more than a couple of days after opening.

Fino Sherry

Refined and complex, Fino has a pale color, a dry and strong flavor, and it is considered the emblem of Sherry wines. Just like Manzanilla, Fino undergoes a biological aging under flor in a solera, a typical container used for the aging of Sherries.

It is served chilled and lasts for about four days after opening.

Amontillado Sherry

This type of sherry is matured in a solera. It is fortified before being placed in a solera and ages under the protection of the flor. In this way, the wine is oxidized and achieves a darker color and toasted hazelnut aromas.

Amontillado has a semi-dry flavor thanks to the addition of a quantity of Pedro Ximénez. Only few Amontillado wines are produced as dry.

Palo Cortado Sherry

Is a rare and refined type of Sherry appreciated for its qualities and considered an intermediate wine between Fino and Oloroso. In general terms, it is a special type of dry Amontillado which, after being aged for a long time, has developed the typical qualities of Oloroso.

The structure, creaminess, and concentration of the wine are similar to Oloroso, while the aromas resemble Amontillado.

Oloroso Sherry

Produced without the development of flor, this wine is strongly exposed to oxidation, has a dark color and aromas of toasted and dried fruits. This type of Sherry has a higher alcohol concentration, typically between 18% and 20%.

The wine has a robust structure and a sweet or semi-sweet character. Dry Oloroso Sherries are a rarity.

Cream Sherry

This type of Sherry was initially created specifically for the English market and is characterized by a strong sweetness. The high concentration of sugars is achieved with the addition of a quantity of Pedro Ximénez and the final wine has a dense character and aromas of chocolate, licorice, jam, and dried fruit.

Pedro Ximénez Sherry

Produced exclusively from Pedro Ximénez grapes, this type of sherry is dense, syrupy and sweet. Its robust structure and complex aromas make this wine perfect for desserts.

The main aromas are of dried fruits, while the wine is highly appreciated for its purity.

Port Vs. Sherry: Which To Choose And When

When And How To Serve Port Wine

Port wines, especially the non-vintage varietals, don’t pose particular serving difficulties. They don’t require decanting and are easy to preserve for up to 5 months after opening. The serving temperature for the non-vintage varietals is usually between 42.8 and 50°F.

Vintage Port, however, requires a special attention. Because this wine has a fair amount of sediment, filtering and decanting it is a must. Before opening, keep the bottle upright for at least a couple of hours to allow the sediment to settle. It is also recommended to uncork the bottle with maximum care.

If you just want to taste the wine and preserve the bottle, I recommend accessing the wine with a system such as Coravin, which doesn’t allow the oxidation of the beverage.

The glass for Port is Copita, a tulip-shaped glass with a very long stem. The particular shape of the glass exposes the full aromas of the beverage in a gentle way. As for the temperatures, most vintage Ports exhibit their character at serving temperatures between 59 and 68°F.

Although seen by many as an aperitif or dessert wine, thanks to its complexity and diversity, Port is easy to pair with all meals, including savory dishes and sweets. In fact, by choosing the right types of Port, it is even possible to pair all courses with only Port wine.

Food and Port Wine Pairing

Port wine is perfect for appetizers and most Ports are easy to pair with light savory dishes based on meat and vegetables. Nevertheless, Port is usually paired with dessert. As a sweet of choice, chocolate cakes and sweets with red berries pair best with the distinct flavor of this wine.

Christmas sweets promoting the use of spices such as anise and cinnamon also pair wonderfully with Port.

When And How To Serve Sherry Wine

Just like Port, Sherry is a wine of thousand shades and is easy to serve and pair with a wide variety of dishes. The young and dry sherry is not aged in bottles and it is sensible to light, heat, and oxidation. For this reason, it must be stored in a cool and dark place, in a vertical position, and consumed as quickly as possible after bottling.

Some aged Sherries, such as Manzanilla Pasada, benefit from a partial maturation in the bottle, while aged Sherry, such as Amontillado and Oloroso, can be aged in the bottle for a longer time.

After opening a bottle of Sherry, it is recommended to consume it immediately if the wine is young. Aged sherry might preserve its properties for a couple of weeks after opening.

Sherry is also served in a Copita, the same tulip-shaped glass used for Port. When tasted in wineries, the wine might be served directly from the cask in a narrow silver cup.

Aged sherries are usually served alone. The dry varieties are considered aperitif wines and are also used in some cocktails. The sweet varieties are paired with desserts.

Food and Sherry Wine Pairing

Typically, Manzanilla and Fino sherries are paired with appetizers and starters. They should be served chilled. Dry Amontillado and Oloroso are also paired with appetizers, with dried fruits and olives or with savory dishes of fish and meat.

The sweet sherry varieties are often paired with desserts but not only. It is common to see them served with cheeses and fatty foods, such as foix gras.

Pedro Ximénez is almost always paired with sweets, above all with chocolate cakes or spiced loaves.

About the Author Tim Edison

Although not having any formal training in wine, Tim has developed an irrefutable love of wine and interest in anything related to it ever since his late teens.

Coming from a family of wine lovers, it was from a young age that he got exposed to wine and the culture that goes with it.

Tim has travelled to dozens of wine regions across the world including those in France, Italy, California, Australia, and South Africa.

It is with great joy that he hopes to share those experiences here on wineturtle.com and take you along on the journey for a second time!

Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}