Sherry or Port wine?
To understand the differences between Spanish Sherry wine and Portuguese Port wine firstly, we’re going to discuss a little bit about the origin of Port and then we can start comparing the process, ageing, grapes and other factors that make Sherry and Port different.
Read more about how sherry is produced and the different types in the following button.
Firstly, let me introduce a little of background into Port wine, as I’ve already explained the basics of Sherry in my other post. Port is produced in the Douro valley, in the north of Portugal. Englishmen fortified the red wine to stabilize it during the long journeys when they moved the wine from Porto in Portugal to England during the war between England and France. Even though now we find white and Rose Port, the original Port was red and sweet, with Touriga nacional grape as the main grape, with many other types of grapes in smaller proportions.
There are five main differences when comparing the traditional red port with traditional Sherry:
Grapes used for Sherry and Port
Grapes can be red or white for Port. White grapes can be used, such as Malvasia, Arinto, Rabigato, Gouveio, Viosinho, and other less common grapes. However, the main grapes used are red, such as Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca and other less common ones. They can use more than 50 types of grapes.
Whereas for the wine to have the D.O. Sherry, they must only use 3 white grapes, Palomino, Pedro Ximénez, and Moscatel de Alejandría. Palomino is the most common grape, comprising 95% of all vines in this wine region (Marco de Jerez).
The oxidation during the Sherry ageing process causes the difference of colours in different Spanish Sherries.
Sherry and Port Fermentation
Another difference between Sherry and Port wines is during the fermentation process. The winemaker, in the case of the sherries made only with the palomino grape, waits until all the sugar is fermented and then they add Brandy (destilled alcohol).
On the other hand, for traditional Port and for the sweet sherries made with Pedro Ximenez grape and Moscatel grape, the winemaker stops the fermentation by adding Brandy. This kills the yeast and stabilize the wine which still contains sugar.
Nowadays you can find dry white port which still contains a slight amount of residual sugar.
Sweetness differences between these two fortified wines
Therefore, this brings up another difference in the range of sweetness spectrum. While Sherry can range from extremely dry (<5g/L residual sugar) to one of the sweetest wines of the world (Pedro Ximénez), traditional port always contains residual sugar.
Alcohol content difference between Port and Sherry wine
The alcohol in Port is usually higher, ranging from 19-21%.
While Sherry depends on the style, if it ages under the biological style it is usually 15-16%, while if it underwent an oxidative stage then it can go all the way to 21%. It will depend on the age as in the older wines the alcohol concentrates more due to the “Angel’s share” (Sherry wine evaporates through the casks)
When to drink these fortified wines?
In the case of Port wine, people know it as a sipping wine, only for dessert or for an aperitif. On the other hand Sherry is one of the most versatile wines in the world, as there is a Sherry for all kinds of food, from an aperitif, main plate to a dessert.
Differences between Sherry and port Ageing
Port wine can keep ageing in the bottle, after ageing a couple of years in big tanks (non-oxidized style), or to wooden barrels first and then to the bottle (gently oxidized style), read more here. Moreover, even though most of the time they use two or more vintages, they can also be fermented with just one. Porto improves on the bottle and the old bottles are very collectible.
Sherry wine must age in casks in the solera system for a minimum of 2 years, most are aged longer. It also has two styles, oxidized or biological. Although, it can undergo a biological ageing first, and when the flor dies oxidative ageing. When it is bottled, it means that it is ready to be drunk. The use of solera system means that a sherry will never be made with 100% of the same vintage. The sherry is always fed with other younger sherries to always have a similar type of sherry, learn more here.
Although lately, collectors are looking for sherries that have aged in the bottle as well. Most experts agree that sherry wine improves in the bottle. However, even though with the solera system you can’t do single vintage sherry, since at least the 20th century, several large wineries, for example Williams & Humbert, decide to leave some botas (casks) every year to age separately and bottle as single vintage sherry. In this case they do not use the solera system, but they are still aged in the botas (casks), and it is easy to do it with Oloroso sherry but very complicated with biological aging sherry.
Other types of sherries, from dry to sweet
If this blog makes you feel like you need a sherry in hand and it doesn’t fit, you may want to check out the following blogs. Click on any of the following links if you are interested in knowing my favorite sherry wines for each type of sherry.
Is your favorite sherry wine el palo cortado? If so, click here to see some of my favorites. For the amontillado sherry wine click here. If you prefer biological ageing and your favorite is manzanilla wine then click here. However, if you prefer sweet sherry wines, click here to see what I recommend within cream sherry.
On the other hand, if you want to learn more about: biological and oxidative ageing; the soleras system; and the “flower” (the layer of yeast that grows on some sherry), click here.
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