Port wine and sherry are fortified wines used popularly consumed after dinner or as dessert wines. Port is made from grapes grown in the Douro region in Northern Portugal, while sherry is made from white grapes in a town in Spain.
Ports and sherries are often dessert wines. Port wine has a richer, sweeter, and heavier texture than other wines, and also a higher alcoholic content. It is commonly served with cheese like Stilton.
Sherry is dry in texture since it is fortified after completion of the fermentation process, as opposed to port wine, which is fortified halfway through the fermentation process.
The port wine–producing Douro region in Portugal was established in 1756 and is the third oldest protected wine region in the world. Port wine produced in this area was managed and protected by the C.G.A.V.A.D. (General Company of Viticulture o the Upper Douro) founded in the same year. The popularity of this wine grew in England in 1703 during the war with France, when the Methuen Treaty allowed merchants to import port wine at low costs, and its improved shelf life allowed it to be shipped from Portugal to England without getting spoiled.
The production of sherry in the Jerez area of Spain has been reported since 1100 BC. Sherry was introduced to the rest of the world by Christopher Columbus and later become popular in 1587. Due to the large wine export to the UK, many English companies and British families developed and founded cellars in Jerez region.
Port wine comes in different styles which undergo either reductive or oxidative aging. With reductive aging, the wine is aged in bottles, and remains unexposed to air. Oxidative aging is done in wooden barrels and the wine is exposed to some amount of oxygen. Port wine aged in bottles is smoother on the palate and less tannic than that aged in wooden barrels.
The main styles of port wine are:
- Tawny port, made from red grapes, aged in barrels, golden brown in color and has a “nutty” flavor. This is a sweet or medium dry wine and considered a dessert wine.
- Colheita, which originates from a single village of the same name, and is usually ages in barrels for 20 years or so before being packed and sold.
- Garrafeira, made from grapes of a single harvest and aged first in barrels (for 3-6 years), and then in glass (for eight years or so). This type of port wine is sold by Niepoort.
- Ruby port, the type of port most extensively produced and also the cheapest. It is stored in stainless steel containers to prevent oxidation with age.
- Reserve or vintage port, usually made using a blend of many vintages of Ruby port.
- Pink port, made with the same grapes that are used in the production of tawny and ruby ports. This is a light ruby wine with a pinkish hue and fruity flavor.
- White port, made from white grapes, stored in bottles and can be dry or very sweet. This wine can be served in cocktails or served on its own.
- Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) can be filtered or unfiltered. This type is generally aged in barrels for longer period compared to other types. The ones filtered are ready for consumption once filtered, while the unfiltered one has to be decanted before consuming.
- Crusted port wines are a blend of port wines from different vintages
- Vintage port, made from the grapes of a vintage year and usually aged in barrels for about 2 and a half years before bottling.
The styles of sherry also differ according to the region it comes from and the extent of aging:
- Fino is the driest type of sherry aged in barrels with a layer of flor yeast on top to prevent exposure to air.
- Manzanilla is a light variety of fino sherry, which comes from the port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
- Amontillado is a type of sherry which is first aged under flor but then exposed to air for some duration and as a result is a darker variety.
- Oloroso is a much darker and richer wine exposed to air for a longer duration than other types of sherry, and is the most alcoholic sherry.
- Palo Cortado is a rare type of sherry with characteristics similar to amontillado and oloroso.
- Sweet sherries are made by fermenting either Moscatel or Pedro Ximenez, and have a sweet taste and dark brown or black color.
Storing and Serving
Port is generally stored in a cool place like a cellar with no exposure to sunlight. It is best to consume it within a few days of opening the bottle. Typically, Tawny and Ruby ports last longer than LBV and Vintage ports. As with ports, sherry should also be stored in a cool place, and delicate sherries like Fino and Manzanilla should be consumed immediately after opening.