What's the Difference Between Port and Sherry?

By: Muriel Vega  | 
Sherry wine
Vino de Jerez sherry wine goes perfectly with late afternoon tapas in the South of Spain. barmalini/Shutterstock

When you leave your favorite bottle shop, you typically end up with a bottle of prosecco or maybe a nice bottle of gin to make a classic gin and tonic. You're not too fancy when it comes to cocktails and alcohol.

But you're curious about port and sherry and have yet to learn what they are or how to drink them. Could one of them be a good addition to your wine bar at home?


First, both port and sherry are fortified wines and come from the Iberian Peninsula in Western Europe. As fortified wines, they have spirits like brandy added to them during the production process at different times to increase the alcohol content.

With port, a distilled spirit like brandy is added during the fermentation that stops it in its tracks by killing the yeast, giving it that sweetness. While with sherry, the fermentation is allowed to complete, converting the sugar to alcohol. Once done, the distilled spirit is added, resulting in a dry wine.

But that's where their similarities end. So what's the difference between sherry and port?


What Is Port?

port wine
Ruby port is the most popular port and it's aged for a maximum of three years. dabyki.nadya/Shutterstock

Port is a fortified wine made in the Douro Valley in Portugal, near Porto. Wine has been made in the Douro Valley for thousands of years. In the 17th century, winemakers in Porto began fortifying the wine with brandy, which made it stronger and the flavor sweeter, and the port wine we know today was born.

The Douro Valley is considered the oldest demarcated winemaking region in the world. That means it's protected by a system of designation of origin — Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC). France, Italy and Spain have similar systems. The Doura DOC means that true port wine can only be produced in Duoro under rigorous standards and rules, similar to Champagne in France.


The primary grapes used in port are Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), with some 80 other varieties also allowed.

Ruby port is the most popular port and it's aged for a maximum of three years. Tawny ports are aged in smaller barrels, which allows them to oxidize, giving them a "tawny" color and rich flavor. White port is barely aged and is crisp and dry. White port is best as a spritzer or an aperitif.

The exact level of sweetness in port depends on the winemaker who will often start taste-testing a year into the aging process.


What Is Sherry?

sherry solera
Sherry has been aged using the solera system for centuries. Here two men are rolling out an empty barrel from the large Sanchez Romate warehouse in Jerez-de-la-Frontera, Spain. A blender can now begin a new solera, or blend, of wine to maintain the quality and style of sherry. Hulton Deutsch/Corbis via Getty Images

Sherry is also a fortified wine, but it comes from the Jerez region of Spain and is drier than port. White grapes are used to make sherry, but the primary grape is Palomino.

Once processed, sherries are aged in a set of casks called the solera system. To put it in simple terms, it's a blending method that continuously combines younger and older sherries to guarantee consistency over years.


A typical solera system can include hundreds of casks. To add new wine to the top casks, the winemaker first removes wine from the last barrel in the row and tops it with wine from the cask before it, and repeats. Then they move on to the casks below, called criaderas, and empty them about halfway. They then repeat this process until they can fill the top casks with new wine.

Each time the winemaker empties some of the oldest wine into the casks below, they're mixing old and new sherry together, which creates a more consistent product.

There are two common types of sherry: dry and sweet. Dry sherry is aged with a layer of flor yeast that prevents the sherry from spoiling and oxidizing, though it can be aged without flor, too. Sweet sherry is blended with sweet wines from Pedro Ximénez or Moscatel grapes or even grape syrup.