How is Port different from Sherry?

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Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

Dear Dr. Vinny,

Thanks for clearing up the confusion over “Sherry” vs. “Apera.” Now can you explain how Port is different from Sherry?

—Malcom M., Newmarket, Ontario

Dear Malcom,

I'm glad you saw my previous answer on how Sherry and Apera are related. Port is in the same family as Sherry in the sense that they are both usually fortified wines—that means that distilled spirits like brandy are added to the wine while it’s being made. That fortification increases the alcohol content; in many styles, it is done to halt fermentation, which leaves some residual sweetness as well.

But Sherry and Port both come from different places and are made in different ways. Sherry is a fortified wine from the Jerez region of Spain, where the primary grape is Palomino; while the wine is fermenting, a layer of yeast called flor is allowed to form on top of the wine, protecting it from spoilage and oxidation (although most Sherries are made in an oxidative style). Most Sherry is then aged in a solera system, in which vintages are blended together to ensure the consistency of the final product. For more on Sherry, read associate editor Ben O'Donnell's "ABCs of Sherry," in the Dec. 31, 2013, issue of Wine Spectator.

Port, on the other hand, comes from Portugal's Douro Valley, where the primary grapes are Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), but more than 80 varieties are permitted. In some years, the vintners of the Douro Valley "declare" the vintage to be of particularly excellent quality and will make Vintage Port, but most Port is also blended across vintages for consistency. There are many different styles of Port, which you can read about in my "Port Primer."

—Dr. Vinny

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