What Bartenders Should Know about Port and Sherry

By Ray Foley

For bartending purposes, port and sherry fall into the wine category. Port is a sweet, fortified wine to which brandy is added. It’s named for Oporto — a city in northern Portugal. It’s made from grapes grown in some 72,000 acres of vineyards in a designated area along the Douro River, known as the Alto Douro.

Although many wines are sold as port throughout the world, authentic port wine is the unique product of Portugal. By law, it must be made only from approved grape varieties native to the Alto Douro district and grown nowhere else in the country.

Fortification with brandy gives port extra strength and, more important, preserves the fresh flavor of grapes that makes port so delicious.

Port comes in three varieties:

  • Ruby: Dark in color and fairly sweet.

  • Tawny: Lighter in color and drier because it’s aged in casks longer.

  • Vintage port: Released only in certain exceptional years; the fullest and sweetest of all ports.

The following are some popular brands:

  • Cockburn’s

  • Croft

  • Royal Oporto

  • Sandeman

When the English discovered the wines of Jerez, Spain, they called them jerries, and the word later evolved into sherry. Sherry is a fortified wine to which grape brandy is added. No longer limited to production in Spain, sherry is now produced all over the world.

Sherry comes in five basic styles:

  • Fino: Light and very dry.

  • Manzanilla: Pale, dry, and light-bodied.

  • Amontillado: Medium-dry and full-bodied.

  • Oloroso: Gold in color with a strong bouquet; more hardy than Amontillado.

  • Cream: A smooth, sweet wine. Cream sherry is what results when Oloroso is blended with a sweetening wine, such as Moscatel. Cream is the largest-selling sherry.

The following are popular sherry brands:

  • Dry Sack

  • Gonzalez Byass

  • Harveys Bristol Cream

  • Savory & James