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Dessert, Sherry & Port

Learn about Dessert, Sherry & Port wine — the range of styles, how they are made and more …

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What are the types and styles of dessert, Sherry & Port wine?

Dessert and fortified wines come in an impressive array of styles and sweetness levels. The most straightforward method for making dessert wine is quite simply a late harvest of wine grapes, though further distinctions arise based on country of origin. The main examples include Sauternes (France), Tokaji (Hungary) and ice wine (Germany and Canada). Fortified wines (meaning alcohol has been added during the winemaking process) include Sherry, Port, Madeira, Banyuls, Rutherglen and other very small-scale styles. Sherry comes in completely dry styles (Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Palo Cortado) and also in a range of sweetness levels. Madeira is typically sweet but can be made into a dry style. Port can be most simply separated into Tawny and Ruby styles. Vermouth, an herb-infused fine wine, is today popular among mixologists and other dessert wines are derived, not from wine grapes, but from different fruits.

How are dessert, Sherry and Port wine made?

As mentioned above, many wines in this category—like Sauternes and Tokaji—are produced by leaving the grapes on the vine long after the rest of the harvest has been processed in order to accumulate very high sugar levels. Often, a form of “noble” rot called botrytis plays a role, desiccating the grapes until only the very flavorful solids and sugars remain. These late-picked wines are, accordingly, often referred to as late-harvest wines. In colder climates, the grapes may be allowed to freeze on the vine for the production of ice wine. Other styles are made by letting the harvested grapes dry out (also concentrating sugars). Fortified wines are fortified with neutral spirits to increase the level of alcohol, and, depending on the final style of wine desired, arrest fermentation while some level, high to low (or no), residual sugar remains.

What gives dessert, Sherry & Port wines their color?

The different colors of most dessert wines come from the type of grape used and varying levels of oxidation during the winemaking process. The colors of Sherry and Port are mainly the result of oxidation, or lack thereof. Fino and Manzanilla styles are clear to pale gold because of the benevolent film-forming yeasts, called flor, that make a floating seal on the surface of the wine. This layer protects the wine from oxidation, and thus any browning. The other styles of Sherry use various levels of controlled oxidation, resulting in various hues of amber. The two basic styles of Port, Ruby and Tawny, also come in two basic colors, as noted by their names. Both styles are made from the same blend of Douro red varieties, but Tawny ports are tawny in color because they are made from a blend of vintages that have been aged in barrels and gradually exposed to oxygen. Ruby Ports retain their bright color because these wines are aged in barrel only for two to three years before bottling, thus minimizing any color change from oxidation.

How do you serve dessert, Sherry & Port wine?

Because of the typically higher sugar and alcohol content, the recommended serving size for most dessert, Sherry & Port wines is three ounces, which is smaller than for regular table wine. In general dessert wines should be served cold—a very sweet Tokaji is served at 40F; Sauternes are best at 50F. Fino and Manzanilla Sherries are best served at 45-50F, while the Amontillados, Olorosos and beyond, are best at 55F. Tawny Ports have a recommended serving temperature of 50-55F, whereas Ruby and Vintage Ports have a recommended serving temperature of 65F.

How long do dessert, Sherry & Port wine last?

High quality dessert wines such as Sauternes and Tokaji can often improve up to 10 to 20 years from bottling. Fino and Manzanilla Sherries should be consumed within a year or two of bottling since they are most appreciated for their freshness. Once opened, these are best consumed within a week. Store Amontillado Sherry up to about three years; once opened and refrigerated, these last two to three weeks before they decline. Store Oloro Sherry up to five years; once opened and refrigerated, these last a few weeks or longer. Cream Sherries are best consumed in their youth. Pedro Ximénez Sherry is a special case. It won’t necessarily improve with age, but is known to remain unchanged after many years of age. The two basic styles of Port can be further separated into an almost dizzying list of styles, but in general the only ones meant to age longer once bottled are crusted ports and vintage ports (from a declared vintage). Aside from those, LBV (late bottled vintage) ports should age about 4-6 years from the release date and the rest are ready to drink upon release. Fruit wines are not meant to age; the fresh fruit qualities of these wines are most prominent in their youth.

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  • Taylor Fladgate 20 Year Old Tawny Front Label
    Taylor Fladgate 20 Year Old Tawny
    Port from Portugal
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    • D92
    • W&S90
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    • Taylor Fladgate 30 Year Old Tawny Front Label
      Taylor Fladgate 30 Year Old Tawny
      Port from Portugal
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      • Penfolds Grandfather Rare Tawny in Gift Box Front Label
        Penfolds Grandfather Rare Tawny in Gift Box
        Port from Australia
        • RP92
        4.7 29 Ratings
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      • Dow's 10 Year Old Tawny Port  Front Label
        Dow's 10 Year Old Tawny Port
        Port from Portugal
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        • RP92
        • WE90
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        • Graham's 20 Year Old Tawny Port Front Label
          Graham's 20 Year Old Tawny Port
          Port from Douro, Portugal
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          • WE90
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        • Sandeman 30 Year Old Tawny Front Label
          Sandeman 30 Year Old Tawny
          Port from Portugal
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          • WS93
          4.4 20 Ratings
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          • Osborne Manzanilla Sherry Front Label
            Osborne Manzanilla Sherry
            Sherry from Jerez, Spain
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            • Graham's 40 Year Old Tawny Port Front Label
              Graham's 40 Year Old Tawny Port
              Port from Douro, Portugal
              • WS96
              • WE94
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                Lillet Blanc
                Vermouth from France
                • WE92
                4.1 47 Ratings
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                • Harveys Bristol Cream Sherry Front Label
                  Harveys Bristol Cream Sherry
                  Sherry from Jerez, Spain
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                  • Fonseca 20 Year Old Tawny Front Label
                    Fonseca 20 Year Old Tawny
                    Port from Portugal
                    • WE94
                    • WS92
                    • W&S92
                    • RP92
                    • D90
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                    • Ferreira Dona Antonia 20 Year Tawny Port Front Label
                      Ferreira Dona Antonia 20 Year Tawny Port
                      Port from Portugal
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                      • WE93
                      • WS92
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                      • Ferreira Dona Antonia Reserva White Port Front Label
                        Ferreira Dona Antonia Reserva White Port
                        Port from Portugal
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                          • Emilio Lustau Solera los Arcos Dry Amontillado Sherry Front Label
                            Emilio Lustau Solera los Arcos Dry Amontillado Sherry
                            Sherry from Jerez, Spain
                            • RP93
                            • WS90
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                            • Taylor Fladgate 10 Year Old Tawny Front Label
                              Taylor Fladgate 10 Year Old Tawny
                              Port from Portugal
                              • RP93
                              • WS90
                              • WE90
                              4.3 118 Ratings
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                              • Cockburn's Vintage Port 2016  Front Label
                                Cockburn's Vintage Port 2016
                                Port from Douro, Portugal
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                                • WS96
                                • D96
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                                • RP93
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                              • Hogue Late Harvest Riesling 2017  Front Label
                                Hogue Late Harvest Riesling 2017
                                Other Dessert from Columbia Valley, Washington
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                                    Quady Essensia Orange Muscat 2017
                                    Other Dessert from California
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                                      • Chateau Suduiraut Sauternes (Futures Pre-Sale) 2018  Front Label
                                        Chateau Suduiraut Sauternes (Futures Pre-Sale) 2018
                                        Other Dessert from Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
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                                        • D94
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                                      • Hijos de Rainera Perez Marin La Guita Manzanilla Front Label
                                        Hijos de Rainera Perez Marin La Guita Manzanilla
                                        Sherry from Jerez, Spain
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                                        • WS91
                                        • W&S91
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                                        • Osborne Cream Sherry Front Label
                                          Osborne Cream Sherry
                                          Sherry from Jerez, Spain
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                                          • Chateau Rieussec Sauternes 2011 Front Label
                                            Chateau Rieussec Sauternes 2011
                                            Other Dessert from Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
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                                            • WS96
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                                          • Broadbent 5 Year Madeira Reserve Front Label
                                            Broadbent 5 Year Madeira Reserve
                                            Madeira from Madeira, Portugal
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                                                Ricco Ricco Dolce
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                                                • Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port 2016 Front Label
                                                  Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port 2016
                                                  Port from Douro, Portugal
                                                  • WS97
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