Differences between Oporto wines and Andalusian generous wines (“solera” wines)

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In our OliveOilTour we are lucky to welcome people who love good food, good wines and that travel around the world enjoying all the delicacies that each place can offer. Many times during our wine tasting, a question comes out: what is the difference between Oporto and Sherry? Today we would like to talk a little more in details about these 2 wonderful types of wines that are Portugal’s Oporto’s and South of Spain, Andalusian generous wines from Jerez and Montilla-Moriles, commonly known as Sherry.

Obviously they are similar in some ways but they are also different and unique wines. Both are fortified and mixed wines but the country, soil and grapes are not the same.

We have had the opportunity to travel to Oporto and learn a little more about these delicious wines. We have visited Taylor’s, one of the most famous wine makers of Oporto. It is located just in front of the city, on the other side of the Douro River, in Gaia.

Apart from the elaboration method, there are autochthonous grapes (there are about 40 varieties of which Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca and Tinta Cao are the most famous), but also “terroir”, climate and soil of the Douro Valley that make Oporto wines so particular.

Oporto wines are not produced in the city of Oporto but in the Douro Valley, from Spain’s border to approximately half of its way in direction to Oporto. Knowing how excellent Spanish “Ribera del Duero” wines are, we could only expect good things on the Portuguese side!

The best vines are located in rocky very hard soil, made of slate. Sometimes the roots have to go down 15 meters (almost 50 feet) to find water. Traditionally they were cultivated in terraces and were separated by stone walls. The countryside in this region is beautiful and is classified as world heritage.
Only 6 months after its elaboration, the wine travels to Oporto where it’s going to start its slow transformation. The climate there is perfect for this process to happen. Thanks to its geographical location, close to the ocean, and to a certain wind dynamic, in Oporto temperatures don’t suffer big changes, unlike inland countryside.

It was quite a surprise to learn that, for 30% of their wines, they still have people to step on the grapes to crush them!!! As our host says, it is still nowadays the best and most natural way to extract color, tannins and flavor from the grapes, without crushing the seeds inside that are acid.

3 days after fermentation occurs, wine alcohol is added to the wine. This liquor doesn’t have any taste or color but it is used to stop fermentation, so the wine keeps more of the grapes original sweetness.

There is a historical reason for adding pure grape alcohol to Oporto and Sherry wines: in the XVII century, the British, who enjoyed so much these wines, noticed that by fortifying the wine, it would keep and travel better to England …We also know now, that it does not only keep it better, enabling its consumption for several decades, but it also ameliorates the wine quality with time.

“Solera” ageing system, specific to Sherry wines from Jerez and Montilla-Moriles, consists of putting new wine into wine barrels at the beginning of a series of three to four barrels. A quarter of the wine is moved from one barrel into the next barrel down. Then, only a quarter of the last barrels is bottled and sold. This is the reason why vintage year is not so relevant here, as young and mature wines are mixed together; so most bottles don’t mention it actually. In this way the wine becomes homogeneous. It also raises its quality, as mature wine gives body to the new one.

Oporto wines are not elaborated with “solera”. They are a selection of different Oporto wines, from different years and grapes that are blended and aged in oak barrels for many years.

There are of course many types of Oporto. Depending on the elaboration methods, the grapes varieties, how it is blend, the oak barrels’ sizes and the ageing time, it is classified into: white, red, “Tawny” with age mention (10, 20, 30 and 40 years) and also “Vintage”. This last one is the result of a superior quality single harvest. After 2 years in oak barrel, it is matured in bottle and can be kept for 15, 20 or even more years.

At Taylor’s we tasted 3 Oporto wines. The first one was a “Chip Dry”: a dry white wine, very tasty, and even though it is called dry, we found it much sweeter than a Fino. It is recommended with appetizers, before lunch or dinner.
The second wine we tasted was a “Late Bottled Vintage”, aged between 4-6 years in oak barrels, delicious, whole body, sweet with red fruits aromas, perfect to enjoy with milk chocolate and fruit desserts… The last one was a 10 year old Tawny, … Excellent! Maybe the most representative of these wines, full bodied, with wood notes… It offers a complex range of ripe fruits aromas. Its name “Tawny” comes from its amber-tile color that is also characteristic to other mature red wines, like “reserva” or “gran reserva” in Spain.

Once more we’ve had the chance to experience how enriching is traveling and appreciating the charms and gastronomy of each place! Oporto or Sherry, different and similar, each one for a special occasion… Cheers!