Anglicans customarily take a specially produced red wine as part of the service of Holy Communion.

For small churches and congregations a fortified wine such as sherry will keep its condition once opened for a lot longer. Is it acceptable, irregular, or actually banned in church law to use sherry for this purpose?

3 Answers 3


If the Anglican Church is similar to the Lutherans, than Sherry will do just fine as it's made in a natural manner without adding spirits made from grain. Sherry uses white grapes for the base wine.

An article on Sherry in Wikipedia explains how it is made in a different manner than other wines:

After fermentation is complete, the base wines are fortified with grape spirit in order to increase their final alcohol content. Wines classified as suitable for aging as fino and Manzanilla are fortified until they reach a total alcohol content of 15.5 per cent by volume. As they age in a barrel, they develop a layer of flor—a yeast-like growth that helps protect the wine from excessive oxidation. Those wines that are classified to undergo aging as oloroso are fortified to reach an alcohol content of at least 17 per cent. They do not develop flor and so oxidise slightly as they age, giving them a darker colour. Because the fortification takes place after fermentation, most sherries are initially dry, with any sweetness being added later. In contrast, port wine is fortified halfway through its fermentation, which stops the process so that not all of the sugar is turned into alcohol.

The old Lutheran liturgical rubrics encouraged the use of white wine for Communion. This was most likely due to thought that the church altar clothes would be easier to clean if a spill occurred. So, a blush Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder), Riesling, etc. was probably used most often.

In 1136 A.D., Bernhard of Clairvaux in Burgundy brought Pinot Noir for sacramental use in the Benedictine monasteries. Engaging in grape growing & wine making was part of the monastic tradition in the Middle Ages. The monks took the crafting of sacramental wine very seriously. Some of the best and most expensive wines in the world come from locations where the monasteries once existed.

Martin Luther enjoyed Rhine wine like Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), but he also had a sweet spot for dessert wine like sweet (Generosos de Licor blended) Sherry. For example, he wrote a devotional thought on that type of wine.

Gott steht nicht mit dem Knüppel hinter Dir, sondern mit einem Glas Malvasier vor Dir.


God is not behind you with a stick, but with a glass of Malvasia (wine) in front of you.

In America, sacramental wine is often made from the Mission grape. It is fortified with extra sweet must (i.e. last harvest grape juice, raisons, etc.) being added during the fermentation process to bring up the resulting alcohol level. The adding of everclear (at 195 proof) is not acceptable, in making Catholic sacrament wine, as it is not natural being made from grain. Bottom shelf brandy is less expensive to use when fortifying wine, but the end quality is not conducive to making good wine. That is why fortified sacramental wine is often more expensive than other wines.

According to an article on Sacramental Wine in WineMaking magazine the following is noted. I have yet to verify the designer yeast comment and am very skeptical of it being a binding canonical law:

After extensive research into the Church Canon Laws that pertain to the production of sacramental wines, I learned they had to be made from 100% grape juice and could not contain any additives, including packaged yeast.

Mission grapes were first brought to America by the Catholic missionaries, most likely from the Canary Islands of Spain. It is a red grape, but made into a blush wine (Angelica) for sacramental use.

Randall Grahm writes:

The mission grape was likely the first grape imported to California by the Spanish padres in the 16th century, and for several centuries a mainstay of California vineyards. I’ve tasted mission grapes at UC Davis, and observed the famous Winkler vine before its untimely demise due to tractor blight (and possible over-irrigation). I’m here to tell you that as far as grapes go, mission is quite possibly the very worst extant vinifera variety. It has an absolutely giant cluster, with no color, no flavor, no acid, no nothing. And yet…under these bizarre growing conditions in the Canary Islands, it produces a wine of absolute genius.

The take-home message? The world of wine exists in non-Euclidean space, and certainly partakes of the quantum universe; there are great discontinuities in what we know or imagine we know.

For sacramental Christians, of the Lutheran/high Anglican tradition, what is most important in the sacrament is not the type of wine or how much alcohol is present. Rather, it is how in the words of institution Jesus comes with his (super-substantial illocal) body, blood, soul and Divinity. His presence is distinct, but not separated from the primal elements of bread & wine. Bad wine can remind us of the cross he died on & good wine can remind us of the wedding of Cana and the eschatological feast to come.


Would sherry do for an Anglican (Church of England)?

If you would permit me, I would like to use a former Anglican, now Catholic as a source for answering your question. I believe he is being objective and not bias in what he says.

Dr Taylor Marshall, a lay Catholic theologian was an Anglican prior to converting to the Catholic Church and has still pleasant memories of his Anglican days.

First of all let us keep in mind that both port and sherry are fortified wines. The only real difference between them is the region from where the grapes are grown. Thus it stands to reason that if the Anglican Communion allows port wine in their communion services, sherry would also be permitted. Many sherries tend to white and not red, but not all. See here.

What is the difference between port and sherry? It comes down to where they are from as well as the grapes used. Port is a sweet red wine that originates from the Douro region of northern Portugal, while sherry is made with white grapes and comes from what is known as “the Sherry Triangle,” an area in the province of Cádiz in Spain.

Both are fortified, which means brandy or a neutral distilled spirit is added. Port wine tends to be rich and sweet in taste since it is fortified halfway through the fermentation process. This differs from sherry, which is fortified after the fermentation process is complete, giving it a dry texture. - Port and Sherry

Here is what Dr. Taylor Marshall has to sat on this subject:

When I was an Anglican, people often commented about the port used for Holy Communion. They typically liked it. There is an interesting history behind this custom.

As you may know, England does not produce wine. Everybody loves a bottle of “French wine”, but who has even heard of a bottle of “English wine”. So wine was mostly imported into England.

However, after the Restoration of the crown and episcopacy at the end of the 1600s, the War of Spanish Succession pitted England against Spain and France. At this time, France did not export wine to England. In 1703, the English and the Portuguese signed the Methuen Treaty and became political allies against Spain and France. This alliance also confirmed low import/export taxes between England and Portugal.

As a result, the unique fortified wine of Portugal was almost exclusive imported into England. The Portuguese wine was fortified as a preservative for storage and exportation. At the time, “wine” in England referred exclusively to what we know as “port wine” or “porto”. If an Englishman served wine at his table in 1705 it was certainly “port wine” from Portugal.

Thus, it became the custom for the Church of England to employ port at Holy Communion. Since liturgy is naturally conservative and old habits die hard, port has remained as the communion wine of choice and most Anglican and Episcopal parishes. - Why do Anglicans use Port for Communion Wine?

Thus it would be perfectly permitted for Anglicans to use sherry in their communion services.

I have had a hard time trying to find a source for what norms the Anglican Community uses as what constitutes a proper type of sacramental wine.

Since Anglicans have a strong historical tie to Catholicism, I would simply like to share what Catholicism states as what constitutes a sacramental wine also known as altar wine.

Norms in Catholicism

Over the centuries, various criteria were laid down for wine to be appropriate for use in the Eucharist. Editions of the Tridentine Roman Missal had a section De Defectibus on defects which could occur in the celebration of Mass, including defects of the wine. Canon 924 of the present Code of Canon Law (1983) states:

§1 The most holy Sacrifice of the Eucharist must be celebrated in bread, and in wine to which a small quantity of water is to be added.

§2 The bread must be wheaten only, and recently made, so that there is no danger of corruption.

§3 The wine must be natural, made from grapes of the vine, and not corrupt.

This means that the wine must be naturally fermented with nothing added to it, and the wine itself cannot have soured or become vinegar, nor can it have anything artificial added to it (preservatives, flavours). While the Catholic Church generally adheres to the rule that all wine for sacramental use must be pure grape wine and alcoholic it is accepted that there are some circumstances, where it may be necessary to use a wine that is only minimally fermented, called mustum.

One exception was historically made regarding wine-derived additives to wine. An 1896 directive of the Congregation of the Inquisition stated:

To conserve weak and feeble wines, and in order to keep them from souring or spoiling during transportation, a small quantity of spirits of wine (grape brandy or alcohol) may be added, provided the following conditions are observed:

  1. The added spirit (alcohol) must have been distilled from the grape (ex genimime vitis);

  2. The quantity of alcohol added, together with that which the wine contained naturally after fermentation, must not exceed eighteen per cent of the whole;

  3. The addition must be made during the process of fermentation.

Just a little note to add here about Catholic altar wines. The added spirit (alcohol) must have been distilled from the grape (ex genimime vitis or grape brandy); and (2) the quantity of alcohol added, together with that which the wine contained naturally after fermentation, must not exceed eighteen per cent (18%) of the whole. See here.


Sherry would do for an Anglican, but maybe not a Roman Catholic

Church of England Canon Law states (Canon B17):

The bread, whether leavened or unleavened, shall be of the best and purest wheat flour that conveniently may be gotten, and the wine the fermented juice of the grape, good and wholesome.

Anna Greenhous, wine expert, explained to Church Times:

These churches [Roman Catholic and Anglican] often serve alcoholic wine that has been fortified, which means that distilled spirit has been added to boost the alcohol volume. The high alcohol content helps to preserve the wine, reducing the risk of its spoiling.

In small congregations, where only a little wine is used, this is important, as a bottle may need to last for weeks. In the Roman Catholic Church, however, Canon 924 states that the wine must not be corrupt; so sugar, for example, must not be added.

Sherry sometimes has sugar added (for example, cream sherry) and - if so - would not be suitable for Roman Catholic Holy Communion.

Because the fortification takes place after fermentation, most sherries are initially dry, with any sweetness being added later. In contrast, port wine is fortified halfway through its fermentation, which stops the process so that not all of the sugar is turned into alcohol.

Port, on the other hand may meet Roman Catholic requirements.

The Vatican rules on the taking of communion wine are specific. [...] The nature of the wine itself is also subject to strictures: it has to be “natural, from the fruit of the grape, pure and incorrupt”, therefore the fining agents and preservatives that are added to table wine cannot be used. Sulphites, however, are allowed, as is fortification with grape-based spirits to no greater alcohol content that 18 per cent (as defined in the Code of Canon Law by Pope John Paul II in 1983). This helps prevent the wine from turning into vinegar. Since red wine is favoured, this is effectively port.

  • Adding grape brandy to altar wine as a preservative in the Catholic Church is permitted as long as the over all abv remains at 18% or less! The Church sees grape brandy as distilled wine!
    – Ken Graham
    Apr 18, 2022 at 11:56
  • @KenGraham Thank you! I've tried to improve my answer to give a clearer and more accurate understanding of where the dividing line is for the Catholic church. Apr 18, 2022 at 12:27

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