My final set of hand-picked recommendations follows those for fizz, white wines and red wines. A version of this article is published by the Financial Times. See also Warmers and sweeteners to see out 2020. Image of sweet wine in a Jancis Robinson glass by Jono Parker.
This is the time of year when sweet and strong wines come into their own. And with ports and sherries, it is the time of year when UK supermarkets come into their own, offering some almost incredible bargains. Within the groups below, these strong, seasonal recommendations are listed in ascending order of price per cl. All bottles are 75 cl unless stated otherwise – which it often is.
Lustau Dry Oloroso 20%
£5.50 (usually £6.25) for 37.5 cl Morrisons
Crazy price for a 12-year-old single-vineyard, hugely appetising wine. Will someone please put Jerez out of its stock surplus and restore prices to what they should be?
Don Luis Fino del Puerto 16.5%
A Waitrose exclusive from Lustau. Much firmer and nuttier on the nose than the average Fino. Stronger too. There is a ton of character here with saltiness and breadiness and even perhaps a little butteriness. All you're missing from this sandwich is the filling! Definitely a bottle worth laying in for the holiday season. In the same series, Don Gaspar Dry Amontillado and Torre del Oro Palo Cortado are also great value at the same price.
Harveys, Signature 12 year old Cream 19%
£11.99 for 50 cl (usually £13.99) Waitrose, £14.18 Master of Malt
Very different from Harveys Bristol Cream with real complexity. Dried citrus peel, walnuts and some of those rich spicy flavours you find in Sicilian cannoli. I could well imagine it with the sweet tanginess of Christmas pudding. Just the job in fact.
González Byass, Una Palma Fino 15.5%
£13.50 for 50 cl The Wine Society, £14.99 Soho Wine Supply, £15.94 Bon Coeur Fine Wines and many others
Every year a few casks of six-year-old, bready, bone-dry, light sherry are selected for various Una, Dos etc Palma bottlings. (See my 2011 account of being involved in the process.) A recent, ground-breaking tasting showed that these Palma bottlings can develop beautifully in bottle.
Lustau, Murillo Pedro Ximénez 17%
£13.99 (usually £16.99) for 50 cl Waitrose
This sherry at its sweetest is too interesting to use simply as something to pour over ice cream. Aged for about 15 years, it’s much gentler and more interesting than most PXs. Walnuts might work as a foil for its tooth-rotting nature.
Equipo Navazos, La Bota de Manzanilla 101 Florpower MMXVI 15%
£36 The Sampler
Imagine electric essence of umami and that’s what this delicate, dry sherry is like. I Think Manzanilla 2018 (£13.90 for 37.5 cl The Sampler) is its baby brother.
See also my recommendations published on 19 September 2020. All of these will last forever in an opened bottle.
Barbeito Boal Reserva 19%
£13–£15 for 50 cl Fareham Wine Cellar, Lea & Sandeman and many other independents
Pale, bright orange and medium sweet. Pungent, somehow intensely mineral, nose. Lovely walnut notes and extremely elegant. Yes, it's sweet enough to drink after a meal, but it's actually quite delicate and I could imagine enjoying it virtually any time. A wine-lover's madeira…
Henriques & Henriques 10 year old Sercial 20%
£19.99 for 50 cl Waitrose, The Wine Society and others
Flavours of soaked cut peel. You could drink this before or with a meal. With a clear soup or bouillon it would be magical: guaranteed to cure any invalid, surely? Super-clean, pure and revitalising. Though much lighter and drier than any Boal or Malmsey.
Blandy’s, Single Harvest Malmsey Colheita 1999 Madeira 20%
£48 The Wine Society
Chris Blandy calls this the perfect contemplation wine. Pale orange. Gorgeously rich amalgam of green fruit, smoke and sweet macerated citrus-peel. Stunning!
Graham’s 10 year old Tawny 20%
£15.35 (usually £20.49) Waitrose
This pale tawny comes in a particularly smart clear glass-stoppered flask. It’s pretty sweet but has good tanginess and freshness too. Some nuttiness as well as the dried-fruit notes. It would be great with cheese.
Quinta do Noval 10 year old Tawny 19.5%
£19.99 (usually £24.99) Waitrose
More youthful and concentrated than the super-smooth Graham's with lots of pungency, some fine tannin and a treacly note. This wine will probably last longer in an opened bottle than the Graham's and it's slightly less sweet. This would be great with Christmas pudding as well as cheese.
Quinta do Noval Late Bottled Vintage 2013 19.5%
£21.49 Ocado, £24.95 Amazon Marketplace
Baby vintage port at a great price. Luscious and very well balanced. Pretty smart wine worth decanting. It's much more expensive than most late bottled vintage ports but it deserves to be. No hurry to drink this. Sip contemplatively with Stichelton.
Taylor’s, Quinta de Vargellas 2005/2008 19.5%
£25.59 (usually £31.99) Waitrose
Waitrose are moving from the 2005 to the 2008 vintage. I couldn’t extract the 2008 cork so it had to be pushed down into the bottle before decanting and the luscious 2005 was only marginally better. Both vintages are heady and exciting with herbs, autumn undergrowth and the lightest of tannic frameworks. Serious wine at a great price. No hurry to drink the 2008.
Sandeman 20 year old Tawny 20%
£31.99 (usually £39.99) Waitrose
Perhaps not as complex as the slightly cerebral Noval 10 year old but this would not disappoint someone looking for a super-smooth, light, long-wood-matured port – so long as they ignored the lurid new packaging. Decant?
Warre’s 2000 20%
£47.99 Sandhams Wine Merchants and other independents
This is probably the youngest (cheapest) vintage that vintage port enthusiasts could think of broaching. This particularly luscious one has consistently shown well.
Taylor, Quinta de Vargellas Vinha Velha 2011
£310 Nemo Wine Cellars and fine-wine traders
Extraordinary wine likely to appeal to port lovers throughout its long, wild life.
Sweet and golden
Lustau Moscatel de Alejandria, Andalucia 15%
£4.99 (usually £6.49) for 50 cl Waitrose
This screwcapped Muscat from a vineyard near Cadiz has some real character to it. Exceptionally well made for a sweet wine at this price. Like Golden Shred marmalade cordial. Sufficiently fresh as well as very sweet.
Ch Filhot, L’Or du Ciron 2010 Sauternes 13%
£12.50 for 37.5 cl Marks & Spencer
Pretty good price for a 10-year-old wine showing some evidence of noble rot. Not the richest nor most complex Sauternes but it would make a useful half-bottle for any Christmas household.
Berry Bros & Rudd 2017 Sauternes 14%
£14.95 for 37.5 cl Berry Bros & Rudd
True typical pear-juice notes from the irreproachable Ch Climens. Just a bit lighter overall than the real thing. Another useful half-bottle?
Ch Pierre-Bise, L’Anclaie 2014 Coteaux du Layon Beaulieu 11%
£17.95 for 50 cl Lea & Sandeman
An old favourite from Anjou. Deep, bright, bronzey-gold. Toasty, pungent nose that is more expressive of Chenin than of sweet wine. Then on the palate there is a lovely satin-swoosh of very sweet buttery tarte-Tatin juice and just enough acidity. Really quite vibrant and beautifully composed. You could happily sit and sip this on its own as it finishes reasonably dry but it could also go very happily with fruit and creamy desserts. Very well done.
Ch Raymond Lafon 2009 Sauternes 13.5%
£36.90 Four Walls Wine Co
Unspittable, I wrote about this when tasting it professionally en primeur. It’s all dried apricots with the intensity and richness of noble rot. It should be great now. Try with Roquefort for a special treat?
Royal Tokaji, Gold Label 6 puttonyos 2016 Tokaj 11%
£40 per 50 cl Majestic Wine
The top selection from this producer smells of smoked apricots and tastes of particularly ethereal prune juice. Whistle-clean and so refreshing it could be drunk on its own as an aperitif! Delicacy is the keynote. So much flavour, so little alcohol.
Ch Suduiraut 2001 Sauternes 14%
£43.20 for 37.5 cl Four Walls Wine Co
Creamy, opulent and already complex it obviously has a long way to go too. Barley sugar at its best. Useful half-bottle?
Other sweet and strong
Martinez, 5 Anni Riserva Dolce Marsala, Sicily 18%
£9 for 37.5 cl Marks & Spencer
More than an ingredient, this is a medium-sweet drink to sip on its own or with all those sweet Christmassy things that are long on dried fruit. Good value.
Dom Bousquet, Dulce Malbec 2018 Tupungato, Argentina 19.5%
£14.95 for 50 cl Davy's Wine Merchants
Certified organic grapes grown at 1,200 m to produce an unusual, pure berry-flavoured, port-like drink that goes particularly well with high-quality chocolate.
Les Vignerons de Maury, Solera 1928, Cask 873 Maury, Roussillon 17%
£19.95 for 50 cl Berry Bros & Rudd
Red Grenache long aged in oak in the far south-west of France where this is the traditional wine style. Great value.
Tasting notes on Purple Pages; a high proportion of the wines are described in more detail in Warmers and sweeteners to see out 2020. International stockists on Wine-Searcher.com