Please, please buy at least one of these strong recommendations. See my similar selections of fizz, whites and reds. A version of this article is published by the Financial Times.
Here they are, the Cinderellas of the wine world… And because so few people seem to want to drink sweet or strong wines, many of them are seriously underpriced. Bear in mind that opened bottles of the tawny ports can be kept for up to eight weeks. As with any wine, cool storage prolongs active life.
I did originally have more Sauternes but in the UK they are shamefully difficult to find in stock and by the single bottle.
Wines are presented in ascending order of price per cl.
Strong and dry(ish)
Waitrose NV Manzanilla 15%
Lustau provides this exceptional bargain, the lightest, palest, driest sort of sherry that is as refreshing and versatile as many other white wines. Lovely bready/curry-flavour nose and palate. Salty, buttery and toasty. A seriously interesting wine with much more to it than many Manzanillas. I just hope that the shipment due in any minute tastes as good as the one I tasted at the end of September.
Waitrose Amontillado NV Sherry 18.5%
This richer, darker bargain comes from a Sánchez Romate solera. Transparent greenish tawny. Quite a bit of sweetness and obviously some age. £8.99 is a joke of a price for a wine with this amount of oak-ageing. A buttery wine that would be lovely with cheese.
Hidalgo, La Gitana NV Manzanilla 15%
The classic brand of Andalucia’s lightest, driest, most appetising version of sherry of all.
£9.75 (reduced from £12.75 until 1 January 2023) Waitrose, £8.50 per 50 cl Tesco, and many more stockists
Barbadillo, Pastora NV Manzanilla Pasada En Rama 15%
Crazy price for an eight-year-old (unfiltered) wine. Less fresh but more complex than a regular Manzanilla. Less fruity but yeastier and breadier. A treat with ham and other charcuterie.
£20 Ocado, £10 per half from a wide array of independents
Equipo Navazos, 113 La Bota de Manzanilla NV 15%
From the outfit that bottles specific, hand-picked casks. Amazingly vibrant, luxurious wine that’s about seven years old with the salty tang of its seaside origins. The connoisseur’s favourite. To be savoured like a Montrachet.
£34.99 Thorne Wines
Dom de Rancy, Macabeu Rancio Sec NV Côtes Catalanes 17%
A sensational find from Roussillon in the far south-west of France. Aged for 10 years to produce this beautifully brilliant, off-dry, intense wine whose extraordinarily fresh fruit is overlaid with something akin to chestnut-flavoured polish. It’s a little like a French version of an Amontillado sherry or Sercial madeira. More proof of how well the Macabeu grape (the Viura of Rioja) can age.
£25.95 per 50 cl The Whisky Exchange, £27.90 per 50 cl Cave Bristol and other independents
González Byass, Apostoles 30 Year Old VORS Palo Cortado NV Sherry 20%
Classic pale orange, full-bodied sherry that’s virtually an antique. Obviously a great age with many fascinating layers of flavour and a little chewiness. Tastes dry on the very persistent end. Classy stuff. And so incredibly long-lasting on the palate. Useful half-bottle.
£19.99 per half Waitrose Cellar
Sweet and strong
Kourtaki, Cameo NV Mavrodaphne of Patras 15%
A famous Greek (very) sweet red aged, like sherry, in a solera. Certainly distinctive and definitely not expensive. Sweet enough to pair with chocolate and a good example of a wine in which the sweetness, acidity and chewy tannin are well balanced.
Waitrose Cream NV Sherry 19.5%
A rich, raisiny, sweet bargain from Sánchez Romate, aged for three to four years although the price doesn’t reflect that. There’s exciting depth to this wine which has true nuttiness. Lovely bite on the end. Proper wine that would be a delightful bargain at the end of a meal. Real lift and transparency. Ignore anti-cream prejudice!
Cave de Hunawihr, Kuhlmann-Platz Gewurztraminer 2020 Alsace 14%
Powerfully perfumed with candied rose petals and lychee syrup in the rather glorious aroma. Only medium sweet, this could be perfect for a guest who finds most wine a bit too dry and acid for them or their stomach. A fine, full-blown example of one of the wine world’s most emphatic grape varieties.
Jean-Claude & Didier Aubert 2019 Vouvray Demi-Sec 13%
Medium-sweet Vouvray is a UK supermarket staple but this is a hugely superior, underpriced example worth ageing for years. I’m not sure when I would drink it but I really enjoyed its expression of toasty Chenin Blanc with buttered baked-apple notes.
£14.95 Yapp Bros
Royal Tokaji Late Harvest 2018 Tokaj 12%
Nutty and tense on the nose. Sweet and easy with lower acidity than Tokaji Aszu. Just a tiny bit syrupy but in a very smart, tall bottle.
£12.99 per 50 cl Majestic
Quinta do Noval, Late Bottled Vintage 2016 Port 19.5%
Unfiltered, superior version of the LBV style. When I tasted it last year I thought it was a bit too young but it should be coming into its own now. All the grapes came from this iconic estate. Luscious mulberry fruit.
£19.95 Master of Malt, £22.95 Cheers, also Albion and Bon Coeur Fine Wines
Errázuriz, Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 2019 Casablanca 11.5%
This is not complex but I suspect if I were in Chile I would fall on it. In London it looks just a tad oily. Maybe it would have been better a year ago? But it’s not expensive for such a sweet wine. And is not that alcoholic.
£10.99 per half Taurus Wines
Quinta de la Rosa, Finest Reserve NV Port 19.5%
In a cute clear-glass flask. Fully mature perfume with lots of grip and interest on the palate. Proper, spicy wine at a fair price rather than simply blended to a price.
£14.95 per 50 cl Berry Bros & Rudd
Niepoort, Late Bottled Vintage 2018 Port 20%
Lively, vigorous but by no means simple. A stimulating drink with real intrigue.
£19.95 Cheers, £20.95 The Whisky Exchange and other independents; halves available
Fonseca, Quinta do Panascal 2004 Port 20.5%
Well-priced single-quinta port. Great price for an 18-year-old for a mellow wine with methol notes. The most delicious cough medicine you’re likely to encounter?
£23.99 de Burgh, £24.99 Cambridge Wine Merchants and many other independents
Graham’s, Quinta dos Malvedos 2010 Port 20%
Single-quinta vintage ports are so much better value than blended vintage ports. They age conveniently more quickly, though there is absolutely no hurry to drink this one. Sweet start but dry finish, though overall it’s remarkably refreshing and well made. The driven (as opposed to stopper) cork was extremely difficult to extract however.
£23.99 Sandhams Wine Merchants, £26.95 Cellar Selected, NY Wines of Cambridge and many other independents
Warre’s, Quinta da Cavadinha 2005 Port 20%
Great value for a 17-year-old wine. Strong liquorice notes. Very firm and upright. The tannin is hanging on by its fingernails! Transparent and fresh. Lots of pleasure here in a wine you could serve over several days. Long and haunting. Really rather beautiful.
£24.99 (reduced from £33.99 until 1 January 2023) Waitrose
Taylor’s, Quinta de Vargellas 2013 Port 20%
A still-youthful single-quinta port offering great value. Very ripe, round and smooth (which is surprising considering how relatively youthful it is). I could imagine this very sweet wine going well with the salty acidity of Stilton. Lay this in for many Christmases to come…
UWC Samos, Solera Aged Muscat NV Samos 15%
Long-aged in oak and contains some wine from this Greek island as young as 2016 but also some as old as 1955 – so quite a bargain. Transparent orange. Very complex and revitalising. Far from sticky or sickly.
£23 per half The Wine Society
Quinta do Noval, 20 Year Old Tawny NV Port 21%
With its notes of nuts and macerated dried fruits, this should be a Christmas favourite. Liquid Christmas cake? But there is freshness here too with a tang that belies all that sweetness and alcohol. In fact, I may be tempted to use it instead of brandy in this year’s brandy butter.
£29.22 per half The Drink Shop, 75-cl bottles from £54.50 Master of Malt, The General Wine Co, Secret Cellar, Tanners and other independents
Royal Tokaji, Gold Label 6 Puttonyos Aszu 2017 Tokaj 10.5%
Massively opulent ripe fruit, with great acidity and white-peach notes. Very fine and fine boned. Should last for decades.
£43 per 50 cl Majestic
H M Borges, 20 Year Old Malvasia/Malmsey NV Madeira 20%
Tangy, smoky and gorgeous with great revivifying acidity. Just the job! An opened bottle of this will last for years – and it’s not going to get any cheaper.
£68.97 Lay & Wheeler
Taylor’s, 30 Year Old Tawny NV Port 20%
Very smooth with flavours of dried fruits and nuts. By no means given away, but then compared with a 30-year-old red bordeaux… Very pure and fresh. Actually, delightfully refreshing. Very well done with just a tiny bit of chewiness thanks to that long oak-ageing.
£69 Waitrose Cellar
Dow’s, 30 Year Old Tawny NV Port 20%
Gorgeous orange tawny colour. Great, confident construction. A truly complete wine with a certain dustiness but real life; another cocktail of dried fruits and some nuts. Long and really interesting.
£76 The Wine Society
Graham’s, Vintage Port Library Release 1994 Port 20%
Fully mature vintage port with a spicy nose and nutty notes. Great for meditative sipping now. (NB the original release of this wine is available at prices starting from £60 Private Cellar.)
£129 The Whisky Exchange
Tasting notes in our database. Some international stockists on Wine-Searcher.com.