Amazing sherry bargains, lovely but unloved sweet wines and some enthralling ports, which should be served in glasses larger and finer than those shown so atmospherically above.
This list of wines that are stronger and/or sweeter than most table wines kicks off with a selection of bone-dry, delightfully light and appetising sherries, all huge bargains.
The recommendations are shown in ascending order of price per cl. I have mixed up sweetness levels to demonstrate there is nothing wrong with wines with a certain amount of residual sugar, so long as the sweetness is balanced by sufficient acidity to make the whole harmonious and refreshing.
One day, these wines will be appreciated for the treasures that they are, but for now you might call this a Cinderella selection. Because of their unwarranted unpopularity, too few wine retailers put much effort into sweet and/or strong wines. Notable exceptions in the UK include The Wine Society and Waitrose. Four Walls Wine also has a particularly good selection of Sauternes.
Sánchez Romate, Fino Perdido Sherry 15%
This eight-year-old wine is deliberately on the cusp of an Amontillado. It is more substantial and less pungent than the first three Manzanillas listed below. The structure reminded me of a white burgundy. Much more refreshing, interesting and dry than a 15% Chardonnay from a hot region. This would be an extremely versatile food partner. Which other region could offer an eight-year-old wine for less than £8 a bottle?
£7.95 The Wine Society
Williams & Humbert, Alegría Manzanilla 15%
Very pungent – this perfumed the room as soon as the stopper was pulled. Bready and lime-marmalade notes. Bone dry and super-refreshing with a toasty finish. Sounds like breakfast, doesn't it? Might be just the thing to revive the appetite over the festive season.
£8.75 The Wine Society
Barbadillo, Solear Manzanilla 15%
Quite ridiculously inexpensive. Such a gorgeous nose of Granny Smith apples and a little bready flor. Pure and fun. Drink this light, dry wine young and fresh.
£8.99 (reduced from £10.99 for December 2021) Waitrose
Sánchez Romate, Don José Medium Dry Oloroso Sherry 17.5%
Yet another sherry bargain from this producer and this retailer. Very nutty nose with the pungent creaminess of well-aged sherry and just enough sweetness to compensate for the dry treacly character. Much drier than Harveys 12-year-old Cream Sherry and with more 'rancio' (the nutty, buttery aroma of wines long-aged in wood). An amazing amount of pleasure for less than a tenner. Come on, wine drinkers, how long are you going to ignore such bargains?
£9.25 The Wine Society
Hidalgo, La Gitana Manzanilla 15%
High toned and more complex than the Solear but perhaps less fun. Very pungent.
£9.69 (reduced from £11.19 for December 2021) Waitrose
Hidalgo, La Gitana Pastrana Single Vineyard Pasada Manzanilla 15%
Bright, glowing amber. Cheesy nose and an impression of burnished sweetness. Mellow and toasty with a savoury undertow. A silly price for such a mature, single-vineyard wine. This could go perfectly with so many foods: not smoked salmon, perhaps – regular Manzanilla would be better for that – but virtually anything savoury.
Lustau, Don Luis Fino del Puerto Sherry 16.5%
Pretty ordinary labelling but the wine itself is very fine, belying its low price. Smells of some of India's finest curries. Fascinating marine, saline influences. Real grip. Pungent. Excellent!
Lustau, Don Gaspar Dry Amontillado Sherry 18.5%
A great wine. Transparent, star-bright, tawny amber. Smells of a blend of cheese and popcorn! It's not bone dry, in fact, but rather mellow, with impressive persistence. So subtle and gorgeous. Delicate. Ridiculous value.
Taylor’s, Late Bottled Vintage 2015 Port 20%
The essence of the Douro Valley. An immediately accessible wine that smells like a really ripe dry red – from Napa perhaps? Frank, direct and fully ripe, with a dry, quite tannic finish. This would stand up perfectly to Stilton or Stichelton. So sincere.
£13 Marks & Spencer
Anthemis White Muscat 2014 Samos 15%
Smells of baked caramel and tastes of prune juice. But it's not sickly. It finishes with quite a bit of a tang and lift. Long and amazing value. Very Christmassy. This plus a mince pie…?
£9.50 (2015) The Wine Society
Kopke, Reserve Tawny Port 19.5%
Distinctive squat flask. Transparent orange-ruby. It has a hint of raisins and rancio. Real substance and punch. Ageing of 'at least seven years' is promised on the label. It looks older.
Harveys, Signature 12 Year Old Cream Sherry 19%
Winemaker Antonio Florido's selection of casks. Transparent orange-tawny with a hint of green at the rim. Little notes of rancio and raisins, and quite a bit of sweetness. It's a bit like a blend of raisin juice and mild sherry. Rather difficult to imagine the ideal market, interesting and distinctive as it is. I could imagine sipping it after dinner while watching TV.
£11.99 per 50 cl Waitrose
Rotier, Renaissance Vendanges Tardives 2016 Gaillac 12%
Certified organic. Made from oak-aged Len de l'El, a local grape variety in Gaillac. Deep gold. Very sweet but fresh. Quite enough acidity for the marked sweetness. Gorgeously round and lively without too much alcohol. Really very good indeed, with just a hint of marmalade on the end.
£16.99 per 50 cl Waitrose
Dow's, Quinta do Bomfim 2010 Port 20%
This is such a bargain, an earlier-maturing version of vintage port from the key wine farm responsible for Dow's port. There are several others on the market – Vargellas 2008 and Malvedos 2010 seem a bit too young, while Warre's Cavadinha 2005 is a little past its peak – but this seems just right. Intense notes of prunes, mint and tea leaves with great sweetness initially but freshness of fruit too.
£20 (reduced from £28) Asda, £24.99 Dike & Son, £26 Tanners Wine Merchants, Noble Green and many other retailers
J J Prüm, Bernkasteler Lay Riesling Auslese 2019 Mosel 8%
Gloriously refreshing from one of Germany's most admired wine estates. Very young but already delightful – like a sweet, light, crystalline, minerally mouthwash with usefully low alcohol. Super-juicy.
£30.28 Howard Ripley
Dom de Rancy, Ambré 1998 Rivesaltes 18%
Aged in wood for 20 years so that it's now a transparent orange-tawny with a yellow rim. Strong rancio nose gives this wine real punch and excitement. It tastes of liquid Christmas pudding with walnut notes. Really fresh and clean. Very sweet. Serve with cheese?
£21 per 50 cl The Wine Society
Kopke, Colheita 1999 Port 20%
Distinctive squat flask packaged in a smart wooden case. This would make a fine gift. A single-vintage port that's been aged in cask rather than bottle, so it's much more mature than a vintage port of the same age would be. Very pale, light reddish tawny. Lovely mellow cut-peel and nutty flavours on the palate. It seems a great price for a 22-year-old wine with light tanginess on the very persistent finish. It's probably too delicate to serve with food and would best be sipped thoughtfully after a meal.
Blandy's 15 Year Old Bual NV Madeira 19%
Utterly transparent greenish tawny. Masses of rancio character on the nose. Really tangy and vibrant – it jumps out of the glass! Not that sweet in its overall impression on the palate. I can detect the notes of figs and walnuts advertised on the back label but it finishes with quite a bit of chewiness and still seems incredibly youthful. Treacle toffee and lime juice. This will surely last forever. And would be great to sip before, after or during a meal.
£24.99 per 50 cl Waitrose
Royal Tokaji, Blue Label Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2014 Tokaj 11%
Exciting tension between acidity and sweet apricot-fool fruit with a hint of prunes. This useful little bottle would be great for current drinking, providing just a mouthful of something sweet but revitalising at the end of a meal, or just right for two people to share alongside a first course such as a creamy pâté. Admirably persistent but not at all sickly or heavy.
£13.99 for 25 cl Waitrose
Ch Rieussec 2011 Sauternes 14%
Fully mature top Sauternes from a sister property to Ch Lafite. Smells sweet and nutty. Molten marzipan. Dry finish. Notes of crème brûlée to boot. Try this with cheddar.
£65 Handford Wines and other retailers
Graham's, Single Harvest Tawny 1994 Port 20%
Much easier to serve than the vintage port described below, which was aged in bottle not cask – just remove the stopper cork from the attractive, clear, squat flask and pour. An opened bottle should last weeks not days. Very pale and delicate. Both raisiny and fresh. Comes in a smart, sturdy wooden-lidded tube.
£75 Ocado, £89.95 The Whisky Exchange and other retailers
Graham's 1994 Port 20%
The Symington family have recently released stock of this fine vintage port to Berry Bros and some other UK merchants from a vintage they rate as one of the finest since the Second World War. Very sweet start to this pruney, mature wine that’s currently drinking well. Stand up for a day to ensure you can decant it neatly off the sediment against a strong light. An educational contrast with the wood-aged Single Harvest Tawny from the same year.
£85 Berry Bros & Rudd (in-store), £109 Vintage Wine & Port
International stockists at Wine-Searcher.com.