Festive sweet and strong wines


Sweet and fortified wines for drinking over the festive season, a follow-up to dry whites and reds. A version of this article is published by the Financial Times. 

This is the time of year to treat yourself to sweet and/or strong wines such as those highly recommended below, listed in ascending price per cl order. Unless otherwise stated, they come in the usual 75-cl bottle, although halves, or half-litres, can be particularly useful. 

I make no excuses for majoring on Sauternes. Sweet white bordeaux needs all the help it can get.

De Bortoli, Family Reserve Botrytis Semillon 2013 New South Wales, Australia
£6.98 for 37.5 cl Asda and many other retailers
This is the wine seen more widely as De Bortoli, Noble One, hailed by Australia’s most famous wine writer James Halliday as in the same class as Penfolds Grange red (£500 a bottle). The same grape variety and natural on-the-vine sweetening process as Ch d’Yquem, but in the Australian wine industry’s irrigated inland workhorse region. The best wine made there by quite a margin. 10.5%

Corte Mainente, Luna Nova 2016 Recioto di Soave, Italy
£13.95 for 37.5 cl Stone Vine & Sun
Italy is such a treasure trove of wines made sweet by drying grapes. Vin Santo is Central Italy’s most famous version; in this one Garganega grapes usually grown for Soave are dried. This has great apple-skin aroma, masses of sweetness, enough acidity and a grainy texture. It would be lovely with a fruit dessert but it’s probably too fresh and light for chocolate or anything very sweet. Clean and persistent. 14%

Ch La Tour Blanche 2014 Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
£18.65 for 37.5 cl Lay & Wheeler
Halves of Sauternes are particularly useful because they tend to evolve relatively fast and, often, a small pour of such a sweet wine is enough. I have four enthusiastic notes on this wine, never scoring it less than 17 out of 20. Most recently I tasted it blind with a group of other 2014 Sauternes and gave it 18 (quite an achievement for a wine served blind). I noted ‘orange peel, interest and great purity’ on this broad, creamy, dramatic wine. 14%

Ch La Tour Blanche 2005 Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
£22 for 37.5 cl Huntsworth Wine, £45 St John Wine
This property, an educational institution, maintains admirably high standards and produces no sweet wine at all in poorer vintages. This is a delightfully mature wine now. I have three notes on it with scores of 18, 18 and 19 – quite something for this uncharitable scorer. You would pay so much more if this were a red bordeaux. No hurry to drink this but it is gloriously, opulently enjoyable already. Serve with cheese or tarte Tatin. 14%

Ch Suduiraut 2013 Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
£49.10 Armit Wines, £18.75 for 37.5 cl Lay & Wheeler
When the last 10 years of results of our annual blind tasting of 200 four-year-old top Bordeaux wines were analysed, AXA-owned Ch Suduiraut was the best-performing Sauternes of all except for the primus inter pares Ch d’Yquem. (Its Pauillac stablemate Ch Pichon Baron was also the top scorer of left-bank reds other than first growths – quite an achievement.)

The one category that supermarkets are still brilliant at is fortified wine, especially sherry, which, most regrettably, is so short of customers that great deals are struck with big-volume buyers. Lustau’s sales team has clearly been working hard. (For another sherry bargain, see Emily's wine of the week yesterday.)

Barbadillo, Solear Manzanilla NV Sherry, Spain
£5.95 for 37.5 cl The Wine Society
Manzanilla and Fino are the pale, dry, light sherries that make great appetite-stimulants – useful over the festive season. Pale honey colour. Pungent nose. Smoky with a whiff of treacle toffee. Very fresh and clean as a whistle. 15%

Gonzalez Byass, Tio Pepe Fino En Rama NV Sherry, Spain
£15.95 Soho Wine Supply, £17.95 Oxford Wine Co
En Rama means that this has been bottled without the usual filtration and is even fresher and more saline than regular bottling of this iconic wine – classic, bone-dry aperitif. 15%

Emilio Lustau, Very Rare Palo Cortado NV Sherry, Spain
£9 for 37.5 cl Marks & Spencer  
Morrisons sell a version of this wine at just £6 a half which is a great bargain but this one from what is described as an ‘Exclusive solera’ on the label is even better. Pale brilliant orange, it’s clearly a wine that has been aged in cask for ages. Clean, fresh and bone dry with nuances of chamomile, walnuts and blue cheese. If the sherry market were healthier, this would be sold at a very high price exclusively in very fine wine shops. Sometimes one feels that supermarket buyers of sherry are fobbed off with substandard blends but this is hugely impressive. Sad for what it says about sherry that it's such a bargain. This would make a great aperitif, at a bargain price. 19%

Emilio Lustau, Almacenista Antonio Caballero y Sobrinos NV Sherry, Spain
£19.95 for 50 cl Berry Bros & Rudd (but not expected until 2019)
Almacenista sherries are aged in private sherry collections. This dry, medium-bodied Amontillado was aged for an average of 18 years in the seaside town of El Puerto de Santa María. Gorgeous combination of richness and freshness. Bone dry with lots of acidity because it’s so old and reduced. A food and wine matcher’s delight. Wonderful value. 21.5%

Gonzalez Byass, Apostoles NV VORS Sherry, Spain
£19.99 for 37.5 cl Ocado, Waitrose Cellar
An old faithful from one of sherry’s most stalwart producers. Palest tawny with yellow-green highlights suggesting long ageing in cask. Very high-toned (you might be able to use this as a decongestant) with hints of walnuts on the nose. Beautifully balanced (87% Palo Cortado with a little PX sweetening) and transparent, revitalising, dry wine that is rich in flavour but tastes light as a feather. VORS means it’s at least 30 years old, so the price seems almost a giveaway. This would be just the thing to give guests after a long winter walk. 20%

Emilio Lustau, Añada 2000 Sherry, Spain
£20 for 37.5 cl Marks & Spencer  
A strictly limited bottling of vintage sherry undertaken in summer 2017. Pale glowing golden tawny with some sweetness, presumably to counterbalance the very concentrated acidity that has resulted from the extended ageing in cask. This would be lovely with Christmas pudding. Or even as a lively aperitif because its main attribute is maturity rather than sweetness (which is why I’m putting in the Dry group). The word 'Dulce' (sweet) is relegated to small print on the back label. Very Christmassy. 21%

Once these bottles have been opened, you can keep coming back to them over a couple of weeks – or forever in the case of the madeira. Keeping them cool will slow down any deterioration.

Bacalhôa 2015 Moscatel de Setúbal, Portugal
£11.95 Tanners
Strong amber Muscat infused with grapey flavour thanks to several months’ maceration of the grape skins that leaves a refreshing grip on the finish, and 15 months in alternating heat and cold. Very sweet but fresh too with a suggestion of Grand Marnier. 17%

10 Year Old Aged Tawny Port NV Portugal
£17 Marks & Spencer 
From Quinta & Vineyard Bottlers, the own-label operation of The Fladgate Partnership, owners of Taylor, Fonseca, Croft and substantial stocks of old tawnies. Really pure, exciting, fresh wood-aged port with edgy cut-peel notes and a refreshingly dry, spicy finish. Persistent and neat. This would be great with cheese and/or walnuts. 20%

Campbells Muscat NV Rutherglen, Victoria, Australia
£12.99 for 37.5 cl Waitrose
Screwcapped dark-amber bargain. Like liquefied Christmas cake except it’s even sweeter. 17.5%

Parcé Frères 1988 Rivesaltes, Roussillon, France
£27 The Wine Society
This Catalan south-western corner of France is the repository of caches of ancient nectars. This one is palest orange and tastes of dried citrus fruits. Real tang and zing. Mature, refreshing and a bargain. 16%

Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny NV Port, Portugal
£29 The Wine Society, £29.99 Waitrose (reduced from £38.99), £38.95 Davy’s, £39.20 Hedonism and others
This is the optimum age for most ports aged in carefully maintained casks rather than put into bottle at an early stage, as vintage port is. This is a really beautifully lifted, fresh essence that caresses the palate like satin. Excellent value. 20%

Quinta da Silveira 10 Year Old Tawny NV Port, Portugal
£34.95 Davy’s
From a single farm right up in the Upper Douro. Pale tawny. A blend of red and white ports with real depth, punch and spice. Masses of character. 20%

Quinta do Noval 2003 Port, Portugal
£52.50 Richard Granger, £59.98 Sandhams, £59.99 The Cardinals Cellar, £101.80 Hedonism
If it’s got to be vintage port, you could do a lot worse than this, and spend a lot more on it. This heatwave vintage is already drinking well. 19.5%

Domaine La Sobilane 1968 Rivesaltes, Languedoc, France
£108 Hedonism
One of the finest 1968s made anywhere, ferreted out by  Philippe Gayral of Muse Vintage, who specialises in finding and selling Roussillon’s liquid treasures. 17%

Blandy’s Malmsey 1977 Madeira
£190–220 RRP, £200 Fareham Wine Cellar
Thanks to changes in EU wine law, we can now enjoy vintage-dated wines from this green Atlantic island. Clean and fresh with the acidity trumping the sweetness. Gorgeous balance. Long but clean. Irresistible. 19%

Fuller tasting notes in our tasting notes database. More stockists from Wine-Searcher.com. The FT's seasonal appeal is in aid of Habitat for Humanity, which builds infrastructure for people in crisis. One of the lots in this online auction ebay.co.uk/FTappeal is 'dinner with fine wine' with Jancis and Nick. Feel free to bid!