Fortified and sweet wines for the holidays

If you're interested enough in wine to be visiting this site, let me encourage you to widen your horizons to wines that are neither dry white not dry red – if you're not already in the habit of doing so. If you fail to buy sweet and strong wines at this time of year, when will you ever wallow in the unique pleasure to be had in gently sipping something special for a change?

(And by the way, isn't it time for another good book on sweet wines? The last I can remember was Stephen Brook's Liquid Gold published by Constable in 1987. Yet there are all these people in places like Tokaj, Sauternes, Vouvray, Ontario and all over Italy toiling away for little reward to make better and better sweet wines.)

Sweet wines can even be served and drunk instead of dessert at the end of a meal. And they go beautifully with cheese whereas many a fine red can be wrecked by a seriously runny brie or strong blue. Those who are planning particularly politically incorrect meals can even savour the distinctively Gallic pleasure of sweet white wine with their foie gras.

This is the season to be merry – and over-indulgent. So I for one will be laying in extra stocks of milk thistle, the herbal dietary supplement which helps the liver cope with a heavy load, plus several bottles of pale, bone dry, ultra-tangy sherry, one sip of which before a meal seems to kick-start the appetite.

The wines below are listed in ascending order of price per cl and UK stockists are specified. For international stockists, see WineSearcher.

Sweet Wines

Château La Caussade 2000 St Croix du Mont
£8.99 Majestic
A special parcel (so limited stocks) from one of Bordeaux's less glamorous sweet white districts but the wine is extremely rich for the (full bottle) price with just enough acidity to keep it fresh.

Concha y Toro Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 2001 Maule
£4.99 Safeway
A remarkable bargain from Chile which is now officially allowed to send such well-priced, satiny, sweet-yet-refreshing marvels to Europe.

MR Málaga 2002 Telmo Rodriguez
£8.50 for 50cl Adnams of Southwold
This is the second wine of the even more concentrated Molino Real (£19.99), a revival of historic 'Mountain' sweet white from hills not far from Marbella, made by Spain's most peripatetic winemaker Telmo Rodriguez (born and raised in Rioja). White peaches and real life.

Maculan Dindarello 2001 Veneto
£7.89 a half Oddbins
Tingling, densely fruity, north east Italian with distinct peachiness but rather more lift than the average sweet white bordeaux.

Château Liot 2001 Sauternes
£9.79 a half, Waitrose
Great value – full, rich, broad from a very fine sweet white bordeaux vintage.

Nackenheim Rothenberg Riesling Auslese 2002 Gunderloch
About £21 from Averys, Four Walls, Haslemere Cellar, Justerini & Brooks, Raeburn of Edinburgh and Seckford Wines
A baby but what a bouncing one. Great richness and tingle. Already delicious but it should last another 15 years or more. In fact Justerini's can offer the 1996 at almost exactly the same price, and this older vintage is a favourite of this merchant's fastidious wine buyer.

Tesco's Finest Sauternes 2001
£11.99 a half Tesco
Pretty good stuff from this lovely vintage for sweet white bordeaux via négociant Yvon Mau.

Château Bastor Lamontagne 1999 Sauternes
£25 top 58 Waitrose stores
Very, very rich and toasty. Massive and already lovely to drink. Another delicious Sauternes from Waitrose.

Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Auslese 2002 Hermann Dönnhoff, Nahe
£18 a half Howard Ripley of London SW18
Fabulous nectar from one of Germany's great masters which should ideally be drunk between 2006 and 2025 but is so delicious – ethereal lime and lychee syrup, a sort of vinous pick-me-up – that it could be sipped already thanks to the German 2002 vintage's open, sunny character. Howard Ripley also has the Brücke Auslese.

Leiwener Klostergarten Eiswein 2002 Carl Loewen
£19.50 a half Howard Ripley
The thing about Icewine is that it can, probably should, be drunk much younger than wines that are sweet because of botrytis, or noble rot such as the one above. This is a very fair price for a wine made by people who had to pick frozen grapes in substantially sub-zero temperatures.

Dry Fortified

Waitrose Fino Sherry
£4.99 Waitrose
From Luis Caballero and, with Waitrose's wine department bristling with Masters of Wine, you can be sure they keep the shipments fresh – very fresh in the example I tasted. Crazy, not to say sad, price for a blend based on six-year old wine.

La Gitana Manzanilla Hidalgo
£5.99 Majestic, Sainsbury's, Waitrose
I recommend a bottle of this light, bone dry pick-me-up in every fridge door over the coming weeks.

Manzanilla Pasada Pastrana, Hidalgo
£7.99 (£7.49 if two Hidalgo sherries are bought) Majestic
Extremely tangy and refreshing. More depth than the Gitana. Perfect for Boxing Day.

Henriques & Henriques 10 year old Sercial
£11.99 per 50cl Waitrose, Majestic (£10.99 if two are bought at Majestic), also from Lea & Sandeman
Drink this tangy, off-dry pick-me-up either pre- or post-prandially, slightly chilled perhaps.

Sweet Fortified

Waitrose Solera Jerezana Rich Cream Sherry
£5.99 Waitrose
From Diego Romero – a really lively, appetising, raisiny blend that would be lovely for sipping with cheddar and walnuts.

Late Bottled Vintage Port 1997
£6.99 Marks & Spencer
As last year, reduced from £8.99 by £2 until the end of the year, this blend from Taylors is very lively and exciting. Really fresh with vigorous personality.

Quinta do Noval Late Bottled Vintage 1997
£10-13 from a wide range of independents including Bentalls of Kingston, Averys of Bristol, Fenwicks of Newcastle, Hailsham Cellars of Sussex, Peckham & Rye of Glasgow and Great Grog of Edinburgh
This handsome bottle of unfiltered, part foot-trodden wine is streets ahead of most LBVs in terms of concentration and, for a change, similarity to young vintage port. Some good special offers until the end of the year.

Banyuls Cuvée Tradition 2001 Domaine de la Casa Blanca
£10.95 Handford Wines of London W11 and SW7
Red Grenache lightened by some Grenache Gris, this barrique-aged wine is still very tannic but is also richly perfumed, appetising and definitely tastes like the essence of Christmas – France's answer to young port.

Dow's Crusted Port 1998
£13.49 Asda, Oddbins
Blend of wines from different vintages bottled at two or three years old and then deliberately given bottle age so that the wine has some sediment, or crust. Very vigorous, prune-scented, full-bodied wine that is already drinking well – a sort of short-cut to vintage port.

Rutherglen Grand Muscat, Chambers of Rosewood
£7.45 a half from Lay & Wheeler
Australia's greatest gift to the wine world, incredibly sweet yet subtle liquid Christmas cake conjured out of the earth and sunshine of north east Victoria, in this case the result of years of warm barrel maturation. Not for nothing are these sorts of wine called stickies.

Andresen Colheita 1982
£18.99 Laithwaites
A port oddity, a vintage-dated wine bottled only this year, from a small, originally Danish house in Oporto. When you consider that a 20 year-old tawny looks like a bargain at under £20, you can see that this is also a particularly good buy – lively, nutty, not too sweet. Would be lovely with mature cheddar.

20 year old Tawny Port
£19.99 top 150 Marks & Spencer stores
£9 more, and much, much more intense in flavour, than the 10 year old, this wine from Taylors is full and gorgeous but delightfully gentle. Serve very slightly chilled by a warm fire. Regular Taylors 20 year old Tawny retails at more than £30.

Maury 1990 Mas Amiel
30 euro in France and from
The inland answer to Banyuls from the foothills of the Pyrenees – just down the Agly valley from the exciting Fenouillèdes red wines I described here earlier this year. Mas Amiel, in new hands since 2000, is the most famous producer of Maury which, at 16.5 per cent, is much less potent than port, which is usually closer to 20 per cent alcohol. This wine is more obviously raisiny and, being based on Grenache rather than Portuguese grapes, is lighter in colour and altogether gentler. It would make a great partner for chocolate.

Dow Quinta do Bomfim 1995
£20.99 Budgen, Oddbins, £21.99 Majestic, also Selfridge's
Deep, lively, lots of fun with spice, licorice, tannin – vintage port characteristics in fact.

Henriques & Henriques 15 year old Verdelho
£16.99 for 50cl Waitrose, also from Lea & Sandeman
Wonderfully clean and bracing yet with just as much sweetness as nerve. 'Coltish', I wrote, when tasting it. But this was towards the end of the tasting.