Good festive buys 2019 – sweet and strong

Sauternes in a Jancis Robinson x Richard Brendon glass

Take advantage of some of the best deals around. A version of this article is published by the Financial Times. See also my seasonal recommendations for fizz, whites and reds.

There are some fabulous bargains here, not least because both strong and sweet wines are out of fashion. For how much longer, I wonder? These 20 gems are listed in ascending price per centilitre. All wines are in the usual 75 cl bottle unless otherwise stated. Image by @ateliernash.

Tradition 2017 Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Doux
£7.99 Lidl
Not the sweetest golden wine, and not the most aromatic, but certainly a bargain. The natural tanginess of the Manseng grapes keep this medium-sweet wine from south-west France refreshing and much more interesting than the price suggests.
Useful for those with a sweet tooth but not too demanding tastes. More background in Andy Howard MW's recent comparison of Aldi and Lidl12%

Sanchez Romate, Fino Perdido NV Sherry
£8.50 The Wine Society
Absolutely stunning value for a six-year-old screwcapped wine hand-picked from an almacenista (private storehouse). This one is a little darker plus fuller and richer than the average tangy Fino. Bready, soft, and a beautiful dry partner for food, verging on Amontillado. 15%

Casa Ermelinda Freitas Moscatel NV Setúbal
£9.95 The Wine Society
This Portuguese Muscat is not long on subtlety but delivers an amazing amount o
f alcohol and orange peel, plus a little bit of chewiness, for the money. 17.5%

Finest Reserve NV Port
£10 Marks & Spencer (usual price £12)

The back label promises that this blend has been made by David Guimaraens of The Fladgate Partnerhip (Taylor’s et al) for M&S for over 20 years and that it may be kept for three years, or three weeks in an opened bottle. Dark garnet. Clean and fresh with very direct sweet fruit and just a little bit spirit in evidence. Not too much tannin. Great-value superior ruby port. 20%

El Benito, Pasada NV Manzanilla
£11.99 Waitrose
Four-year-old light, dry, delicate sherry from Sanlúcar de Barrameda supplied by Emilio Lustau. Great stuff – bready and tangy and the perfect aperitif. Only lightly aged. Just the job! Though the darker, older Palo Cortado below is even better value. 17%

Solera Jerezana, Palo Cortado NV Sherry
£11.99 Waitrose

Totally silly price for an Emilio Lustau wine of this age. Palo Cortado is a wine originally selected as a Fino but with characteristics thought to make it more suitable for long ageing, about 10 years in cask. Tangy and obviously long oak aged. Savoury. Great aperitif or at the table with consommé, beef tea or cheese and nuts. 19%

Ch Pech La Calevie 2015 Monbazillac
£13.50 The Wine Society

Superior Monbazillac with a floral undertow. Very clean, though not suitable for ageing. Excellent value. 13.5%

González Byass, Tio Pepe En Rama Fino NV Sherry, 2019 bottling
£13.79 Noble Grape and many other independents, £14.95 The Wine Society
Unfiltered, dry, bready aperitif that would make the perfect appetite-restorer. This is the tenth annual issue of this ground-breaking wine. No desperate hurry to drink it despite The Wine Society’s advice to drink it this year. Fresh, gorgeous and palate-cleansing with a salty tang on the end. 15%

Graham's, 10 Year Old Tawny NV Port
£20 Tesco, Waitrose, Amazon, Vintage Wine and Port, Harvey Nichols
Transparent pale rust red – a much yellower, more mature colour than Taylor's 10 Year Old Tawny, for instance. Light, briary nose with a hint of almonds and real vitality. This positively caresses the palate. Lovely stuff! I'd drink this sooner rather than later but it has a beautiful satin texture. Great balance. Subtle and long.

Graham's, Quinta dos Malvedos 2005 Port
£20 Tesco, £23 Sainsbury's, £25 Tanners, £26.95 Amazon and many independents
Single-quinta ports, from one farm, are made very similarly to vintage port and some of the best-value ports to be found. They represent some of the best wines, and best value, on offer from supermarkets. The cork – finally – came out of the bottleneck, leaving many a fragment in the wine. You are warned. This is one of the more mature single-quinta ports on the market at the moment. Round and evolved with some real richness and an undertow of prunes in armagnac. Lots of punch and character here. At £20 it's quite a steal. It has the trademark Graham's ripeness but has structure too. Slightly fiery – a real mouthful of the Douro. Lots to enjoy, and not too chewily youthful. Tesco are in the process of moving on to the more youthful 2006. 20%

Quinta do Noval, Late Bottled Vintage 2012 Port
£19 Oddbins (usually £24), £21.25 Ocado and about £23.50 Cambridge Wine Merchants, Whitmore & White, South Down Cellars
Grown exclusively on this rejuvenated, AXA-owned estate with grapes trodden by foot in traditional fashion. Aged in relatively large casks to accelerate the ageing and costing about a third as much as vintage port. Serious, artisanal, multi-layered, not-all-that-sweet port that’s already drinking well. Rather claret-like – a Portuguese relative of its stablemate Ch Pichon Baron of Pauillac? Deliberately unfiltered, this would benefit from being decanted a few hours before serving – any clean glass vessel would do. Try to finish it up over a few days rather than weeks. 19.5%

Barros, 10 Year Old Tawny NV Port
£25.50 Hic! Wine Merchants
Pale, bright amber. Pretty sweet and delicate with a dry finish and some marzipan notes along the way. Attractive nuttiness with some real depth and length. 20%

Les Vignerons de Maury, Solera 1928 NV Maury
£17 for 50 cl The Wine Society

This strong, sweet, Grenache-based wine has been aged for years and year in barrels in the roof of the co-op in the village of Maury in the Agly Valley. The solera system dates from 1928 and is still refreshed today, yielding a heady mixture of spicy chocolate and treacle toffee. Great value. A Roussillon tradition that deserves to be celebrated. 17%

Corney & Barrow 2017 Sauternes
£14.25 for 37.5 cl Corney & Barrow

Rich, almost cheesy, butterscotch nose with masses of broad fruit and personality. Lovely creamy texture – and so directly appealing. Négociants Sichel buy exclusive parcels from top châteaux, a blend of two in the case of this 2017, which have to remain anonymous, apparently. A blend of Sémillon with 30% Sauvignon Blanc bottled only in halves. Clearly from a superior source. 13%

Warre's, Quinta da Cavadinha 2004 Port
£32.45 Whisky Exchange, £32.95 Amazon, £34 Waitrose
I tasted four single-quinta ports from well-known producers and this was the only one whose cork could be coaxed out of the bottleneck. For the rest, unseemly wrestling, cork-piercing and dribbling was involved. Are the bottles left upright on a shelf too long? This is not quite as youthful as the excellent Taylor's, Quinta de Vargellas 2004 Port (widely available at £30 but not nearly ready) but it will taste even better in the next decade. Lovely purity of sweet fruit on the palate initially obscures the fine tannins. Rather beautiful texture and a bone-dry finish. 20%

Ch Doisy Védrines 2011 Sauternes
£32.50 Four Walls
Massively sweet with golden opulence and a hint of mushrooms even but with quite enough acidity to keep it refreshing. Glorious complexity for the money from a great Sauternes vintage. Buy some for Christmases to come too.

Crociani 2014 Vin Santo di Montepulciano
£19.49 for 37.5 cl Waitrose
Pale tawny Tuscan speciality. Nutty with the sort of buttery notes that oak-aged wines attain, plus great balance and tang. Wonderful freshness as well as notes of plum juice and apple freshness. Great stuff! 15.5%

Quinta do Noval, Colheita 2000 Tawny Port
£49 The Wine Society, £54 Tanners and many other independents
Great savoury, nutty, refreshing wine that’s not really that sweet. Very revitalising, long, and a peacock’s tail of subtle flavours on the end. This is so much the opposite of sickly that you could drink it as an aperitif, à la française

Quinta de la Rosa 2004 Vintage Port
£56 Berry Bros & Rudd

Classically made from fruit grown on ancient stone terraces on the Bergqvist family estate outside Pinhão, now replete with restaurant and accommodation. Excellent freshness and tang. Not especially sweet, nor especially tannic, unlike many 2004 vintage ports this could actually be drunk now with cheese or with some rich savoury dishes – a really rich stew? Jewelly fresh. Fine. 19.5%

Barbeito, 40 Year Old Vinho do Reitor Malvasia NV Madeira
£448 Hedonism
If it’s liquid Christmas pudding, history, and hedonism, you are after, this is the wine for you. Winemaker Ricardo Diogo Freitas has produced just 700 bottles of this diligently assembled blend, a tribute to a Madeira academic he particularly admires. Not that sweet but a wonderfully refreshing, rich amalgam of dried fruits and spice from the middle of the Atlantic. 19.6%

Tasting notes on all these wines can be found via our tasting notes search. For international stockists, see or scroll down the page once you have opened a specific tasting note in our database.