A version of this article is published by the Financial Times. We all at JancisRobinson.com wish you the happiest and jolliest of Christmases.
Since there are so many ways a wine can be made sweet and/or strong, I have grouped my sweet and strong recommendations below by type, firstly those that owe their sweetness purely to the sugar naturally in the grapes, then those made from grapes that were dried to concentrate the sugar, then those to which alcohol has been added to stop the fermentation and retain unfermented grape sugar, and finally a group of drier wines that have been fortified by the addition of alcohol. In the UK, Oddbins and Berry Bros & Rudd have particularly good ranges of these seasonal and archetypally festive types of wine. Sweet and strong wines tend to be sold in a wide range of bottle sizes. Within each group I have tried to list these recommended examples in ascending order of price per centilitre.
Marcarini 2015 Moscato d'Asti
This is the anytime wine, feather-light and refreshing, but in this case from a fine source. Demonstrates how much tax we pay on stronger wines. Apple juice of the most stimulating sort. Refreshing and sincere. Very useful for Christmas entertaining. 5%
£13.35 Berry Bros & Rudd
Ch La Caussade 2012 Ste-Croix-du-Mont
This is a great price for a well-balanced, well-made sweet wine from just outside Sauternes with a delightful suggestion of the famous noble rot. Not that intense but certainly very acceptable in a baked-apple sort of way. 13.5%
£8.95 for 37.5cl Lea & Sandeman
Ch Villafranche 2013 Sauternes
Excellent value for proper Sauternes. Fresh, floral and vibrant, this can also be cellared for another four or five years. 14%
About £21, or £12 for 37.5 cl, O W Loeb, Good Wine shops, Philglas & Swiggott, Hercules Wine Warehouse of Faversham, Wadebridge Wines of Cornwall
De Bortoli, Australian Show Liqueur 8 Year Old Muscat NV South East Australia
Liqueur Muscat is one of Australia’s great wine treasures. If it came from Rutherglen it would cost much more but trust Aldi to have sniffed out this fully mature, extremely rich bargain from irrigated inland vineyards. Naughty but nice on nose and palate; terrible for the teeth. A wine of the week. 18%
£8.99 reduced from £11.99 for 50 cl Aldi
Disznókö, Late Harvest 2013 Tokaj
Pale golden marvel from Hungary’s historic sweet wine region. A rich mix of almonds and apricots from an outpost of AXA Millésimes. Excellent value. 12.5%
£14.50 for 50 cl Oddbins
Vincent Carême, Le Clos Demi-Sec 2010 Vouvray
Lovely, pure, maturing Chenin Blanc bouquet of almonds and Gripfix glue. There is so much pure freshness in this classic Loire white that the wine tastes just off-dry. It would be great with a chicken-liver parfait, for instance. Great definition and precision – a real pick-me-up. 13%
£25.95 Berry Bros & Rudd
Ch Guiraud, Petit Guiraud 2013 Sauternes
Not that sweet but with great energy. This, like the Vouvray above, is the sort of sweet wine that could be drunk with savoury foods. Attractive toastiness. Really revitalising. I thought it better value than the 2002 Ch Guiraud grand vin also on offer from Berrys at £54.95. 14%
£25.95 Berry Bros & Rudd
Disznókö, Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2007 Tokaj
The current, rather precocious vintage of this producer’s grandest wine and another one that would be especially good for savoury dishes. Very round and nicely balanced already. Lovely now with hints of lime marmalade. No excess sugar nor acid. Satin texture and very flattering. 12.5%
£26.99 for 50 cl Waitrose, £30.95 or £28.75 as part of a mixed dozen Lea & Sandeman
Pellegrino, Passito Liquoroso 2015 Pantelleria
Made from lightly dried Muscat of Alexandria grapes grown on this fashionable little island off Sicily. Spicy notes of orange peel. Very sweet and viscous. 15%
£11 for 37.5 cl Oddbins
Kyperounda, Commandaria 2008 Cyprus
The signature Cypriot sweet wine from one of the renascent wine island’s finest producers – so much more refreshing and less raisiny than most Commandarias. This orange-tawny wine has clearly been aged in wood for ages and manages to be both sweet and seriously refreshing. Excellent value and not that alcoholic. 14%
£17.95 for 50 cl Berry Bros & Rudd
Dei 2009 Vin Santo di Montepulciano
Heady, nutty, glorious, with sweetness and edginess. Almonds and real nerve. 14%
£23.95 for 37.5 cl, or £21.75 if bought as part of a mixed dozen, Lea & Sandeman
Mullineux, Straw Wine Chenin Blanc 2015 Stellenbosch
An old favourite that never disappoints and seems to be delicious even in extreme youth. Deep coppery gold. Intensely and brilliantly sweet but kept vital by enormously refreshing vibrancy. Like tarte Tatin juice. Just 10% alcohol.
£27.95 for 37.5 cl Berry Bros & Rudd
STRONG AND SWEET
Barbeito 10 year Old Sercial NV Madeira
Sercial can be bone dry but this well-aged charmer hovers rather thrillingly on the edge of sweetness. The refined acidity that defines madeira keeps it from being at all cloying. 20%
£31.25, or £28.95 as part of a mixed dozen, Lea & Sandeman
Taylor’s 20 Year Old Tawny NV Port
Ten years in cask may be enough to produce fine madeira (see above) but my sweet spot for the age of wood-matured port seems to be 20 years. This one is a convincing greenish pale tawny colour and is far from the sweetest port. The residual sugar is 112 g/l and the overall impression is that of vibrant freshness. I could imagine really enjoying this with cheese, and suspect it is much easier on the cranium than deeper-coloured ports.
£32.99 Wine Rack, £33.95 The Whisky Exchange, £34.24 Thedrinkshop.com, £44.99 Selfridges
Quinta do Noval, Colheita 2003 Port
A rare fortified wine style, a vintage-dated port aged not in bottle like vintage port but in cask, until being bottled earlier this year in the case of this transparent fox-red beauty. Really vibrant nose with some suggestion of vegetation and just on the cusp of rancio but chock full of aged dried fruit with lots of life. Long live colheita ports! Scent of chamomile and freshness with neat, cleansing fruit in the middle and then a brisk, fresh finish. Spreads broadly on the end in a dried orange peel sort of way. Pure pleasure. I suspect this will leave you as fresh as a madeira does the morning after.
Around £50 Ocado, Lea & Sandman, Cambridge Wines, Ruby Red in Bradford-on-Avon
Graham 1983 port
This shows just what vintage port is all about: stately ageing in bottle resulting in a beautiful satin texture (with all its many tannins fully dissolved) with a hugely complex and winning combination of liquorice and haunting sweet red fruit. Very gorgeous. This is clearly a great vintage to enjoy now. It seems crazy that a wine from one of port’s most respected names that is only just approaching its apogee after a third of a century’s ageing costs as little as this. The Bordeaux equivalent would cost six times as much.
£55 Cadman Fine Wines, £57 Four Walls Wine, £59 Fingal-Rock and other independents
STRONG AND DRY
González Byass, Viña AB Amontillado NV Sherry
This is an entirely silly price for a 12-year-old pale gold, dry wine. This smells of particularly fine apple juice. Racy with real lift and character. Smooth and cool but super-refreshing without excess concentration. Some real evolution – like a very, very mature Fino. Lots to chew on. 16.5%
£12.50 reduced from £13.75 Oddbins
Blandy’s, Colheita Verdelho 1998 Madeira
Bottled in 2013 after 15 years in Atlantic-impregnated wood, this wonderfully complex pale, nervy, green-fruited island wine is exceptional in many ways. It belongs to the new vintage-dated madeira category, is particularly pure and revitalising and only just off dry. It could be drunk at virtually any time of day: before, during or even after a meal. It would be lovely with a meaty first course such as a terrine or chicken-liver parfait.
£45.99 for 50 cl Fareham Wine Cellar, £50.99 The Wine Library