Top holiday wines 4 – strong and sweet


This is a longer version of an article also published in the Financial Times.

See also my earlier companion articles on top fizz, whites and reds.

This is still the best-value style of wine because it is – quite unjustifiably – unfashionable. In fact some of the sherry and port prices are almost criminally low. Yet, alas, remarkably few retailers have an interesting selection, as witness the relatively narrow range of stockists cited below. Purple Pagers may take advantage of the much longer list of wines published in Strong and sweet – autumn collection, painstakingly edited by Julia Harding MW.

Wines are grouped by style and then listed in ascending price order, based on the lowest known UK price per cl.


Pedro's, Almacenista Selection Fino Sherry
This pale, dry, super-tangy wine was my favourite from an underpriced new range sourced by Jerez-based Peter Dauthieu. A blend of very fresh wine from Sanchez Romate deepened by some older wine from almacenista (stockholder) Garcia Jarana. Brilliantly pure. The Amontillado at £9.99 is also very good. 15%
£8.99 Majestic

Emilio Lustau, Waitrose Solera Jerezana Palo Cortado Sherry
An extremely keenly priced rendition of the sherry aficionado's favourite style. Pale greenish gold. Pungent and gunsmoke and a totally ridiculous price. So tangy, this would get the most jaded appetite going. The Fino del Puerto at the same price is also excellent. 19%
£9.75 Waitrose

Sánchez Romate, Cayetano del Pino Palo Cortado Sherry
Bright pale orange. Gorgeous life and excitement in this 12-year-old revitalising bone-dry wine. Wonderfully light and fresh while being deep flavoured and resonant. A great bargain. 20%
£13.50 The Wine Society

Emilio Lustau, Dry Old Palo Oloroso Sherry
Rich pale tawny colour. Excitingly nutty from a single vineyard with real age and tang. Long and exciting. 20%
£7.49 (375 ml) Marks and Spencer

Blandy's, 10 Year Old Dry Sercial NV Madeira
Pale tawny. Tangy and nutty and much less dry than some Sercials but hugely appetising and with acidity that verges on the painful. What a lovely sip this would be on Christmas morning. 19%
£18.59 (50 cl) Waitrose

Equipo Navazos, La Bota no 42 Manzanilla sherry
The Montrachet of light, bone-dry sherries from the most fastidious producer.
£33.20 Hedonism Wines


Ch Pech La Calevie 2009 Monbazillac
Heavy, apple-caramel juice. Round and with excellent acidity. One of the most refined Monbazillacs I have tasted for a while. Ridiculously cheap. Not for keeping but it should deliver huge pleasure. 14.5%
£11.95 The Wine Society

Ch Liot 2010 Sauternes
85% Sémillon, 10% Sauvignon Blanc and 5% Muscadelle. Pale gold and full of sweetness and richness. Massively appealing peachiness but good fresh acidity on the finish. Slightly tooth rotting. Long and not subtle but very good value. 14%
£13.49 Waitrose

Dom des Forges 2010 Coteaux du Layon Chaume
Pale copper. Lots of acidity and freshness. Passion fruit flavours and revitalising. Still youthful. Essence of sweet Loire Chenin Blanc. (The same producer's 2010 Quarts de Chaume (£28.20 Tanners) is also stunning and almost as good value.) 11.5%
£8.29 (37.5 cl) Waitrose

J Chivite Family Estates, Colección 125 Vendimia Tardía 2008 Navarra
This is possibly Spain's finest sweet wine, made from fine Muscat grapes in a low-yielding vineyard picked a dozen times. Fresh and grapey. Really clean and vibrant. Full and grapey – like Beaume de Venise on speed? Rewarding. And just right now, though almost too sweet. 13.5%
£19.99 Waitrose

Lyrarakis Malvasía NV Greece
Cretan blend of Plyto, Dafni, Vidiano and Vilana grapes grown and dried in the sun for nine days. Pale orange, and orange-peel flavours. Surprisingly light bodied, racy and transparent. 11.5%
£17.75 (50 cl) Berry Bros

Mullineux, Straw Wine 2012 Swartland
100% Chenin Blanc. Pale tawny. Plump, round and peachy. There is so much intensity, complexity and rich nutty flavours – but masses of acidity too. 12%
£20.50 (37.5cl) Berry Bros

Royal Tokaji, Betsek Primae Classis 6 Puttonyos 2007 Tokaj
Single-vineyard Tokaji takes us on an even more exciting journey into the soul of Hungary's most famous wine. Aged for 27 months in bottle before release. Just 2,390 bottles produced. Smoky, clean, and flavours of dried apricots. Very fresh. 11%
£55 Waitrose


Symington, Waitrose Ruby port
The colour is not that different from its Tawny stablemate but this is much more interesting. Nuts and raisins and so much fun for the money! A firm spine. Great value. Alas. 19%
£7.49 Waitrose

Graham's, Late Bottled Vintage 2008 port
Vigorous bright crimson. Spicy and super-sweet with a hint of liquorice. Firm and fresh with real vigour. You could already enjoy this although there are sufficient tannins lurking under the sweetness that you would want to eat something at the same time. I could imagine it with walnuts and/or hard cheese. Old Gouda? Very well balanced with a floral topnote. 20%
£10 Asda until 2 Jan, also many other major retailers

Fonseca, Unfiltered Late Bottled Vintage 2007 port
Very dark crimson (much darker than the Noval LBV 2007). Quite uncompromising and peppery but with masses of rich, ripe fruit underneath. The wine is somehow much more serious than the dimpled bottle suggests. You could serve this instead of a young vintage port. Great value at the reduced price. 20%
£13.99 (special offer until 15 Jan) Cambridge Wine Merchant

Niepoort, Senior Tawny port
Sweet and round and vibrant, beautifully balanced. Treacle toffee and more intense than most tawnies. 20%
£18.75 Lea & Sandeman

Quinta do Noval, Unfiltered Single Vineyard Late Bottled Vintage 2007 port

Made exclusively from grapes grown on this magical estate, written about here recently. Dark crimson with some evolution at the rim. Vigorous raisiny nose and a fresh, dry finish. Not so unlike some Napa Valley Cabernets! Super clean and refreshing. Still a little bit of tannin on the finish but very serious and with an attractive kick of liquorice. 19.5%
£19 Lea & Sandeman and others

Graham's, Crusted Bottled 1998 port
Tension and liquorice and real vibration on this. This would seduce a wide variety of palates, I would guess. Quite firm and not as sweet as, say, the Late Bottled Vintage 2008, but a real vintage-port lover's delight. Not old and complex but excellent value. 20%
£20.89 Sainsbury's

Warre's, Quinta da Cavadinha 1999 port
A single-quinta port from the plentiful year before a general declaration of vintage port. Blackish purple.
Manages to be both subtle and powerful, with liquorice hints. Thick. 20%
£30.79 Waitrose

Taylor's, 20 Year Old Tawny port
Mid orange tawny. Not star bright. Spicy nose, mellow texture. Old enough to be remarkable but still sweet. Nutty, vital, appetising finish. So fresh! Drink-me stuff. Great vigour and by no means at its peak yet. 19.5%
£38 Selfridges, Waitrose, Costco

Symington, The Society's Exhibition 1983 port
An own-label vintage port from the Symington stable. Very aromatic and lifted – lovely prunes and rose petals with a great undertow of luscious fruit weight. Really lovely stuff. Fine backbone and great persistence. This seems at the perfect point for drinking. Vigorous but with lots of evolution. Great value. 20%
£49 The Wine Society

Taylor's 1985 port
Mid ruby becoming a little pale. Rose petals and brown sugar on the nose with some violets. Very subtle. Not that enormously sweet but very smooth and seductive with a dry, peppery finish. Long. 20.5%
£86.20 Tesco, Majestic, The Wine Society

See also Roussillon Vins Doux Naturels.

Sánchez Romate, The Society's Viejo Oloroso Dulce Sherry
A Sanchez Romate bottling, but under the Society's own label. Dark brownish tawny with greenish rim. Smells a little of old wood. But on the palate it's wonderfully vibrant. Not amazingly fine – that is, not as fine as their Palo Cortado, the sweetening is a little obvious – but this could be wonderfully useful with cheese etc over the festive season. 20%
£10.75 The Wine Society

Barbeito, Rainwater Reserva Madeira
A blend of 80% Tinta Negra Mole and 20% Verdelho. Pale orange. A bit sweet, but with great acidity and excitement on the finish. 19%
£12.95 (50cl) The Wine Society

Use to find stockists near you.