Bodegas Tradición Fino Sherry, Jerez, Spain NV (£36.56, justerinis.com) Like pets, fortified wines are not just for Christmas. But much as I would urge people to drink more of these criminally undervalued wines at other times of the year, I must admit they are particularly good amid the feasting, glitter, and cosiness of the season. I’m going to start my round-up this year with the fortified that goes best at the start or before a meal: dry sherry. Both fino and manzanilla styles can be brilliant value for money, with Morrisons Fino Sherry (£5.69) and Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana Manzanilla (£7, Sainsbury’s) both doing the light, savoury nutty-yeasty, appetite-whetting thing which, as well as being an aperitif par excellence, also sits so well with my plate of olives and nuts as I wrap the presents on Christmas Eve. Spend a little more, and you’ll be getting into the realms of something quite special with the extra intensity and depth of flavour you find in both Barbadillo Pastora Manzanilla Pasada en Rama NV (£20, ocado.com) and the truly extraordinary Bodegas Tradición Fino.
Tesco Finest 10 Year Old Tawny Port, Douro, Portugal NV (£12.50, Tesco) Port is the fortified that is most aggressively foisted on us as the Christmas drink, or at least the drink to have with the anointed festive cheese. But not all ports are created equal when it comes to pairing with stilton. For me, aged tawny ports, which have had years or decades softening in barrels before they are bottled, are much the better choice for matching with the salty-sour combination of blue cheese than the various styles of port – such as ruby, reserve, late bottled vintage and vintage port – that have been bottled at a younger stage in their development and which have much more evident tannin. The Symington family behind the Graham’s, Dow’s and Warre’s brands makes a particularly good version for Tesco; while Sandeman 20 Year Old Tawny Port (£34.95, thewhiskyexchange.com) is a fine example of the complexity and balance you find in what I reckon is the sweet spot for aged tawnies of an average of two decades in barrel.
Coume del Mas Galateo, Banyuls, France 2020 (£26.10, 37.5cl, hedonism.co.uk) Port can provide quite enough pleasure on its own without cheese, of course, and for after-dinner sipping the velvety grip of the tannins you find in the best late bottled vintage and vintage ports is very much a part of their multi-faceted allure. Some of my favourites from tastings this year include the sumptuous, excellent-value Graham’s LBV 2015 (£10.99, waitrosecellar.com); the purring, poised Quinta do Noval Late Bottled Vintage 2016 (£25, ocado.com); the silky-succulent and super fresh Niepoort LBV 2015 (£19.99, slurp.co.uk); and the cascading dark fruit of Fonseca Guimaraens 2008 (£32, tanners-wines.co.uk). Most of these ports would happily pair with a dark chocolate of your choosing, as would some of the port-like fortified wines made from the grenache grape variety above the border with Spain in Banyuls in Catalan southern France. Coume del Mas Galateo is a particularly luxurious example: deep, dark, and sweet, it comes with a veritable explosion of glossy vivid blackberry fruit underscored with subtle spicy notes.
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