The wine list: Festive fortified wines

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ONE THING you might well need over the forthcoming Christmas holidays is a bit of fortification to cope with all the seasonal stresses. So savour this – my top ten fortified fireside sippers from around the world.

AUSTRALIA

NOVAL 10 YEAR OLD TAWNY PORT. Picture: Contributed

NOVAL 10 YEAR OLD TAWNY PORT. Picture: Contributed

Liqueur Muscat

CAMPBELLS RUTHERGLEN MUSCAT

(£12.49 hf bt, Waitrose; £11.99 hf bt, Oxford Wine)

Scotsman John Campbell first arrived in Victoria in 1870 in search of gold, but he turned to growing vines in the seams when the gold ran out. The fourth generation, Malcolm and Colin Campbell, with their children are still there, making the benchmark for the famous fortified muscats of Rutherglen. This is a super-sweet, deliciously decadent and raisiny wine to serve with the mince pies or Christmas pud. I tried their new Liqueur Muscat ice-cream when I last visited them in Rutherglen – an interesting addition to their range. Alcohol 17.5 per cent

BANYULS RESERVA DOMAINE DE LA TOUR VIEILLE. Picture: Contributed

BANYULS RESERVA DOMAINE DE LA TOUR VIEILLE. Picture: Contributed

Fortified Vintage

D’ARENBERG VINTAGE FORTIFIED SHIRAZ

(£18.99, Luvians, Cupar/St Andrews)

This is made in the same way as port by the enterprising Chester Osborn, whose great grandfather set up this Adelaide Hills winery. They use 68 per cent shiraz and 32 per cent chambourcin grapes for this blend, with fermentation stopped midway by adding grape spirit to retain the natural sweetness. This reminds me more of prune, liquorice and tea leaves, rather than the damson notes you find in port. It finishes with an unexpected dryness – and it’s not quite as high in alcohol as many ports. Alcohol 17.5 per cent

'MATUSALEM' 30 YEAR OLD OLOROSO SHERRY. Picture: Contributed

'MATUSALEM' 30 YEAR OLD OLOROSO SHERRY. Picture: Contributed

PORTUGAL

Aged Tawny Port

NOVAL 10 YEAR OLD TAWNY

(£20.99, reduced from £24.99, Waitrose until 30 December; Tanners; £19.50, Fortnum & Mason; Peckham & Rye, Glasgow)

This is from the highly respected Quinta do Noval estate which has a particularly good reputation for its fresh, crisp, dry(ish) complex tawnies. It’s made from traditionally foot-trodden grapes – mainly native touriga nacional and tinta roriz – with a high proportion of the grapes grown on Noval’s own property high in the Douro Valley. Established in 1715, Noval has been owned for the past two decades by Axa and the investments have really paid off. Enjoy slightly chilled with cheeses and nuts. Alcohol 20 per cent

Premium Ruby Port

GRAHAM’S LATE BOTTLED VINTAGE 2008

(£10, reduced from £13.50, Waitrose until 30 December; £12.98, www.thedrinkshop.com; £13.49, Tesco; £13.99, Luvians)

Graham’s is the port you give your friends. All port houses tend towards either a drier or sweeter style, depending on the time they choose to add the grape spirit to stop fermentation and retain the sweetness. Graham’s is always on the sweeter style (Dow is a touch drier). This is so voluptuous, with dark sweet plummy fruits, a minty edge and peppery tannins on the finish. Superb value too at this discounted price. Alcohol 20 per cent

Vintage Tawny Port

NOVAL COLHEITA 2000

(£49 for 75 cl, The Wine Society, www.thewinesociety.com)

Wow – this is incredible. It sounds expensive, but you must buy it. So beautifully rounded, mellow and complex. It is damsony, seductive, coffee-flavoured and smoky, with a never-ending finish. I just loved this unusual single vintage tawny – even better with its millennium date of course. It would make a superb gift for a port lover. Pass the port and cheese my way please. Alcohol 20.5 per cent

MADEIRA

Malmsey Madeira

HENRIQUES & HENRIQUES 15 YEAR OLD MALVASIA MADEIRA

(£22, The Wine Society)

One of the few surviving producers on this unique volcanic island, founded in 1850, it is the only producer which owns large tracts of its own vineyards on the island. This is the madeira to offer someone who has never tasted it before. Complex with caramel and nut notes, sweet raisiny undertones and characteristic crisp acid, it’s perfect for serving with Christmas cake. A fortified to suit all ages – not just maiden aunts. Alcohol 20 per cent

SPAIN

Manzanilla Sherry

LUSTAU PAPIRUSA MANZANILLA

(£14.49, Luvians; £15.35, Berry Bros & Rudd, www.bbr.com; £14.50, Fortnum & Mason)

If you have ever visited Sanluca de Barrameda, a tiny town in southern Spain on the Guadalquivir estuary, you will know how humid and salty the air is. This is the environment that this special sherry has aged in its American oak cask giving it an unusual flavour. I always think of the Chris de Burgh lyric: “There’s a Spanish train that runs between Guadalquivir and old Seville…” while I sip this bone dry tangy sherry. Alcohol 15 per cent

Amontillado Sherry

‘DEL DUQUE’ 30 YEAR OLD AMONTILLADO

(£20 hf bt, Oddbins; Berry Bros & Rudd; Fortnum & Mason; Selfridges; www.thedrinkshop.com; www.thewhiskyexchange.com; Harvey Nichols, Edinburgh; Peckham’s, Glasgow)

For those, like myself, who like their sherry nutty, dry and incisive, this is a seriously good example. It’s velvet smooth on the palate with delicious intensity and hints of nutty undertones. With 30 years’ worth of winemaking here, there are extraordinary layers of complexity – but it also has a vibrant freshness. Serve with mature cheeses after the meal or after a long wintery walk. Alcohol 21.5 per cent

Sweet Oloroso Sherry

‘MATUSALEM’ 30 YEAR OLD OLOROSO DOLCE

(£17.99 hf bt, Majestic Wine; Tesco; Waitrose; Ocado; Selfridges; www.thedrinkshop.com)

I loved this as it is raisiny and intense without being too sweet. Think dried figs, dates and cinnamon spice – it would work well with a fruit dessert or mature cheese. It’s made in very small quantities by the sherry giants Gonzalez Byass who blend a dry Oloroso with 25 per cent pedro ximenez and then leave them to mellow together in their solera ageing system. Alcohol 20 per cent

FRANCE

Banyuls

BANYULS RESERVA DOMAINE DE LA TOUR VIEILLE

(£19.50 for 75cl, www.yapp.co.uk)

I guess France’s Vin Doux Naturel style is only just into the fortified category; note its lower alcohol level in comparison to port or sherry. It is as close as you can get if you want a “French port style” wine. It’s a divine blend of grenache noir, grenache gris and carignan matured in the open air in traditional spherical glass bonbonnes. Spicy and raisiny with dried fruit and nutty undertones, it will remind you of a good tawny port without the kick. Serve chilled – it will keep all through Christmas once opened and kept in the fridge. Alcohol 16.5 per cent

Join Rose’s Beginners Wine Classes starting 11 February, 2015 in Edinburgh from £36, www.rosemurraybrown.com