All the wines in our top ten this week have one thing in common. They are all deliciously sweet and sticky, but not sickly at all – they have great natural freshness and balance.
The festive meal is a perfect excuse to tuck into sweet wines with the Christmas pud, port for the cheese and madeira with the cake and nuts for fireside sipping.
SWEET DESSERT WINES
Chile Tabali Encantado Late Harvest Muscat 2010
(£7.99 for hf bt, Waitrose; www.virginwines.co.uk)
The best value sweet dessert wine on the market – every time I serve this at a tasting people gasp with delight when they hear the amazing price of this gently sweet honeyed wonder from the Limari valley in northern Chile.
Spain Ariyanes Naturelmente Dulce 2007 Bodegas Bentomiz
(£14 for 50cl bt, www.indigowine.co.uk)
Quite simply an amazing dessert wine from Malaga – perfumed, crisp minerality, sweet but so refreshing and unfortified with 13 per cent alcohol. Forget the Malaga of old – this is sensational stuff.
Italy Torcolato 2008 Maculan
(£22 hf bt, Majestic Wine)
Dried apricots and quince, figgy caramel sweetness with beautifully judged acidity: this blend of vespaiolo and garganega grapes is made by fanatical winemaker Fausto Maculan in Breganza in northern Veneto. It’s an unusual dessert wine for the Christmas pud.
Hungary Disznoko Tokaji 5 puttonyos Aszu 2007
(£26.99 for 50cl bt, Waitrose)
Tokay is always my family’s top choice for serving with Christmas pud: the marmalade, quince, dried apricots and liquid caramel flavours are superb matched with raisiny desserts.
Italy Le Colombare 2009 Pieropan
(£24 hf bt, Valvona & Crolla,
I visited Pieropan in the centre of Soave’s quaint town this autumn to watch them laying out their gargenega grapes on straw mats to dry after harvest. This is the result of five months’ drying and two years in barrel: sublime Recioto di Soave with 135g/l sweetness – match with panacotta and fruit, but enough sweetness to cope with the festive pud.
Australia Campbells Rutherglen Muscat
(£11.49 hf bt, Waitrose)
A staple favourite for its beautiful caramel sweetness, unctuous dried fruit flavours and excellent price. From the wonderful fourth-generation Campbells based in hot arid Rutherglen in northeast Victoria. It might have 17.5 per cent alcohol, but it is supremely balanced. Still a great value sweetie.
Portugal Noval Colheita 1997
Complex nutty tawny from one harvest from the famous Quinta do Noval estate in the Douro. Matured for a minimum of seven years in cask: an unusual port to serve with the nuts and figs.
PREMIUM RUBY PORT
Portugal Grahams LBV 2007
(£12.99, Tesco, Morrisons; Waitrose; Sainsbury’s)
Christmas is the time to snap up treats like this at a knock-down price. Grahams’ style is sweet and unctuous compared to other port houses. Grahams is the port you give to your friends.
Spain Alvear Pedro Ximenez de Anada Solera 192
(£13.99 hf bt, www.oldbridgewine.co.uk; www.more nowines.com)
Considering the depth of flavour and intensity of this wine (it has 16 per cent alcohol) – this has an absurdly low price tag for such an old wine: the solera was started 80 years ago. Montilla-Moriles is Spain’s hottest wine region, once overshadowed by sherry from Jerez now enjoying a revival – serve with Christmas pud, drizzle over ice cream or sip by the fireside.
Madeira Henriques and Henriques Ten year old Malmsey
(£16.99 for 50cl, Majestic Wine)
The richest most opulent style of madeira with suitably raisined flavours, lemon peel notes and baked nutty undertones. Malmsey might be sweet, but madeira always has a fabulous natural fresh acidity to match with the Christmas cake.