DRINK / Finding your pudding the perfect partner: Few people serve sweet wines with Christmas desserts, but the combination is a great seasonal treat, says Kathryn McWhirter

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The Independent Culture
SEASON of fats and much cholesterol, excuse for puddings, chocolate and calories galore. It's a pity, amongst all this indulgence, that the idea of buying sweet wines to accompany the sweetmeats of Christmas strikes so few people. For fine sweet wines, such as Sauternes and Barsac, are among the most sophisticated and delicious of all. And there is another category of wine I'd never be without at this time of year - sweet Muscat. Some of them are rich, sweet and alcoholic (Moscatel de Valencia, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, Australian Liqueur Muscat), others light, sweet-sharp and fizzy (Asti, Clairette de Die).

SPARKLING MUSCAT

Try these with Christmas pudding, mince pies and Christmas cake: they are made for each other. Fizzy Muscat is also good with dishes containing chocolate (the fizz goes especially well with the consistency of chocolate mousse), bananas, pears.

***Asti Spumante Fontanafredda ( pounds 6.99 Majestic). Excellent, really fruity, grapey, appley, flowery Asti with attractive, lemony acidity.

**1991 Moscato d'Asti Michele Chiarlo ( pounds 4.75 Waitrose). Fresh, sweet, grapey wine with a very soft, foamy fizz and hints of butter and lemon.

**Asti Spumante Martini (very widely stocked including pounds 5.79 Sainsbury and Safeway, pounds 5.99 Victoria Wine, Thresher Wine Shops, Thresher Drink Shops, Bottoms Up and Wine Rack). Fresh, lemony-grapey with a hint of buttery richness and a lovely balance of acidity and sweetness.

*Moscato d'Asti, Viticoltori dell'Acquese ( pounds 2.89 Thresher Wine Shops and Wine Rack). Excellent value, with lemony acidity, gentle, foamy fizz and flavours of honey and raisins.

SWEET MUSCAT

Good with Christmas pudding and with dishes containing almonds or chocolate, also with creme brulee, trifle and lemon tart - so long as you match the strength of flavour.

*****Yalumba Museum Show Reserve Liqueur Muscat ( pounds 6.89 per half, Victoria Wine). Sumptuous and powerful, with complex flavours of toffee, raisin, mint and orange marmalade.

**Sainsbury's Moscatel de Valencia ( pounds 2.99). Excellent value, crisp, fresh, marmaladey.

*Mimosa Muscat de Rivesaltes ( pounds 5.49, pounds 2.99 per half, Majestic). Light and fresh, with attractive marmalade, barley sugar and floral flavours.

SAUTERNES STYLE

These are a good match for creme brulee dishes containing apples, pineapple, peaches, nectarines, strawberries and apricots, and chocolate.

****1989 Chateau Piada, Barsac ( pounds 11.75 Waitrose). Luscious, sweet and tangy, with pineapple fruit.

****1990 Clos l'Abeilley, Sauternes ( pounds 7.95 per half, Sainsbury's). Light, floral, elegant Sauternes, sweetly honeyed with hints of lavender.

****1990 Chateau de Rolland, Barsac ( pounds 7.69 per half, Majestic). Unctuous and creamy, with flavours of honey and pineapple.

****1990 Chateau les Hebras Creme de Tete Monbazillac ( pounds 5.49 per half, selected Wine Rack, Bottoms Up and Thresher Wine Shops). Rich and sweet with delicious

apricot and honey flavours.

***1990 Clos St Georges, Graves Superieures ( pounds 6.95 Sainsbury). One of the best bargains, richly honeyed, creamily sweet and tangy.

***1988 Chateau Loupiac-Gaudet, Loupiac ( pounds 6.85 Waitrose). Also excellent value, very attractive, honeyed, creamy sweet Bordeaux with hints of toffee and pungency, made just across the river from Barsac and Sauternes.

**1990 Chateau La Catie, Monbazillac ( pounds 4.49 Majestic). Not complex, but excellent value, very attractive, honeyed and unctuous with an overtone of pungency.

*Sainsbury's Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux, Peter Sichel ( pounds 3.89). Good, inexpensive sweet white Bordeaux without the complexity of the wines above, but concentrated, sweet, slightly pineappley and very slightly pungent.

LOIRE

Good with apricot, apple and pear dishes.

***1990 Vouvray Domaine des Arbuisieres Moelleux, Grande Annee ( pounds 7.99 Oddbins). Rich, with flavours of quince, peach and honey.

**1990 Vouvray Moelleux, Domaine Pichot ( pounds 5.95 Sainsbury). Ripe, peachy and pineappley with a delicious honeyed tang.

GERMAN STYLE

Especially good with apple dishes. But note that lower categories of fine German sweet wines (Spatlese and Auslese) are not sweet enough to accompany most desserts.

****1989 Nelson Late Harvest Rhine Riesling, Redwood Valley Estate ( pounds 4.99 per half, Victoria Wine). Sweet Riesling in a softer style than the German; tangy, creamy and honeyed.

******1988 Ulversheimer Tafelstein Silvaner Eiswein, Louis Guntrum ( pounds 22.15 per half, Unwins). Expensive, but rare and superb. Steely acidity, full of concentrated flavour. A wonderful Christmas present for a lover of sweet wines.

PORT

****Dow's 10-year-old Tawny ( pounds 6.59 per half, Safeway, pounds 6.75 per half, Oddbins, pounds 6.99 per half, Thresher Wine Shops, Thresher Drinks Stores, Bottoms Up and Wine Rack). Soft, nutty, buttery.

****Duque de Braganca 20-year-old Port, Ferreira ( pounds 18.49 Co-op). Complex, mature tawny with flavours of nut, toffee, tar, smoke and dried fig.

**Waitrose Late Bottled Vintage 1986 ( pounds 6.95). Gutsy, sweet, chocolatey port, very good for price.

SHERRY

*******Matusalem Oloroso Muy Viejo, Gonzales Byass ( pounds 15.53 selected Sainsbury, pounds 15.99 Oddbins, pounds 15.49 selected Safeway, pounds 18.79 selected Tesco, pounds 18.99 Thresher Wine Shops, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up). Dark, sweet, pungent, complex and concentrated with treacle toffee and raisin flavours as well as a savoury character. I don't normally like sweet sherry, but I swoon over this.

**Waitrose Solera Jerezana Rich Cream ( pounds 4.99). Good value, very sweet, nutty and toffeed, much more attractive than most creams.

**Premium Solera Cream Sherry, Emilio Lustau ( pounds 3.29 per half, Safeway). This is also much better than common cream sherries, sweet and black-treacly with hints of toffee and nut.

(Photograph omitted)

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