The Independent’s journalism is supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission.

Wines of the week

The festive dessert wines for Christmas puddings and cheeses

Terry Kirby looks at port, sherry and more to bring your Christmas meal to a splendid and perfectly paired finish

Friday 18 December 2020 16:50
Comments

You know that half-consumed bottle of port you opened at Christmas last year that has been stuck at the back of the drinks cupboard ever since? Yes, that one, the one lurking behind that odd green thingie you brought back from Greece a few years ago and never got round to opening. Well, please take it out and pour it away, remembering to recycle the bottle. It went off many moons ago. 

It’s a common misconception that opened port will last for a long time and so it gets stored next to the brandy and the single malt, which does. But it doesn’t, it’s a wine, albeit fortified with grape spirit and while that ensures considerable bottle longevity, it means that once it is opened, as with any wine, the clock is ticking. But here’s a tip with port: if your bottle had a cork that had to be pulled out with a corkscrew, then you need to consume it, like any still wine, within a few days, but if it has a stopper, then you would have been able to drink until the end of January but not much more than that. Read more on that here.

So, to ports and other dessert wines for the festive table. This, for me, is the magical part of any Christmas or other festive and special occasion meals. The sheer variety of port styles and of dessert wines from all over the world, with flavours so redolent of the season: the many dried fruits, like apricots, figs and dates, and nuts together with intense aromas of sweet spices, the intertwining flavours of Christmas cakes and puddings, of mince pies, panettone and stollen all merged into one. 

Then there are the cheeses – stilton reigning supreme, but also not forgetting roquefort, hard and goats cheeses. The combinations and taste sensations are endless… Frankly, I just bung a load of bottles and puddings and cheeses on the table and let everyone get on with it, ignoring the “pudding or cheese first” argument going on somewhere in my head.

But some order is required, so here are just a few recommendations. And please remember this weekend that we are close to last order times for some online deliveries. 

In the Duoro, white port is normally an aperitif, served with ice, tonic and mint, but, lightly chilled, can also be a superb partner to hard cheeses, like vintage cheddar or nutty Spanish manchego, and might appeal to those who find traditional ports a little on the heavy side. Try the very dry Fonseca Siroco White Port (£17.99 dbmwines.co.uk; £18.49 haywines.co.uk), with lovely, full, ripe, but fresh fruit flavours and a touch of oak for complexity. And the rest of the bottle will be fine for Boxing Day and New Year aperitifs. 

For a good all-purpose port that will suit any manner of blue and hard cheeses or Christmas puddings, try a late bottle vintage, a more accessible, everyday style and mostly cheaper than vintage port. Head then for the originators of the style, Taylors, one of the great port names, which has released a perfectly formed 50cl bottle, ideal for small gatherings of the type we are likely to have this year: the Taylors LBV Port Decanter 50cl (£13.99 or £9.99 if bought as part of mixed six-bottle purchase, majestic.co.uk) is aged in oak for six years and has gorgeous, smooth, jammy, brambly fruit flavours – sweet on the palate, dry on the finish. Or for a full bottle, the Fonseca Unfiltered Late Bottled Vintage 2015 (£14.49 sandhamswine.co.uk; £15.00 frazierswine.co.uk) which is even richer and more rounded and definitely needs decanting. And very, very good quality for the price. 

Vintage port, made only in certain years, is the ultimate in rich, deep, dark fruit flavours and the great port houses produce their own versions and prices can be high. While everyone has their favourites, Taylors tends to offer reliability and a consistent style: the Taylors Vintage Port 2017 (£85.00 normally £95.00, until 3 January, waitrosecellar.com; tanners-wines.co.uk; widely available elsewhere) is a simply sumptuous special occasion bottle. 

My personal favourite among ports is the drier, more austere, nutty, tawny style. The excellent Quinta Do Noval 10-Year-Old Tawny (£19.99 normally £24.99 waitrosecellar.com) has flavours of caramel, dried apricots,figs, honey and brioche and is simply perfect with Colston Bassett stilton or other blue cheeses, Christmas cake or just that bowl of walnuts in front of a roaring fire. If you are looking for a stocking filler or just want a couple of smallish glasses of tawny then Grahams, another one of the great port names, has the nicely packaged, screw topped W&J Graham’s 10 Year Old 20cl (£7.95 secretbottleshop.co.uk), another great idea for smaller gatherings.

Port is of course associated only with Portugal, but the other great dessert wine from that country, or more specifically, the island of Madeira, is the glorious wine of the same name. Like port, it also comes in a variety of dry and sweeter styles, but unlike port, it will last almost indefinitely once a bottle is opened. As Taylors is to the Duoro, then another company of British origin, Blandy’s, is to Madeira and the Blandy’s Madeira 10 Year Old Malmsey 50cl (£16.99 simplywinesdirect.uk; £18.99 waitrose.com) is the richest style, made with the most popular grape, and has unctuous flavours of figs and dried fruits, with characteristic freshness on the palate and a long finish. Again, perfect with a variety of Christmas cakes and desserts or blue and goat cheeses.

While these wines are specific to their regions, around the world there are loads of other dessert wines which give us so many opportunities to explore different flavours and styles. The Yalumba Antique Muscat 37.5cl (£14.99 virginwines.co.uk; £21.65 flagshipwines.co.uk) hails from the Rutherglen region of Victorian in Australia, known for its sweet wines. Made from the muscat grape and firmly to the European tradition of fortification with grape spirit and oak ageing, this is the sweetest of the wines so far here, with big raisiny, spicy, mouthfilling flavours; if your Christmas desserts feature a trifle or some kind of chocolate, this is the one to open with those. But, in the tradition of sweet wines with blue cheeses, it would acquit itself with those quite happily. Over in Mendoza in Argentina, where malbec reigns supreme, they even make a sweet wine out of it, using late harvested grapes, again fermented, fortified and oak aged. 

Less sweet than the Yalumba, the Domaine Bousquet Malbec Dulce, Tupungato 2018 50cl (£14.95 davywine.co.uk; cheerswinemerchants.co.uk) is made by one of the great malbec producers and is packed with rich chocolate, coffee, blackcurrant and raisin flavours. 

But if you are really looking for the sweetest and most unctuous and palate-coating of all dessert wines, its back to the Iberian peninsula and the sherry region of southern Spain where you will find wines made from the pedro ximenez grape, which are black and sticky and are one of the few wines that work their magic with chocolate as well as blue cheeses and a variety of other desserts. So, if it’s hand-rolled chocolate log as your dessert centrepiece, then open the Barbadillo Pedro Ximenez (£12.99 robertsandspeight.co.uk; £13.45 sandhamswine.co.uk). Layer, upon sticky layer of seasonal flavours of figs, dried fruits, nuts, black treacle, dark chocolate and coffee. The finish goes on forever. In fact, why bother with desserts when you can pack them all in a small glass of PX…

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in