It's a great time of year to enjoy sherry, port and Madeira and here are some tempting tipples to try.

Is there anything more depressing than the term ‘fortified wine’?  It reeks of dusty decanters on a mahogany sideboard, their contents slowly oxidising until they become undrinkable.

So despite wine merchants categorising their lists and their shelves with these depressing words, it is time to shake them off and refer to those gorgeous flavours by their proper names – Sherry, Port and Madeira.

Sherry

Sherry has ridden the roller coaster of popularity from the days when everyone drank sherry at Christmas to the point when hardly anyone bothers with it unless granny is coming round for Sunday lunch.  But sherry has re-invented itself, focussing on quality, and because those producers are still trying to get us to try these gorgeous wines there are top-quality flavours available at rock-bottom prices.

Avoid anything that describes itself as medium or cream and instead head for crisp Manzanillas and Finos and gorgeous Palo Cortados, Amontillados and Olorosos. Names such as Lustau, Hidalgo and Fernando de Castilla are a sign of real quality but also take advantage of some of the supermarket own-label offerings such as Waitrose and Marks and Spencer who deal with top-notch suppliers.

Hidalgo La Gitana Manzanilla 50cl. Sainsbury £8

This zesty aperitif is essential in every household. Its crisp, citrus and sea-salt flavours accompany a pre-prandial bowl of nuts and crisps with style.  Keep it in the fridge to be ready when you are, and finish the bottle within a couple of weeks to enjoy those flavours at their freshest.

The Best Palo Cortado, Lustau, 37.5cl. Morrisons, £6.25

This starts out as a fino sherry but then is aged like an oloroso which gives it freshness along with complexity.  Sourced from Lustau, this multi-award-winning sherry shone at their recent tasting for its bone-dry style, layered with nuts, prunes and orange zest.

Fernando de Castilla Antique Oloroso 50cl. Field and Fawcett £29.95

Lighter in colour than most Olorosos, this is slightly malty with layers of walnuts, honey and dried fruit notes, elegant, dry and complex. Team this with an afternoon mince pie.

Madeira

To many people Madeira is a throw-back to a bygone era, more of a fusty name than a style of drink, but Madeira is definitely alive and well, and tasting even more delicious now that producers are concentrating on quality as they capture a new, younger audience.

I generally pour a glass for guests without telling them what it is.  Teamed with fruitcake and cheese the usual reaction is absolute delight, followed by ‘what is it?’

Made on the island of Madeira using a unique process that mimics the change of temperature as casks were shipped around the world, Madeira comes in four main styles.  Sercial is the driest and the wines climb in sweetness through Verdelho, Bual (also known as Boal) and Malmsey, gaining depth and complexity on the way.

Unlike other fortified wines which should be finished before the bottle gets dusty, Madeira has already spent many years in contact with oxygen so it won’t come to any harm from one year to the next.

Henriques and Henriques 5-year old Finest Dry Madeira 50cl. Bon Coeur Fine Wines £10.06

A gorgeous style of Madeira, racy, elegant and dry, with nutty complexity and a minerally zest.  This is an aperitif Madeira, to be served chilled with nibbles of ham, cheese and olives.

Barbeito 5-year old Boal Reserva 50cl, Roberts and Speight, £13.99

With layers of toasted hazelnuts, orange zest and honey and a remarkably fresh finish this is my favourite style of post-dinner Madeira. It goes well with cheese, chocolate puddings or just a handful of nuts.

 

Port

If you still have a bottle from last Christmas, lurking dustily at the back of the cupboard now is the time to put it out of its misery. It won’t have gone off, just lost some of the delicious fruit it had last year. Put it by the cooker and add a splash to every stew and jug of gravy you make between now and Christmas, especially if you are cooking game.

Now you feel free to buy another bottle and for daytime drinking, a good quality ruby port is one to reach for after a brisk morning walk to defrost toes and tonsils. A bottle of tawny is more of an afternoon port that can happily go through to evening, and is particularly good as a post-prandial sipper. Don’t wait for Christmas Day to open a bottle of port, open it now and enjoy it over the next few weeks.

Taylor’s Select Reserve Port, Portugal, Co-op, usually £10.75 down to £7 until 2 January

A bright, youthful style of port, packed full of black fruit with a seam of freshness running through it, making it perfect to team with cheese or even a chocolate pudding.  This will probably be one of the best port deals for the festive season.

Royal Palace Reserve Tawny Port, 50cl, Marks and Spencer, down from £10 to £8 until 2 January

This comes from Taylor’s, and it comes in a stylish chunky bottle which could pass muster as a decanter.  The wine is smooth and elegant with apricot, hazelnut, raisins and a hint of orange peel.

Niepoort 2013 Late Bottled Vintage Port, Harrogate Fine Wine £21.99

From a family-run port house, this wine expands across the palate with ripe damson fruit touched with cinnamon, orange peel and coffee. More expensive than some of the bigger names, but it still gives exceptional flavour for money.

LBV port is ready to drink, does not need decanting and doesn’t go off after opening, but it should still be polished off in around a fortnight to appreciate the best flavours.

Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas 2002, Waitrose down from  £31.99 to £25.59 until 2 January

Vargellas sits alongside the Douro and even has its own railway station.  It is the home of Taylor’s ports and the characteristic smoothness of their ports shines out of the glass.  Dark with black fruits, touches of spice, chocolate and figs. Save this for a special occasion, stand it vertically for a day, decant and enjoy with friends.

 

 

 

 

About The Author

Christine Austin

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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