Winter may be blowing in but at least we have Port to help warm us up, writes Christine Austin

As the UK stands on the brink of Brexit, with deals still being done behind the scenes perhaps it is worth thinking back to previous centuries when Britain changed allegiances and made new ones, sometimes acquiring a new deal on wine along the way.

It was the removal of export duties on Spanish wine that started England’s love affair with sherry. In 1491, Spain decided to abolish all taxes on exports and gave preferential trading rights to the English.  Just a few years later England was hooked on sherry but then we fell out with the Spanish and they planned to invade, in a skirmish we know as the Armada.  While the Spanish ships were being loaded in Cadiz harbour, Francis Drake scattered the fleet and made off with thousands of butts of sherry which had been waiting to be loaded on board.  This made us love the wine even more and eventually, after we stopped the fighting, the Spanish allowed the English to keep on buying their sherry.

One of our great drinks, Port came to prominence because Britain needed to sell woollen cloth.  By 1689 we had fallen out with the French so much that we barricaded their ports.  This brought the trade of English cloth for French wine to a halt and so we went looking for other markets.  Portugal was happy to buy our cloth so long as we reduced the import tariffs on Portuguese wine.  That is when we started helping the wine producers of the Douro to make a wine that could withstand the sea voyage to our shores.  Many English and Scottish merchants went to Porto to establish the wine trade there which is why so many of the Port houses have English and Scottish names such as Graham’s, Cockburn, Warre’s, Taylor’s, Fladgate and Yeatman. These companies are still in business, owning vineyards and making wine.  The wines of Madeira also benefitted from our association with Portugal, and special tariffs were established for British ships travelling to the New World of America.

We may not drink much Marsala these days, but that too became popular because of our tendency to fall out with the French.  West Yorkshireman Benjamin Ingham was sent by his family to Sicily, because the family’s cloth merchant business was not able to trade with the French at the time. The British troops garrisoned in Sicily were the target for young Ingham, but he was soon distracted by Marsala wine and ended up as the local billionaire with a Marsala shipping empire.

There is no moral to these stories, just the thought that as our trading partners and alliances change in the coming years we may end up with a completely different set of wines on our shelves.  The other thought is that we should start up all those old Yorkshire mills again and get some decent cloth to trade around the world.  The wine in your glass may depend on it.

While the politicians nit-pick over the details here are some wines to keep your toes and tonsils warm in the cold weather.  With luck, by spring, the whole thing will be sorted.

PORT

Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage Port 2013, Morrisons down from £15 to £9 until 12 December

Rush to get this port at such a great price.  It is full of sweet plummy fruit with a gentle spicy finish and a mellow, elegant style.  Perfect with cheese or try it mid-afternoon with chocolate cake.

Finest Reserve Port NV, Portugal, Marks and Spencer down from £12 to £8 until 3 December

It is well worth making a detour to your local M&S store to grab a bottle of this exceptional port before the price goes up to £10 on Tuesday and back up to £12 at the end of this year.  Made by Taylors, it has big bramble fruits, laced with black cherries, dried figs and spice.

Warre’s Quinta da Cavadinha Port 2004 Waitrose, down from £33.49 to £24.99 until 1 January

A deep-flavoured, bramble and mulberry fruit filled wine, overlaid with spice and pepper.  Vintage port throws a deposit in the bottle so stand it upright for 24 hours before opening and decant into the best decanter you have.

SHERRY

The Best Palo Cortado Sherry, Morrisons, half bottle £6

Made by top producer Lustau, this is fabulous value. Full of hazelnut and raisin flavours, it is dry, smooth and delicious. Serve just slightly chilled.

Tesco Finest Pedro Ximénez Sherry NV half bottle £6

Rich, dark and full of sweet, black, figgy fruit, this is too sweet to put in your glass but take a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream and pour this over for a delicious late night snack.

Booths Manzanilla Sherry, 75cl, £7.75

Sourced from traditional producer Williams and Humbert, this Manzanilla shone against others I tasted this season.  Bright and salty fresh with crisp apple freshness and a long, beach-pebble crunch. Perfect with salted almonds.

Fernando de Castilla Classic Amontillado Field and Fawcett, York, £14.70

From a small, independently owned bodega where each butt of sherry is individually cared for and managed. Lighter in colour than most Amontillados this has nutty, orange peel and herbal notes. This is a wine to be sipped and savoured, with jamón, cheese or even lightly spiced foods.

 

MADEIRA

Barbeito Malvasia Reserva, Harrogate Wines, 50 cl £14.99

If you haven’t tried Madeira for a while then start with this one.  It has notes of figs, almonds, a light touch of caramel and fresh acidity that leaves the palate clean.  Pour alongside warm mincepies.

 

Henriques and Henriques 10 Year Old Sercial Madeira 50cl, Waitrose down from £19.99 to £16.99

Madeira doesn’t have to be sweet.  Sercial is a dry style, with walnuts, apricot fruit and vibrant, fresh acidity.  Serve chilled as an aperitif with canapés.

Blandy’s 15-Year-Old Bual Madeira, Waitrose 50cl, down from £25.99 to £19.99 until 1 January

Gloriously complex with nutty, complex figgy flavours, kept on edge by clean citrussy acidity and a fabulous length.  Perfect with a slice of fruitcake, mince pies or a few Christmas chocolates.

 

 

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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