Tradition inextricably links Christmas with fortified wine – not always a sought after tipple these days – so here are a few ideas of versions you can try without having to break the bank.
Certainly not just any port in a storm
Port is the obvious start point but all the necessary careful blending, sourcing and rigorous quality control can make top level vintage ports understandably expensive options.
For a good illustration of the style at a modest price, try 1998 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port (£23.99 at Waitrose) with smooth, textured, spicy, black cherry and ripe bramble fruit but much of the necessary complex and powerful weightiness too.
Single Quinta version can be good value
Less intricate single quinta versions are becoming popular because they can offer the characteristics of vintage port but are often appreciably cheaper.
For instance, 2001 Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage Port (£23 at Sainsbury’s) delivers many of the classic plum, clove and dried fruit flavours of port but combines them with good acidity and chocolate characteristics as well.
Lighten up a bit with tawny
Because tawny port has been matured in cask rather than bottle it is usually lighter in colour but often nuttier than vintage versions.
Nevertheless, the youthful Taylors 10 Year old Tawny Port (£16 at Sainsbury’s) still retains a plum colour (and a fresh acidic edge) but has a rounded, smooth, ascending nuttiness to underpin its cherry and raspberry fruit.
Incidentally, tawny port is often best served cool rather than at room temperature.
Be in vogue with sherry
Sherry is very much the fashionable drink of the moment – having moved on significantly from the vicarage mouthwash of yesteryear in which maiden aunts were often marinaded.
Lovers of fresh and light finos should seek out Fino Una Palma (£12.95 for a 50cl bottle at The Wine Society). I think its smooth, nutty style with an edge of orange centred sweetness and depth is pretty much as good as this style gets.
At the opposite end of the sherry spectrum, comes Gonzalez Byass Noe Pedro Ximenez Viejo VORS Sherry (£17.99 for a half bottle at Majestic) which – as its dense, almost black colour presages – represents a major contrast.
Here is a silky, long, sweet – but not cloying – sherry with flavours that run from dates, figs, treacle and muscovado sugar through to chocolate and cherries with just a mere soupcon of acidity.
But here comes my personal favourite style
Somewhere between the previous two styles comes palo cortado – a style that I feel offers all the best elements of sherry.
Top marks from me go to Harveys Very Old Palo Cortado (£22.59 for 50cl at Waitrose) with its lightness and tangy acidity that sits behind that buttery texture and those bright, nutty orange touches with an edge of sweetness.
Other attractive versions include the fresh and slightly less rich Lustau Almacenista Palo Cortado (£19.95 for 50cl at Berry Bros & Rudd – including on-line) with appealing figgy and herbal influences to balance its acidic touches and caramel centred depth.
Equally, try the richness but slightly lower acidity of Barbadillo Obispo Gascon Palo Cortado (£31.25 for a full bottle at www.masterofmalt.com) with nutty aromas that underpin its slightly salty cocoa and chocolate components.
Finally to a seriously underestimated style
Long overdue in my book is the rehabilitation of the delightful fortified wines of Madeira.
Enjoy, for example, the rich but surprisingly lightly textured Blandy’s 10 Year Old Bual Madeira (Amazon are currently selling this in 50cl bottles) with its dried and candied fruit flavours, cinnamon and marmalade influences and neatly balanced acidity to offset all those other components.
Thus fortified, gentle reader – it will be time in the next post – to move on to the classy white wines that could accompany Christmas lunch itself.
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