Over the “pond”, Thanksgiving was celebrated last week – America’s traditional gateway to Christmas.
So, let’s follow that example and begin the Christmas wine recommendations.
That four-part series of suggestions should sprinkle extra stardust onto any part of yuletide spent among our nearest and dearest.
The sequence will be interrupted (later this week) though by an examination of the upcoming Wine Tour in Lidl.
As you would expect from this site, the primary (but not exclusive) focus will be on accessible wines that are available on most High Streets.
Right! Onto the first “window” of this particular Advent Calendar – a look at fortified wines and the sweeter wines that also work well at this time of year.
Once again, pictures and hyperlinks are included where possible to make it easier to track down the wine in question.
Let’s start what we already know.
2020 Pillitteri Estates Icewine Vidal (£13.99 for a half bottle at Lild while stocks last and 10.5% abv):
The last Lidl Wine Tour (and with any luck the new one) included this Canadian Icewine – a style that usually costs a fortune because its volumes and labour costs are high.
Icewine, of course, is a sweet dessert wine made from grapes gathered while still frozen on the vine.
It has concentrated flavours (because so much water leaks out from freezing – think burst pipes) but always tastes incredibly clean.
Gold coloured and delightfully smooth, this example features rich apricot, lychee and apple crumble flavours with suggestions of orange and of honey.
And another re-appearance
The Best Pedro Ximenez (£7 for a half bottle at Morrisons but it may be on offer, and 17%):
This was praised here on 16 November along with other, equally impressive, sherries and is a top example at its price.
Remember, it has aromas of coffee being roasted and a generous syrupy mouthfeel with fig and date sweetness wrapped in ginger spiciness.
Joining the party are a cocktail of honey aromas, good acidity and suggestions of marmalade and crunchie sweeties.
And on to the new options
10-year-old Tawny Port (£16 at the Co-op and 20%):
Let’s move to sherry’s obvious partner – port but, with the justified clamour for vintage ports, the charms of tawny versions are often overlooked.
Tawny port is matured in barrel not bottle and, thus, loses colour (moving from red to brown) but does gain attractive nutty and dried fruit favours from the wood.
Nowadays, it often has sufficient acidity to work – lightly chilled – as an aperitif as well as the more traditional “end of meal” drink.
With aromas of fruity depth, this example (which, to me, is one of the best on the High Street) has smooth cherry, damson and nutty flavours.
Partnering those aspects here are balanced acidity and savoury edges containing traces of raisins and baking spice.
NB: Prices in store and shown online may vary.
Next, the classic face of port
2013 Taylor's ‘Quinta de Vargellas' Port (from £29.99 at Majestic and the usual 20%):
While classic vintage port is usually the best Christmas libation, cost often rules it out – but single vineyard ports can come to the rescue.
OK, they lacks the extensive, labour-intensive blending top level options enjoy but are simpler to make and – best of all – kinder to the wallet.
Dark and dense, this one is centred around well-defined plum and butterscotch flavours.
These are accompanied here by orange acidity and suspicions of cedar, aniseed and liqueur chocolates.
NB: Vintages in store may vary.
Or an underestimated port and sherry alternative
Marks & Spencer, 5 Year Old Finest Medium Rich Madeira (£12 in M&S physical stores or £12.50 online at Ocado and 19%):
For a welcome change to the most popular fortified wines, how about trying a sadly neglected alternative – madeira.
Its wines were developed for sea-farers and, thus, use enough brandy to avoid deterioration during long voyages.
Madeira comes in different levels of sweetness and aging and this is a good start point for anyone unfamiliar with the style.
Chestnut coloured with sweet aromas, it brings us smooth fudge, almond and treacle flavours.
It does not end there though as its components also include cinder toffee, toast and ginger constituents with balanced citrus acidity, all built into a modest yet integrated texture.
Now for the sweeties.
2021 Domaine de Lasserre Jurançon (£7.25 for a half bottle at the Co-op and 12%):
While Sauternes remains a sought-after choice for classy, sweet wines, I am going to advance the case for SW France this year – with two quite different selections.
First, then, the light version made from the local petit manseng and offering wine that is less rich than sauternes.
Nevertheless, it still provides the burst of sweetness that puddings demand – and does so at a great price.
Pale in colour and nicely light in texture, this example delivers long, mango and peach flavours that help show why it has been a long-haul constituent of the Co-op’s list.
Its additional charms include lively lemon and mandarin acidity and a honey centred backdrop that seems to combine delicacy with genuine sweetness.
And for a richer option.
2019 Château de Diusse Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh (£10.49 for 50cl at House of Townend and 12%):
Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh is a sweet wine from Madiran in South West France.
Here, acclaimed local winemakers have produced an excellent version using gros and petit manseng grapes.
This represents a step up in depth from the Jurançon.
Engagingly coloured and aromatic, it contains rich orange, passion fruit and crème brulee flavours and would cost much more if from classic sweet wine country.
The wine's creamy, honey centred texture is embellished (and kept fresh and lively) by lemon acidity.
Finally, a blockbuster choice.
2021 Elysium Black Muscat (from £12.99 for a half bottle at Majestic and 15%):
Black Muscat (Muscat Hamburg and also a table grape) is a particularly aromatic, red skinned member of the sizeable muscat family.
It is often used to create sweet wines especially – as with this example – in California.
Smooth and purple in colour, this illustration exhibits rich and lengthy strawberry, blackberry and apricot flavours complemented by citrus acidity.
It is a powerful wine indeed – a quality that is enhanced by its concentrated violet aromas along with mint and, inevitably I guess, honey influences.
NB: Once again, vintages in store may vary.
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