Bodegas Tradición Fino Sherry, Jerez, Spain NV (£36.56, justerinis.com) Like pets, fortified wine isn’t just for Christmas. But as much as I urge people to drink more of these wines of criminal value at other times of the year, I must confess that they are particularly good amidst the feasting, brilliance, and comfort of the season. I’m going to start my round this year with the fortifier that works best at the beginning or before a meal: dry sherry. Both the vino and manzanilla styles can be fantastic value for money, with Morrisons’ vino sherry (£5.69) and bodegas hidalgo la gitana manzanilla (£7, Sainsbury’s) both doing light, savory, yeasty and hearty things that are also an aperitif par excellence, It also sits well with my olives and nuts dish while I’m wrapping presents on Christmas Eve. Spend a little more than that, and you’ll enter the realms of something completely special with the extra intensity and depth of flavor you find in both Barbadillo Pastora Manzanilla Pasada en Rama NV (£20, ocado.com) and Bodegas’ truly exceptional Tradición Fino.
Tesco Finest 10 Year Old Tawny Port, Douro, Portugal NV (£12.50, Tesco) Port is the fortifier that’s slapped on us as hard as a Christmas drink, or at least the one with holiday cheese anointing. But not all outlets are created equal when it comes to pairing with Stilton. To me, aged brown ports, which have been tempered for years or decades in barrels before being bottled, are by far the best choice to pair with the salty and sour blue cheese blends of the various styles of port—such as ruby, reserve, vintage and vintage port and the late-bottled vintage—that Bottled in a smaller stage of development which contains the most pronounced tannin. The Symington family behind the Graham’s, Dow’s, and Warre brands is an especially good version of Tesco; While the Sandeman 20 Year Old Tawny Port (£34.95, thewhiskyexchange.com) is a great example of the sophistication and balance you find in what I consider to be the perfect setting for aged trees averaging two barrel knots.
Coume del Mas Galateo, Banyoles, France 2020 (£26.10, 37.5cl, hedonism.co.uk) Port can provide enough pleasure on its own without the cheese, of course, and after dinner, sipping on the velvety grip of tannins you find in the best vintage and vintage bottled ports is a big part of its multifaceted appeal. Some of my favorites from tastings this year include the sumptuous and excellent value Graham’s LBV 2015 (£10.99, waitrosecellar.com); Purr Quinta do Noval Late Bottled Vintage 2016 (£25, ocado.com); the ultra-smooth and silky Niepoort LBV 2015 (£19.99, slurp.co.uk); and the cascading dark fruit of Fonseca Guimaraens 2008 (£32, tanners-wines.co.uk). Most of these ports will pair happily with a dark chocolate of your choice, as will some of the fortified port-like wines made from the Grenache grape variety just over the border with Spain at Banyoles in southern France. Coume del Mas Galateo is a particularly luxurious example: deep, dark, sweet, coming with a veritable explosion of vibrant, glossy blackberry fruit with subtle spicy undertones.
Follow David Williams on Twitter @employee