Sweet and fortified wines come into their own at this time of year – for entertaining, sipping quietly and contemplatively, or giving as presents. With the exception of pale dry sherries and tawny ports, most can be kept several years (in cellar conditions). Fortifieds, in particular, are also often bargains. So here are my picks for this year, going from dry to sweet and/or fresher, lighter to richer, heavier (rather than in ascending order of price, as with my other Festive Guides). Watch out for bottle sizes: there are several halves and 50cl – useful sizes for these styles.
Barbadillo Manzanilla Pasada Pastora En Rama, Jerez, Spain
A warm welcome back for this wonderful Manzanilla. Pastora was the original Manzanilla brand in 1827 and has been brought back in this aged (pasada) form. It’s pale, dry and tangy but smooth and complex, with a nose that combines marine freshness with nutty, dried flower and straw aromas, followed by green apple, toasted almond, buttery hazelnut, a hint of aniseed and a lively, salty finish. Drink within the year and serve chilled as a show-stopping aperitif. 15% abv.
for 37.5cl: £6.99, Cambridge Wine Merchants, £7.95, The Dorset Wine Co, £7.99, Roberts & Speight, £9.99, Mumbles Fine Wine
Taste the Difference 12 Year Old Oloroso Sherry, Jerez, Spain
Another bargain. Intense, complex and, to all intents and purposes, dry, with toasted walnut, orange zest and green olive flavours. Made by Lustau. Serve cool/slightly chilled as an aperitif, a digestif or with cheese. 20% abv.
for 50cl: £8, Sainsbury's
Domaine de Bellegarde Jurançon Moelleux Cuvée Thibault 2014, Jurançon, France
Pascal Labasse’s flagship Petit Manseng cuvée: concentrated, honeyed richness with apricot and orange flavours and spicy, smoky depth. Could be kept eight or more years.
£21.50, Yapp Brothers
Château Coutet 1er Cru Classé Barsac 2004, Bordeaux, France
Opulent, sweet and vibrant, with spicy apricot, tangerine and orange marmalade flavours. Perfect now, but good for another decade.
£33.95 (offer price until close of play 23.12.17), Jeroboams
Pellegrino Pantelleria Liquoroso, Pantelleria, Italy
Made by the ancient method of fermenting the juice from specially dried grapes with the must from non-dried grapes to produce a concentrated 15% abv wine with honey, sultana, dried apricot and baked apple flavours with a refreshing twist of orange peel. Serve with puddings, dark chocolate or cheese, including blue cheese.
for 37.5cl: £10.99, D Byrne & Co, Davis Bell Mc Craith; £11.49, Amazon, Campbells of Leyburn; £11.50, Oddbins
Kopke Colheita Tawny Port 1999, Douro, Portugal
Tawny of a single vintage (colheita) from Kopke, the first port house (established in 1638). Mellow, spicy fruit, nutty sweetness; harmonious and sustained.
Kopke Colheita Tawny Port 2003, Douro, Portugal
More unctuous and toffee-flavoured than the 1999, but with classic spicy, walnutty flavours.
for 37.5cl: £16.99, or £14.99 in any 6 bottles, Majestic
Berry Bros William Pickering 20-Year-Old Tawny Port, Douro, Portugal
Rich, sweet, nutty wood-aged Port with peppery freshness and a flavour that goes on and on. Made by Quinta do Noval.
£28.95, Berry Bros & Rudd
Cockburn’s Quinta do Canais Port 2010, Douro, Portugal
Powerful, exuberant, young, single-quinta Port from the revitalised Cockburn. Violet perfume, luscious black fig, plum, milk chocolate and cappuccino flavours, spicy pepper freshness and suave tannins. Can be drunk now, but has a decade ahead of it.
£26, The Wine Society
Blandy’s Alvada 5 Year Old Madeira, Portugal
A half-way house between Malmsey, the sweetest, richest Madeira, and Bual on the rung below. Caramel, walnut and molasses with a hint of vanilla and a freshening bite of dried-apricot and coffee on the finish.
for 50cl: £11.95, Halifax Wine Company; £12.85, The Whisky Exchange; £13.49, Waitrose; £14.99, Cambridge Wine Merchants, Amazon
Photographs by Joanna Simon