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The Festive Sweet, Sticky and Fortified Guide 2019

‘Tis the season for sweet and fortified wines, for entertaining, for communing with quietly, or giving as presents.

Fortifieds, in particular, are often bargains and the Riesling, Tokajis, Sétubal, Madeira and single quinta port I’ve chosen can all be cellared. So can the Noval LBV, but that’s not the norm. Deciding on the order of wines in this guide is always problematic and this year I have reverted to ascending order of price, but within three categories: Sweet, Dry Sherry and Fortified. Had I put the sweet wines in ascending order of sweetness, weight and richness, the light, fizzy red Brachetto would have been first. Watch out for bottle sizes: half bottles predominate but there are also 50cl and standard 75cl and be aware, as ever, that some are limited-time offer prices. For the January 2020 issue of Decanter (out now) I profiled my top 10 New World Sweet Wines. I have included two here (Framingham and Paul Cluver) and reluctantly left out the rest, so do pick up a copy of the magazine and check them out: they're very varied and all fabulous.


Tesco Finest Dessert Semillon 2015, Riverina, Australia

Australia’s answer to Sauternes made by De Bortoli, the creator of the style in Australia and maker of the stellar De Bortoli Noble One (2016: £19.95–£22.99 for 37.5cl, Slurp, Majestic, Waitrose, Lea & Sandeman). Opulent sweetness through honey, stone fruit and orange flavours and unctuous texture lifted by citrus tang. Could handle the sweetest puddings or blue cheese. 10%.

£6 for 37.5cl, Tesco

Morrisons The Best Botrytis Semillon 2014, Riverina, Australia

Made by the De Bortoli family, like Tesco’s (above), but slightly less sweet and oily and with a bit more energy and elegance in the dried-apricot and orange flavours.

£7.25 for 37.5cl, Morrisons

Rosa Regale Brachetto d’Aqui 2018, Piedmont, Italy

A sweet, fresh, light-bodied, sparkling red with a rose-petal and strawberry perfume and flavours of cherries, strawberries and fresh grapes. Refreshingly low in alcohol and a match for cilled desserts such as pavlova, fruit salad or ice cream. Christmas quiz fact: Brachetto is the grape variety. 7%

£127.94 for 6, 2017: £16.50, Ann et Vin; £18.49, Flagship Wines; £99.26 for 6,

Waitrose & Partners No 1 Château Suduiraut Sauternes 2011, France

2011 vintage wasn’t much to write home about for red wines in Bordeaux, but for Sauternes it was an outstanding vintage. This combines the richness, freshness and precision in a cascade of peach, apricot, honey, spiced orange marmalade and clotted cream flavours. 14%

£15.99 for 37.5cl, Waitrose

Framingham Noble Riesling, Marlborough, New Zealand

Fragrant and concentrated with creamy beeswax, white peach, orange zest and apricot flavours sustained by thrilling acidity. One of my Decanter top ten. 9%

For 37.5cl, £15.69, Rannoch Scott; £17.50, The New Zealand House of Wine and Noble Green Wines; £20.50, Specialist Cellars

Paul Cluver Noble Late Harvest Riesling 2017, Elgin, South Africa

Riesling’s mineral signature, fine-boned intensity and freshness with apple, ginger and candied orange-peel flavours. One of my Decanter top ten. 9.9%

£18.75–£21.40 for 37.5cl, NY Wines (Cambridge), Tanners Wine, The Oxford Wine Company, Amps Wine

Disznoko Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2015, Hungary

Floral, lime, honey and apricot intensity with dazzling freshness. Exemplary. Serve with cheese and/or puddings, or instead of them. 11.5%

£19.99 for 37.5cl, Waitrose

Royal Tokaji Betsek Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2013, Hungary

Exceptional Tokaji from a perfect vintage and one of the great vineyards. Layers of apricot, honey, tangerine, spice, hints of coffee and clotted cream and exhilarating freshness. Good with hard and creamy blue cheeses and fruity puddings, but also perfect for sipping without either. And it will keep for decades if you want it to. 11%

£55 for 50cl,


Tio Pepe Fino En Rama (2019 release), Jerez, Spain

En Rama is minimally filtered sherry. In the case of Fino, it’s not as pale as ordinary filtered Fino and, although just as dry, the salty, bread-dough and green apple flavours are fuller, smoother and have more oomph. Drink it as you would any other Fino. 15%

£14.95, The Wine Society; £14.99, Majestic

Morrisons The Best Palo Cortado

A lovely example of this rare style of sherry, from a 12-year solera at the excellent Emilio Lustau bodega. Walnutty, smooth and dry with soy-sauce savoury depth and a hint of orange zest. 19%

£6.25 for 37.5cl, Morrisons


Waitrose Ruby Port

Smooth and warmingly fruity port with blackberry, liquorice, black pepper and fig jam flavours. Made (like Tesco’s Tawny below) by Symington Family Estates. Very good value. 19%

£7.69, Waitrose

Casa Ermelinda Freitas Moscatel de Setúbal, Portugal

A Portuguese fortified classic and a tremendous bargain. Orange in colour with the weight and zing of orange marmalade and a walnut undertow – a bit like liquid alcoholic marmalade. It can be kept in the fridge after opening. Try it with hard cheeses, mince pies, panforte and similar, or fruit and nuts. 17.5%

£9.95, The Wine Society

Tesco Finest 10 Year Old Tawny Port

Impressive walnut and dried-fig depth with touch of butterscotch and a warming roundness. Made by the Symington Family. Very good value. 20%

£12.50, Tesco

Pellegrino Pantelleria Passito Liquoroso 2017, Italy

From a volcanic outcrop island closer to Tunisia than to Sicily, this intense, golden, fortified wine is made by adding dried Zibibbo (aka Muscat) grapes to the fresh-grape fermentation. Delicious honeyed, dried apricot, fig and baked apple flavours with a twist of orange peel. Serve with puddings, dark chocolate or cheese, including blue cheese. A number of merchants are still on 2016, which I would expect to be good still. 15%

For 50cl: £14.41,; £19.95, South Downs Cellars. For 37.5cl, £10.99, Ministry of Drinks; £16.08,

Blandy’s 10-Year-Old Malmsey Madeira

Marmalade, molasses, caramel, walnut, a suggestion of cappuccino and the the characteristic tang that gives bite to this richest and sweetest of Madeira styles. Once opened, keep it in the fridge and it will last months. It could tackle Christmas pudding, mince pies, chocolate desserts or a cheese board. 19%

£18.99 for 50cl, Waitrose; £19.25, The Whisky Exchange; £21.65, Connollys Wine

Quinta do Noval Unfiltered Late Bottled Vintage 2012 Port

Succulent, rich port with baked fig, blackberry, dark chocolate and vanilla flavours, melifluous tannins and raspberry freshness. As well as being unfiltered, the grapes are entirely from the Noval estate and foot trodden. It could be cellared for another four years. A star match for chocolate and mature hard cheeses. 19.5%

£18.25 until 2 January, Ocado (but currently awaiting stocks); £21.87, Cambridge Wine Merchants; £24.30, Hedonism

Taylor’s Quinta da Vargellas 2004 Port

I generally avoid featuring wines in successive year’s Guides, but I’ve tasted this perfumed, velvet-smooth single-quinta port again twice recently and can’t recommend it too highly. As I said last year, it’s ready now but will keep. 20%

£25.59 until 2 January, Ocado and Waitrose; £26.99, Majestic; £27.50, Tanners; £30, selected Co-op

Quinta do Noval Colheita 2000 Tawny Port

Fabulous mature, yet still flawlessly fresh, single-vintage, single-estate Tawny port, woven with spiced coffee, dark chocolate, rich butterscotch, dried fig and walnut flavours. It deserves to be savoured on its own, although it could be drunk with hard cheeses or an almondy chocolate cake/tart. The Colheita 2005 has been released recently and I highly recommend that too, but haven’t been able to find a stockist so far. 20%

£49, The Wine Society

Photographs by Joanna Simon


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