Sweet wines and fortified wines, dry as well as medium and sweet, are some of the wine world's greatest bargains. They're wonderfully comforting on long, dark evenings and come in a kaleidoscope of styles to suit every taste. They make ideal presents and sweet wines, unfortified or fortified, can be served not only with puddings and cheese but instead of them, when you're time-poor, ingredient-poor or simply don't want any more to eat.
I've divided them into two groups below: sweet unfortified, in roughly ascending order of sweetness; and fortified wines, going from bone dry to exceptionally sweet. Watch out for bottle sizes – there are more halves and 50cl bottles than 75cl – and bear in mind that retailers' online and terra firma prices can differ, delivery charges vary greatly and, this year above all, what is in and out of stock online is changing very frequently.
Seifried Sweet Agnes Riesling 2018, New Zealand
I've recommended various vintages of this in many places over the years, including in Decanter last January, but it wasn't in my 2019 festive round-up, so more than merits inclusion here. Analytically the 2018 is tighter, leaner and less sweet than most vintages, but these things are relative: it's humming with marmalade, honeyed lime, grapefruit, apricot and almond cake sweetness and vibrant acidity. 11.5%
De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon 2016, Australia
Australia's answer to top Sauternes and a perfect example of opulence balanced by acidity via lanolin-smoothness and flavours of dried apricot, peach, pineapple, ginger orange and clotted cream. 10%
Rustenberg Straw Wine 2019, South Africa
Made from ripe, mainly Chenin Blanc grapes dried, Italian passito style, on straw mats, to raisin them, concentrating sugar and acidity and intensifying the honeyed sultana, apricot and orange flavours. Very good value and a great pudding wine. 9.5%
Royal Tokaji Betsek Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2016, Hungary
The newly released 2016 from one of Tokaji's iconic vineyards, Betsek, in an exceptional vintage. Fabulous intensity and breadth of apricot, lime cordial, stem ginger, smoky spice and creamy richness anchored by thrilling acidity. Drink any time over the next 25 years. Versatile with puddings, cheeses and foie gras. 11%.
£55 for 50cl, Waitrose
FORTIFIED – SHERRY, MARSALA, MADEIRA, PORT
Barbadillo Pastora Manzanilla Pasada En Rama, Spain
After 6 years in the solera system then two years in La Pastora cellar, this is bottled without the usual fining and filtration (rama means 'raw') so that it tastes more immediate and fuller, as if drawn straight from the cask. Straw coloured with intense nutty aromas then a great concentration of tangy, salty, yeasty sourdough and green apple flavours and a long, very dry finish. A treat. Pastora was the first Manzanilla to be sold in bottle in 1827 and was recreated by Barbadillo in 2015. 15%
Williams & Humbert Don Zoilo Collection Dry Amontillado 12 Years Old, Spain
Sherry doesn't come much better than this. In fact, it doesn't come better: amber coloured and turbo-charged with Seville orange, walnut and woodsmoke pungency and just a murmur of honey. Very tangy and bone dry but rich in texture, intensely concentrated and very long. Brilliant with Ibérico ham, olives and salted almonds – and just as brilliant without. 19%
£17 for 75cl, The Wine Society
Curatolo Dry Marsala Superiore, Italy
Gorgeous, pale copper coloured, medium-dry Marsala that has Christmas written all over it – creamy warmth, dried fig, toasted walnut, vanilla, orange zest and honey notes. Drink as an aperitif or with cheese. A bargain. 18%
£8.99 for 75cl (down from £11.99 until 3/1/21), Waitrose
Henriques & Henriques Madeira Verdelho 15 Years Old, Madeira
Waves of roast walnuts, chestnuts and almonds, fruitcake, cream, bitter chocolate and kumquat-peel off-set by Madeira's delicious burnt-tang signature. Long, complex, medium sweet. Good with cheese, nuts and not too sweet plain cakes – and if you're feeling adventurous try with tagine or curry. 20%. H&H's drier Sercial 10 Years Old is equally good and was a recent Wine of the Week.
Offley Rosé Port, Portugal
Contemporary pink port – very sweet, smooth and fresh, with a flavour of raspberries sprinkled with spice. Served chilled on the rocks, in cocktails or with Christmas pudding or chocolate. 19.5%
Quinta da Pedra Alta 'Alta No. 10' 10-Year-Old Tawny Port, Portugal
Another port that works in cocktails (e.g. a Precursory), but too good for cocktails really. Succulent and fine textured with raspberry, cranberry, spice, cappuccino and wood notes and a delicious hint of fennel. Try it lightly chilled with panforte, chocolate puddings, fig cake, aged Parmesan or hard sheep cheeses, or as an aperitif. 19.5%
Photographs by Joanna Simon