As ever, my annual sweet and fortified wine guide is the place to rummage for many of the wine world's greatest bargains. More than that, it’s a source of aperitifs and of restorative and comforting wines for long dark evenings (dry, medium and sweet); it's a place to research accompaniments or alternatives to puddings and cheese; and it’s a provider of inspiration for gifts.
It’s divided into three: sweet wines, then sherries, where you’ll find dry wines for aperitifs as well as sweet styles, then ports. Within those three groups, they're listed in ascending order of price, but beware if comparing prices: there are halves (37.5cl) and 50cl, as well as standard 75cl bottles. In one case, Domaine de l’Ancienne Cure Monbazillac, there’s a useful choice of a half or a 75cl bottle.
Sweet wines, sherries and tawny ports should be served chilled, although only a light chill for tawny if you prefer.
Finest Dessert Semillon 2017, Australia
Succulent, ripe, sweet wine made for Tesco from botrytis-affected (aka noble rot) Semillon grapes by De Bortoli, producers of Noble One, Australia’s most awarded sweet wine. Candied citrus, barley sugar, fresh lime and orange blossom flavours.
Adnams Fine Dessert Wine Pacherenc du Vic Bilh 2016
Quince, apricot and honeyed sweetness pitched against refreshing acidity. Made in Gascony from the local grape varieties Arrufiac, Petit Courbu, Grand Courbu and Petit Manseng. Ideal for Boxing Day quizzes – and very good value. 12.5%
Domaine de l’Ancienne Cure Monbazillac 2019, France
Pale coloured but rich in the honeyed fruit and delicate oily texture of botrytis-affected Semillon; lifted by crisp, tangerine acidity on the finish. Organic. 13%
£9.95/37.5cl, £16.50/75cl, Yapp Brothers
Cabidos Saint-Clément Petit Manseng Doux 2015, Comté Tolosan, France
Made entirely from Petit Manseng, the main grape variety of Jurançon, but grown on an estate just outside the Jurançon appellation. Late-harvested, naturally concentrated grapes give nectarine, crystallised citrus fruit, acacia honey flavours with appetising spiciness and grapefruit acidity. 11.5%
£12.95–£15.49/50cl, Cheers Wine Merchants, Talking Wines, Hay Wines
Disznoko Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2018, Hungary
Golden Tokaji with intense apricot sweetness, a spicy stem-ginger note, a whisper of pineapple and, despite the exceptionally hot summer, vibrant acidity. Serve chilled with rich patés, fruit puddings, creamy blue cheeses (not too strong) or try it as an aperitif. 13%
Royal Tokaji Betsek First Growth 6 Puttonyos 2017, Hungary
Sumptuous and concentrated with white peach, apricot and tangerine streaked with spice (ginger, cinnamon, clove) and sustained by lime and grapefruit zing and brilliance. This could be kept for decades if you have a cellar (and a lot of willpower). 10.5%
£57/50cl, Waitrose Cellar
Light, springy, mouthwatering, dry sherry produced by Williams & Humbert for Booths. On their shelves at a temptingly modest price. 15%.
No.1 Torre del Oro Palo Cortado
Complex, bone-dry, amber-copper coloured Palo Cortado with a deep walnut flavour and a smoky tang. Made for Waitrose by the experts at Lustau. Another bargain.
Lustau East India Solera Rich Oloroso
Luscious, concentrated, dark sherry matured for 12 years and sweetened with Pedro Ximénez. Sip solo after dinner or serve with Christmas pudding, panforte, dark chocolate or dried fruit and nuts. 20%
£11.99–£18/50cl, Waitrose, The Whisky Exchange, Noble Green Wines; £25.54/75cl, Amazon
Viña Coralles by Peter Sisseck Fino Pago Balbaina (2021 Bottling)
Expensive, yes, but it’s likely to become the first cult sherry. The man behind it is Peter Sisseck, producer of the iconic Spanish red wine Pingus. It comes from a single vineyard and a solera that has an average age of nine years and it brings bone-dry, bracing freshness and silky texture to intricate flavours that include spices, brine, almond, hay, green apple and orange zest. 15%
£32.95–£37.50, Corney & Barrow, Harvey Nichols
Finest 10 Year Old Tawny Port
Garnet-coloured tawny with impressive depth and refinement for a £12 bottle. Dried-fig, spice, red berry and creamy dark chocolate flavours flecked with fennel seeds and orange zest. Also makes a useful port for cocktails, if you need one. Made for Tesco by Charles Symington of Graham’s, Warre's and Dow’s port fame. 19%
No.1 Crusted Port 2015
Perhaps the name crusted does it no favours, but crusted is a bit of a Cinderella style, with the result that it's good value, especially if you think of it as baby vintage port. The 2015 is smooth, round and velvety with ripe red-berry, cassis, spiced-nut and chocolate flavours. Try it with aged hard or blue cheeses or dark chocolate puddings. Made for Waitrose by Charles Symington. 20%
Quinta do Noval Late Bottled Vintage Port 2016
Estate grown, foot-trodden and unfiltered, this is a cut above. Dark and plush with vivid, rich fruit, it’s perfect now, but can be cellared. Drink as you would a more expensive vintage port. 19.5%
£19.99 until 4 January, then £24.99, Ocado
Alta No.10 Ten Year Old Tawny Port
Lush raspberry and redcurrant fruit with touches of cappuccino and woodsmoke in this supple 10-year tawny from Quinta da Pedra Alta. Try it with aged hard cheeses, panforte or chocolaty puddings. 19.5%
£25–£28.90/50cl, Taurus Wines, Hometipple, Q P A Wines, The Sampler
Kopke Colheita Port 1999
Creamy-smooth, complex, mature tawny port from a single year (colheita). Raisin, toasted walnut, and demerara sugar flavours and a hint of red berries. 20%
Quinta do Noval Colheita Tawny Port 2007
Gorgeous single-vintage tawny with fig cake, walnut, coffee and orange flavours (among others). Serve lightly chilled (10–13 Cº) with hard cheese or puddings, especially nut cakes, including lightly chocolaty ones. Or savour it on its own. Comes in a smart wooden box, if you’re thinking about a present for someone. 21%
£39.99 on offer until 4 January, then £49.99, Ocado
Photograph by Joanna Simon
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