By Rose Murray Brown MW    Published in The Scotsman 26 December 2015


One thing you might well need over the Christmas holidays is a bit of fortification to cope with all the seasonal stresses.  Here is my top twelve sweet wine fireside sippers to sip and savour from around the world priced from £5 to £20:


Languedoc, France: MUSCAT DE ST JEAN DE MINERVOIS (£5 hf bt Sainsbury’s)
A brilliant bargain Vin Doux Naturel.  If you normally buy Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, try this elegant alternative instead from the tiny village of St Jean de Minervois in Herault.  Made from the ripest raisiny grapes, with some fortification to stop the fermentation.  The result is a gently honeyed bargain with candied orange peel.  It is both sweet and fresh, serve well chilled with orange, pear or apricot dessert: 15% (fortified)  STAR VALUE BUY

Setubal, Portugal: MOSCATEL DE SETUBAL 2012 Adega de Pegoes (£8.95  bt Strictly Wine, The Wine Society, Tanners, Cambridge Wine)
Moscatel de Setubal is surely the wine world’s best sweet bargain.  Late picked Muscat grapes are given extra skin contact and maturation in American and French oak.  The result is a bit like drinking a sweet rich tea with hints of marmalade, raisins and caramel – it has more structure than many French Muscats, lots of rich sweetness on the palate but finishes quite dry: a good foil to mincepies.  Made by the Adega de Pegoes co-op near Lisbon by winemaker Jaime Quendera: 17.5% (fortified) 

Rutherglen, Australia: BLIND SPOT RUTHERGLEN MUSCAT NV (£6.95 hf bt The Wine Society
The best bargain Rutherglen Muscat on the market.  The care that goes into making these wines is not shown by its cheap price, but I guess fortified liquor Muscats are just not in vogue.  Deep coloured, unctuously sweet, orangey, pruney figgy, but still pretty fresh: sip by the fireside with rich raisiny mince pies or coffee dessert: 17% (fortified)  STAR VALUE BUY



Sicily, Italy: PANTELLARIA PASSITO LIQUOROSO 2013 Pellegrino (£10.95 hf bt Oddbins)
From a windy volcanic island just 40 miles from the African coast, this enchanting candied peel, sweet raisiny delight is made from Zibibbo grape (otherwise known as Muscat).  Very grapey aromas, rich figgy palate but not cloyingly sweet. Their liquoroso is made from a proportion (20%) of sundried grapes added to must to start fermentation, which is then stopped at 5% alcohol to retain natural sweetness by addition of brandy: 15% (fortified)  STAR BUY

Gascony, SW France: PACHERENC DU VIC-BILH 2012 Plaimont (£14 for 50 cl bt Corney & Barrow Scotland
Dried apricot and light orange marmalade flavours with a bright citric acidity – not as rich and dense as other wines in our tasting.  Made from late picked local Petit Manseng grapes, harvested over several ‘tries’ (picking passes through the vineyard) to ensure all grapes are picked well ripened.  A revival of an C18 wine style which ought to be better known – but the complicated name does not help: 13% (unfortified) 

Madeira: SINGLE HARVEST MALMSEY 2008 (£13.99 for 50cl bt Waitrose)
I find at this price level the sweetest style of Madeira, the Malmsey, tends to be the best bet.  Deep amber with a green tinge, baked fig, prune and rich caramel with rich intense sweetness tempered by a natural fiery acidity to keep it fresh.  Made in Sao Jorge at 200m altitude.  Grapes are maceration for 2 days prior to fermentation, then 7 years maturing on lees in the famous canteiro natural heat system in old American casks.  Will last months in bottle once opened: 19% (fortified)


£20 & UNDER

Tokay, Hungary: TOKAY 5 PUTTONYOS 2009 Royal Tokaji (£18.99 for 50cl bt Lidl)
Lidl are branching out now trying to attract bargain wine hunters with Hungary’s famous dessert Tokay at such a good price.  Chosen from the very reputable Royal Tokaji Company (part owned by wine writer Hugh Johnson) who are based in the charming north east Hungarian village of Mad.  Their style has a particularly deep dark golden colour with roasted, toffeed flavours, it tastes a bit like runny dark caramel.  Delicious with cheese, mincepies or fruitcake: 11% (unfortified)  STAR VALUE BUY

Malaga, Spain: ARIYANAS NATUALMENTE DULCE 2008 Bodegas Bentomiz (£18.99 for 50cl bt Waitrose & Waitrose Cellar
Delighted to see a supermarket listing a wine from this superb Malaga bodegas who make Spain’s best sweet wines.  Beautifully balanced, naturally sweet Muscatel.  Grown on Axarquia slate soils, grapes are sundried for five days, then fermented naturally without any added alcohol.  Made by a Dutch couple Clara Verheij and Andre Both from Holland who rescued abandoned vineyards near Malaga: 12.5% (unfortified) STAR BUY

Liaoning, China: GOLDEN VALLEY ICE WINE 2009 (£19 hf bt Berry Bros & Rudd
If you have already enjoyed Canadian icewine, try this deliciously fresh Chinese equivalent.  Vidal grapes are grown near the North Korean / Russian border near Huanlong Lake at 380metres where extremely low winter temperatures mean that vines are buried underground once the frozen grapes have been picked.  What I liked about this is that it is not too unctuously sweet, but citric, relatively vibrant and it would certainly create a talking point; the cheapest of Changyu winery’s three part icewine range: 11% (unfortified)

Santorini, Greece: VIN SANTO 2003 Hatzidakis (£19.95 hf bt Berry Bros & Rudd
Santorini’s nectar.  Made since Byzantine times on this famous Greek island and enjoyed by many a passing Venetian sailor, who took the news to Italy (where Vin Santo is now much more widely made).  Under the hot Greek sun, the grapes (80% Assyrtiko & 20% Aidani) are sundried for twelve days, then fermented with no added sugar or alcohol.  It is just pure Passos heaven.  Caramel, honey, raisins and ginger notes goes rather well with goats cheese: 13% (unfortified)

Jerez, Spain:  ‘MATUSALEM’ 30 YEAR OLD OLOROSO DOLCE (£17.99 hf bt Majestic Wine, Tesco, Waitrose, Ocado, Selfridges,
Loved this Oloroso sherry as it is raisiny and intense without being too sweet.  Think dark dried apricots, squidgy dates and scents of cinnamon spice – it would work well with a fruit dessert or mature cheese.  Made in very small quantities by the sherry giants, Gonzalez Byass who blend a dry Oloroso with 25% Pedro Ximenez and then leave them to mellow together in their solera ageing system: 20% (fortified)

Douro Valley, Portugal:  QUINTA DO NOVAL LATE BOTTLED VINTAGE 2009 (£20 Oddbins) 
Like a ‘baby’ vintage port: with very good complexity, structure and depth of fruit.  This is a particularly good example of an ‘LBV’ ruby from highly respected Quinta do Noval estate, who make unfiltered LBV (so it will need decanting from its sediment).  Made from traditionally foot trodden grapes – mainly native Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz – with a high proportion of the grapes from Noval’s own estate high in the Douro Valley.  Established in 1715, Noval has been owned for the past two decades by Axa and the investments have really paid off: 20% (fortified)

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