TOP TEN SWEET & FORTIFIED WINES FOR CHRISTMAS

By Rose Murray Brown MW      Published in The Scotsman 6 December 2014

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 ten fortified fireside sippers to sip and savour from around the world:

AUSTRALIA

Liqueur Muscat:  CAMPBELLS RUTHERGLEN MUSCAT (£12.49 hf bt Waitrose; £11.99 hf bt Oxford Wine) Scotsman John Campbell first arrived in Victoria in 1870 in search of gold, but he turned to growing vines in the seams when the gold ran out.  Now the fourth generation Malcolm and Colin Campbell with their children are still there making the benchmark for the famous fortified Muscats of Rutherglen.  Supersweet deliciously decadent and raisiny wine to serve with the mince pies or Christmas pud.  I tried their new Liqueur Muscat icecream when I last visited them in Rutherglen – an interesting addition to their range!  17.5% alc

Fortified Vintage:  D’ARENBERG VINTAGE FORTIFIED SHIRAZ (£18.99 Luvians, Cupar/St Andrews)  Made in the same way as Port by the enterprising Chester Osborn, whose great grandfather who set up this Adelaide Hills winery was a tee-totaller.  Downunder they use 68% Shiraz and 32% Chambourcin grapes for this blend with fermentation stopped midway by adding grape spirit and to retain the natural sweetness.  This reminds me more prune, liquorice and tea leaves, rather than the damson notes you find in Port.  It finishes with an unexpected and intriguing dryness – and not quite as high in alcohol as many Port.  17.5% alc

PORTUGAL

Aged Tawny Port:  NOVAL 10 YEAR OLD TAWNY (£20.99 reduced from £24.99 Waitrose until 30 December; Tanners; £19.50 Fortnum & Mason; Peckham & Rye, Glasgow) From the highly respected Quinta do Noval estate who have a particularly good reputation for their fresh crisp dry(ish) complex tawnies.  Made from traditionally foot trodden grapes – mainly native Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz grapes – with a high proportion of the grapes grown on Noval’s own property high in the Douro Valley.  Established back in 1715, but Noval has been owned for the past two decades by Axa and the investments have really paid off.  Enjoy slightly chilled with cheeses and nuts.  20% alc

Premium Ruby Port:  GRAHAMS LATE BOTTLED VINTAGE 2008 (£10 reduced from £13.50 Waitrose until 30 December; £12.98 www.thedrinkshop.com; £13.49 Tesco; £13.99 Luvians, Cupar/St Andrews)  Grahams is the port you give you your friends.  All port houses tend towards either a drier or sweeter style, depending on the time they choose to add the grape spirit to stop fermentation and retain the sweetness.  Grahams is always on the sweeter style (whereas Dow is a touch drier).  This is so voluptuous, dark sweet plummy fruits with a minty edge and peppery tannins on the finish.  Superb value too at this Christmas discounted price!  20% alc 

Vintage Tawny Port:  NOVAL COLHEITA 2000 (£49 for 75 cl btThe Wine Society www.thewinesociety.com) Wow – this is incredible.  I know it sounds expensive – but you must buy it.  So beautifully rounded mellow and complex – so damsony, seductive, coffee flavoured and smoky with a never-ending finish.  Just loved this unusual single vintage tawny – even better with its millennium date of course.  It would make a superb stocking filler for ‘the port lover who has everything’.  Well done The Wine Society for ‘stocking’ it.  Pass the port and cheese my way please!   20.5% alc

MADEIRA

Malmsey Madeira:  HENRIQUES & HENRIQUES 15 YEAR OLD MALVASIA MADEIRA (£22 The Wine Society www.thewinesociety.com)  One of the few surviving producers on this unique volcanic island, founded in 1850 it is the only producer who owns large tracts of their own vineyards on the island.  This is the Madeira to offer someone who has never tasted a Madeira before.  So complex with its caramel and nut notes, sweet raisiny undertones and characteristic crisp acid.  Perfect for serving with Christmas cake.  A fortified to suit all ages – not just maiden aunts.  20% alc

SPAIN

Manzanilla Sherry:  LUSTAU PAPIRUSA MANZANILLA (£14.49 Luvians, Cupar/St Andrews; £15.35 Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com; £14.50 Fortnum & Mason) If you have ever visited Sanluca de Barrameda, a tiny town in southern Spain on the Guadalquivir estuary, you will know how humid and salty the air is.  This is the environment that this special sherry has aged in its American oak ask giving it an unusual.  I always think of Chris de Burgh’s song: ‘There’s a Spanish Train that runs between Guadalquivir and old Seville…’ whilst I sip this bone dry tangy sherry.  Serve as an unusual aperitif to revive your Christmas guests.  15% alc

Amontillado Sherry:  ‘DEL DUQUE’ 30 YEAR OLD AMONTILLADO (£20 hf bt Oddbins; Berry Bros & Rudd; Fortnum & Mason; Selfridges; www.thedrinkshop.com; www.thewhiskyexchange.com; Harvey Nichols, Edinburgh; Peckhams, Glasgow)  For those, like myself, who like their sherry nutty, dry and incisive, this is seriously good example.  Velvet smooth on the palate with delicious intensity, hints of nutty undertones.  With 30 years worth of winemaking here, there are extraordinary layers of complexity – but it also has a vibrant freshness.  Serve with mature cheeses after the meal or after a long wintery walk.  21.5% alc

Sweet Oloroso Sherry:   ‘MATUSALEM’ 30 YEAR OLD OLOROSO DOLCE (£17.99 hf bt Majestic Wine, Tesco, Waitrose, Ocado, Selfridges, www.thedrinkshop.com)
Loved this as it is raisiny and intense without being too sweet.  Think dried figs, dates and 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% alc

FRANCE

Banyuls:  BANYULS RESERVA DOMAINE DE LA TOUR VIEILLE (£19.50 for 75 cl bt Yapp Bros www.yapp.co.uk)
I guess France’s Vin Doux Naturel style is only just into the fortified category, note its lower alcohol level in comparison to port or sherry.  It is as close as you can get if you want a ‘French port style’ wine.  This is one of the best wines I have bought from Yapp over the years.  A divine blend of Grenache Noir, Grenache Gris and Carignan matured in the open air in traditional spherical glass bonbonnes.  Spicy raisiny with dried fruit and nutty undertones, it will remind you of a good tawny port without the kick.  Serve chilled – it will keep all through Christmas once opened in the fridge.  16.5% alc

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