Newspaper and television reports are full of stories about sparkling wines at this time of year: it’s become an annual ritual to look at the current rash of half-price deals and slashed prices on Champagnes, Cavas and Proseccos, and ask questions about why prices are suddenly so cheap and if the half-price bargains are for real, or merely a marketing fiction. And whilst it is true that a disproportionate amount of sparkling wine is bought in the month of December, there is another category of wines that sees a huge seasonal surge: fortified wines, including Port, Sherry, Madeira and the rest. For a lot of people buying such wines – made by adding spirit to a base wine – is a once a year purchase, a festive treat for mid-winter too. There’s a lot of excellent fortified wine around on the shelves at the moment, not only from classic European regions, but from less obvious places too. Here’s a round-up of three excellent options tasted very recently.
Malaga Virgen, Moscatel Naranja, Spain
Importer Warren Edwardes succinctly describes this as “Marmalade in a glass.” Made in Malaga, the base is Moscatel, aromatized with wild orange peel that has been steeped in brandy. It’s intriguing with its glowing amber colour and highly aromatic nose, Cointreau-like to an extent, but a little more delicate with the herb and floral notes of the Muscat. Fortified to only 15% abv it is not at all spirity, with an unctuous slippery mouth-feel and orange and delicate toffee balanced against fresh wine acidity, leaving it sticky and sweet, but beautifully moreish. A banker for orange desserts, but I had a glass with a panettone bread and butter pudding and it was perfect. 91/100. £12.99 per 50cl, on offer at £9.99 at stickywines.co.uk.
Marks & Spencer, Rare Cream Sherry, Spain
The name of ‘Cream Sherry’ has been greatly devalued thanks to a lot of cheap and sometimes not so cheerful bottles bearing the name, but when this style of Sherry is good, it can be utterly delicious. This example from the excellent house of Emilio Lustau is made from 75% Palomino that has been through the Solera system, before 25% of Pedro Ximénez, dried on mats, is blended in. With 110g/l of residual sugar it has an attractively sweet vanilla and chocolate nose, toasty and orangy, with a beguiling warmth. So chocolaty and rich on the palate, yet it has delicious tang and freshness without the engine oil thickness of a straight PX. It is gorgeous, nutty and enveloping. 92/100. £12.00, 475 M&S stores and online.
Quinta do Noval, 10 Year Old Tawny Port, Portugal
Noval’s tawny Ports are terrific wines, each notable for their keen edge of freshness, their energy, even the most mellowed 40-year-old release. This 10-year-old with its burnished copper colour has lots of that walnut and old polished wood character that warms the soul, but in its relative youth it is still fruity and bold, showing bright berry fruit before it melts into tobacco, mocha and chocolaty rich tones. The palate is creamy and broadly textured, with deliciously sweet and quite unctuous figgy flavours, but that characteristic citrus acidity, freshness and balanced character gives it tang and energy through to the finish. A treat with aged Parmesan or Mimolet, or with a fig pudding. 92/100. £24.99 Waitrose, but £20.99 for loyalty card holders through until the end of the year. Also through a who range of independent merchants on wine-searcher.