We all know that most fortified wine sales happen around Christmas, and even if the trade reckons that customers are depriving themselves of a lot of enjoyment for the rest of the year, off-licences are just going to have to make the most of the upcoming season.
Set up some lively displays of port, sherry and madeira, and push the fact that they are actually some of the best value wines on the market, and that producers have been working very hard in recent years to produce more styles of real interest to the wine drinker. Here are some of the offerings we tasted recently; prices are trade.
La Rubia Manzanilla (Febvre 375cl €7.50). Manzanilla has become fashionable and is great with pre-dinner nibbles like nuts, olives and crisps. Best bought in half bottles and consumed relatively soon after opening.
Garvey San Patricio Fino (Gleeson 375cl €6). Dry, tangy and very slightly salty, this is good not just with nuts and crisps but smoked salmon and some salad based starters.
Warres Ottima 10 Year Old Tawny Port (Febvre 50cl €19.05). This is the one that set out, with some success, to bring port to younger drinkers. Good before or after dinner, the shapely bottle makes it a great gift wine.
Taylor’s Chip Dry White Port (Barry Fitzwilliam €175 case). Good aperitif which tends to appeal to Martini fans. Can be a good cocktail base with juices and soda.
Canasta Cream Sherry (Findlater €118 case). Swing the changes for Winter’s Tale fans by giving them this alternative from the same producer. Whereas A Winter’s Tale is sweetened amontillado, Canasta is oloroso blended with pedro ximenez. Some nutty oloroso notes cut nicely through the sweetness of rich raisined fruit. Try after, as well as before, dinner.
Graham’s LBV Port 2003 (Findlater €89 case).This also comes in a smart black gift pack. Luscious and fruity with good concentration, it’s a versatile, classy after dinner drink.
Valdivia Pedro Ximinez Sherry (Febvre 375cl €10.25). Luscious raisins, figs and dates; a perfect match for Christmas pud.
Warres LBV Port 2000 (Febvre €20.75). This comes in a good-looking wooden case for gift purposes. With rich, slightly leathery, red and black fruits, it’s great with hard cheeses, especially Parmesan chunks and Cheshire.
Cockburn’s Vintage Port 2003 (Barry Fitzwilliam, around €45). If there’s any of this still available, grab it. Last time I tasted, a few months ago, it had wonderful, velvety red fruit, with hints of ripe strawberries and a touch of sweet spice. One of the most consistent labels for vintage port, the suppliers generally have several years available at various prices, so negotiate.
Blandy’s Duke of Clarence Madeira (Febvre 375cl €7.95). From a blend of local varieties, this has rich raisin, fudge and spice flavours with subtle hints of citrus. Lovely after dinner, while makers Symingtons also have some great cocktail ideas at www.symington.com/dukeofclarence.