ShelfLife Tasting: Fortify yourself this Christmas

Fortified wines are often a hit at Christmas

Helen Coburn highlights how best to have yourself a Sherry Merry Christmas!



17 December 2015

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Fortified wines and Christmas have always made a match. Sherry may be old fashioned but it’s still a great Christmas standby and there’s something about its aroma that brings many of us – of a certain age – back to Christmases of our childhood. For the real nostalgia feeling, it’s got to be sweet or cream sherry, drunk as an aperitif, and we’ve listed our favourites below. After dinner, port and Madeira tend to have the edge and we’re also spreading out our category a bit to include some unfortified dessert wines.


Manzanilla and fino sherries are perfect before dinner, and work well with salty snacks and nuts. Serve moderately chilled. Hidalgo (Nicholson, Celtic Whiskey Shop, many independents), Fernando de Castilla (Tyrells, Corkscrew, Terroirs), Lustau (Mitchell) and Williams & Humbert (Findlater, multiples) all offer excellent ones at prices from around €12 for half bottles. Cream sherry is great for sipping as you cook that turkey; A Winter’s Tale (Findlater, multiples €16) is the most nostalgic of all, and works really well when added to gravy, too! Canasta Cream (Findlater, multiples €17) is another alternative, with its rich fudge and walnut flavours, or try Cuesta Cream (Mitchell, some independents, €18.50) which is in similar style. Hidalgo Alameda Cream (Nicolson, independents, €20) is a slightly drier cream with hints of toffee and dates.

Port and Madeira

The Irish market for Madeira is tiny, so there’s not a lot of choice. Justino’s 10 Year Old Sercial (Liberty, independents €22) has vanilla, caramel and dried fruit flavours, while the Justino’s Boal closely resembles a sweet amontillado sherry. For my money, the Sercial shows more balance and refinement. Borges Old Reserve 10 Year Old Boal (Mitchell €35) is not oversweet, and has lots of Christmassy raisin fruits. Blandy’s Rainwater Madeira (Febvre, independents, €28), has smooth nut and fudge flavours and would be lovely with plum pudding or anything involving dried fruits.

Cockburns Special Reserve Port (widely available €19), is still one of the best value ports and is great with bread or crackers and a hunk of parmesan cheese. Grahams 6 Grapes Port (O’Briens, some multiples and independents €24) has smooth cherry and berry fruit and goes well with fruit cake, pastries and cheese. Moving up the scale, a bottle of Fonseca Guimaraens 1996 Vintage Port (Corkscrew, independents €56), would make a fine gift and is drinking well now.

Dessert wines

Among sweet wines, Brown Brothers Orange Muscat 2013 (€14, 375cl) is widely available, and its citrus laced sumptuousness works well with sponge cakes, trifles and cream based desserts. De Bortoli Black Noble (Febvre, Corkscrew, independents €35) is an interesting alternative to Port, and has a lush palate of dried red fruits and dates; it’s very good with rich cakes and chocolate desserts. Dereszia Tokaji 5 Puttonyos (O’Briens, Corkscrew, other outlets €38), is delicious stuff, filled with bitter marmalade and fresh pineapple flavours; don’t bother with the food – just take it to the fireside!

And a few more festive bottles…

Wines from Chile's Tarapaca estate

Wines from Chile’s Tarapaca estate

Spotting some Tarapaca wines in a store lately, I realised I hadn’t seen them for a while, though at one time I was quite a fan. Tarapaca Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Londis, Mace, Spar €14.99) and Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (€14.99) are both available now through BWG, and their solidly chunky bottles give them enough class for your Christmas table. The sauvignon blanc is from Chile’s high quality Leyda Valley, and has tasty green fruit with a trace of peachiness. The cabernet is elegant and would work very well with game or beef as well as turkey. In the past, I found it went very well with spiced beef. BWG is also offering a decent southern French Ventoux in Altitude 400 2013 (€13), along with Pioneer Argentina Malbec 2013 (€11.99). Malbec is one of the best wines with game and – this is not to do the varietal any disrespect! – is unbeatable as a base for boeuf bourguignon or coq au vin, owing to its savoury fruits and deep colour.

And finally….If you’re not a sherry or sparkling wine fan but still want a lively aperitif, what about a Verdejo from Spain’s Rueda region? Mackenway’s is bringing in Avellino Vegas Montespina 2014 (€14, many independents) which has lots of lively citrus flavours, while Cuatro Rayas Vinedos Centenarios 2014 (Cassidys, independents €15) has fresh, almost cucumber-like fruit, and very good length. Both wines are perfect with prawn cocktail and crab starters.



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