December 21, 2012 7:06 pm

Top 100 festive wines: sweetness and might

Fresh and nervy? Long and rich? Polished and glamorous? Take your pick
An illustration by Ingram Pinn depicting the season's choices of sweet and strong wine©Ingram Pinn

The big retailers may not always have the best prices for fine table wines but, in the main, they do for sweet and strong wines. Indeed, some of the prices for ports and sherries verge on the suicidal. I can but suggest that you take advantage of them, and of all the second and third wines from top Sauternes châteaux that now proliferate on British supermarket shelves.

Since this is the season and the weather for such self-indulgence, it would be equally foolish to pass up this seasonal opportunity to indulge in wine styles that deserve to be drunk more regularly. Wines are listed in increasing price per cl; standard bottles containing 75cl.

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A bottle of Barbadillo, Tesco Finest Manzanilla NV Sherry

Barbadillo, Tesco Finest Manzanilla NV Sherry

Strong and dry

Barbadillo, Tesco Finest Manzanilla NV Sherry

Very fresh and nervy. Lots of Atlantic in here! Great stuff. So much iodine you could put it on a wound. 15%. £4.50 until January 1 (£5.90 usually) per 50cl, Tesco (475 stores)

Lustau, Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference 12 Year Old Amontillado NV Sherry

Very pale tawny. Rancio nose – burnt noisette butter – the result of ageing in cask for all those years. Firm and vibrant. Super tangy. Fresh and revitalising. 19%. £7.99 per 50cl, Sainsbury’s (401 stores)

Sánchez Romate, Cayetano del Pino Palo Cortado NV Sherry

Estimated age 12 years … Pale greenish yellow. So clean, fresh and mature. Absolutely fantastic value. That price is for a full 75cl. 20%. £13.50, The Wine Society

A bottle of Gonzalez Byass, Dos Palmas Fino NV Sherry

Gonzalez Byass, Dos Palmas Fino NV Sherry

Equipo Navazos, I Think Manzanilla en Rama NV Sherry

Bottled April 2012. Very, very pale tawny – deeper than the average Manzanilla. Lively and dense. Burnished! Any wine from this producer that specialises in bottling the contents of hand-picked casks is worth pursuing. 15%. About £11 per half-bottle, Uncorked, Hedonism Wines, Philglas & Swiggot

Gonzalez Byass, Dos Palmas Fino NV Sherry

The best value of the four unfiltered gems just released. Intense wine on the cusp of nuttiness and putty-like. Lots of saltiness and yet a smooth texture and great appetising freshness and tension. This is only the second year that this bodega has selected specific casks of superior wine from its many soleras for special release. About £17.50 per 50cl, Lea & Sandeman, Berry Bros, Harvey Nichols

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Sweet

A bottle of Tacchino NV Moscato d’Asti

Tacchino NV Moscato d’Asti

Val d’Orbieu, Sainsbury’s NV Muscat de St-Jean-de-Minervois

Big, bold, sweet and opulent – almost brazenly sweet in fact, but look at that price! This vin doux naturel is not fat, but finishes clean and fresh. 15%. £4.99 per half-bottle, Sainsbury’s (461 stores)

Tacchino NV Moscato d’Asti

With its light grapiness and extreme freshness, this is almost irresistible. It’s so refreshing and even has a rather stylish label. Serve it to those for whom anything stronger would be unthinkable. 5.5%. £10.50, Bancroft

Dom des Forges 2010 Coteaux du Layon Chaume

This is ridiculously inexpensive for a gorgeous sweet Loire Chenin Blanc made by successive hand pickings. Green leaf flavours. Thick and syrupy but great value. Finishes with freshness and bite. 11.5%. £7.99 per half-bottle, Waitrose (48 branches)

A bottle of Ch Haut-Bergeron, L’Îlot de Haut-Bergeron 2010 Sauternes

Ch Haut-Bergeron, L’Îlot de Haut-Bergeron 2010 Sauternes

Ch Cantegril, The Society’s Exhibition 2009 Sauternes

Really very fine and echt indeed. There is evidence of noble rot but this traditional blend of Sémillon with Sauvignon Blanc is not too sweet. You could enjoy this treasure from Denis Dubourdieu with so many foods! Long. 14%. £18, The Wine Society

Ch Haut-Bergeron, L’Îlot de Haut-Bergeron 2010 Sauternes

Another second wine from a Sauternes Château with a lovely lemon streak in all that luscious richness. Very sweet. Vines are 60 years old. 13.54%. £9.99 per half-bottle, Marks & Spencer (400 stores)

Ch Guiraud, Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference 2010 Sauternes

This own-label wine comes from one of the top properties in Sauternes and is basically a very good off-cut. Tastes of the most stimulating pear juice. Not for the very long term, but open and appealing. 14%. £12.99 per half-bottle, Sainsbury’s (376 stores)

A bottle of Poggio Bonelli 2007 Vin Santo del Chianti

Poggio Bonelli 2007 Vin Santo del Chianti

Tamar Ridge, Kayena Vineyard Limited Release Botrytis Riesling 2010 Tasmania

Amazingly botrytised! Rich and unspittable at a completely silly price. This wine has won prizes galore in Australia and is refreshingly low in alcohol. 9%. £13.99 per half-bottle, Waitrose (23 branches)

Poggio Bonelli 2007 Vin Santo del Chianti

Pale orange Tuscan speciality. The sensation is one of delicate burn and long ageing in small oak barrels. Not that sweet but is so clean! Toasted almond flavours. Stunning. 16%. £19.95 per 50cl, Lea & Sandeman

A bottle of Mullineux, Straw Wine 2011 Swartland

Mullineux, Straw Wine 2011 Swartland

Ch Suduiraut, Waitrose 2007 Sauternes

A great combo of freshness and maturity. Nice savoury finish. Salty. Dare I suggest this would be a good foie gras wine? It’s certainly not the sweetest, but it has a certain beauty. (See also Lions de Suduiraut 2009 at about £15 a half from Averys, Berry Bros, Cambridge Wines.) 14.1%. £15.49 per half-bottle, Waitrose (264 branches)

Mullineux, Straw Wine 2011 Swartland

Super-rich but glorious. Dried apricots but in lush mode rather than the very tight, crisp mode of Tokaj (see Royal Tokaji’s delicious Betsek 2007 from Berry Bros). You (almost) taste the sweat that went into this. Long and rich and nervy. 12%. About £18.50 per half-bottle, Domaine Direct, Berry Bros, Swig, Slurp, Handford

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Strong and sweet

Williams & Humbert, Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference 12 Year Old Pedro Ximénez NV Sherry

Dark brown with a pale green rim. PX is almost like thick prune syrup. Dentists beware! Great for both cooking and dribbling over ice cream (a great substitute for Christmas pudding). Tingly and excellent value. 18%. £7.99 per 50cl, Sainsbury’s (378 stores)

A bottle of Sandeman, LBV 2007 port

Sandeman, LBV 2007

Henriques & Henriques, Full Rich NV Madeira

Smoky with the most amazing energy and vigour. So refreshing you could drink it with anything. Excellent value. 19% (Its 10-year-old Sercial, £17 per 50cl Wine Society, is a great, dry pick-me-up.). £9.99 per 50cl, Waitrose (183 branches)

Sandeman, LBV 2007 port

Tasted soon after poor Patrick Sandeman of Lea & Sandeman’s demise, so it was a special treat to see how rich, pruney and gorgeous this wine from his family firm is. Dense with a dry finish. Great value. 20%. £14.99 until January 2, usually £19.99, Waitrose (262 branches)

Quinta do Noval 10 Year Old Tawny NV port

Lovely, sweet, transparent liquid redolent of roses. You could enjoy this with a wide range of foods from very sweet puddings to, especially, hard cheese. 19.5%. £15.19 until January 2, Waitrose, otherwise around £19 Tanners, Robersons, Cambridge Wines, Oxford Wine Co, Luvians, Fine Cheese Company of Bath

Fontanel 2008 Maury

Bitter chocolate, dried cherries. Finishes dry and interesting. Roussillon [in southern France] is a treasure trove of wines like this. Perhaps a bit more luscious. Just great value – and not heavy. 16%. £16.50, Stone Vine Sun

Symington, Tesco Finest 1994 port

Treacle and dried herbs and lots of subtle throat-soothing stuff. A little harsher than a great vintage port but it’s a seriously silly price. Apparently, Tesco selected this years ago and the Syms keep supplying new shipments. 20%. £18 until January 1, usually £22, Tesco (834 stores)

Barbeito Boal Reserva NV Madeira

Pale mahogany. Rich, transparent and nutty with at least five years’ cask ageing from one of the world’s most trustworthy winemakers. 20%. About £13 per 50cl, Lea & Sandeman, Roberson

Taylor’s, Quinta de Vargellas 2001 port

So fresh and peppery! Gosh, this is good – more claret than the lusher Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos, very much in tune with these wine farms’ characters. Compare and contrast with any 2001 red bordeaux. At this price you would be swimming in the shallows, whereas these two wines are top of the port tree. 20.5%. £25 Majestic, £28.60 Tanners, £29.45 Waitrose, £33.99 Fortnum & Mason

A bottle of Graham’s, Quinta dos Malvedos 2001 port

Graham’s, Quinta dos Malvedos 2001

Graham’s, Quinta dos Malvedos 2001 port

A stunning single quinta port, the sort that is ready before “proper” vintage port. Polished, glamorous. Rich liquorice character with a dry finish. Douro in a bottle. So clearly a classic wine. Vigorous. 20%. £26.37, Sainsbury’s (455 stores)

Quinta do Noval Colheita 1997 port

Deliciously intense, nutty tawny from a single year. Very limited quantities have been released but I loved the dried fruit and nut (but no chocolate) quality of it. 21.5%. £35.99, SH Jones, Simply Wines Direct

Top 100 festive wines: fine fizzes

Top 100 festive wines: well-bred reds

Top 100 festive wines: blanc beauty

More stockists at winesearcher.com.

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FT Seasonal Appeal

For details of the ‘A Sommelier in Your Cellar’ auction, go to www.ft.com/sommelier

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Win a magnum of Grand Cru champagne

We are offering two readers a magnum of champagne each, kindly donated by Berry Bros. To enter the prize draw, email four passwords to ftweekendmagazine@ft.com (previous passwords appeared on December 1, 8 and 15). Final password: tradition.

To enter, see terms and conditions at www.ft.com/fizzes. Start date December 1, close date December 29. Participants must be 18 years+ & UK residents to be able to win the prize

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Tesco, www.tesco.com, +44 (0)845 722 5533

Sainsbury’s, www.sainsburys.co.uk, +44 (0)7695 6000 (switchboard)

The Wine Society, www.thewinesociety.com, +44 (0)1438 741 177

Uncorked, www.uncorked.co.uk, +44 (0)20 7638 5998

Hedonism wines, www.hedonism.co.uk, +44 (0)20 729 078 70

Phiglas & Swiggot, www.philglas-swiggot.com, +44 (0)20 7402 0002

Lea & Sandeman, www.leaandsandeman.co.uk, +44 (0)20 7244 0533

Berry Bros, www.bbr.com, +44 (0)800 280 2440

Harvey Nichols, www.harveynichols.com, +44 (0)845 604 1888

Bancroft, www.bancroftwines.com, +44 (0)20 7232 5440

Waitrose, www.waitrose.com, +44 (0)800 188 881

Marks & Spencer, www.marksandspencer.com, +44 (0)845 609 0200

Averys, www.averys.com, +44 (0)843 224 1224

Cambridge Wine Merchants, www.cambridgewine.com +44 (0)1223 214 548

Domaine Direct, www.domainedirect.co.uk, +44 (0)20 7837 1142

Swig, www.swig.co.uk, +44 (0)8000 272 272

Slurp, www.slurp.co.uk, +44 (0) 208 993 7722

Handford, www.handford.net, +44 (0)20 7589 6113

Tanners, www.tanners-wines.co.uk, +44 (0)1743 234 455

Roberson Wine, www.robersonwine.com, +44 (0)207 381 7870

Oxford Wine, www.oxfordwine.co.uk, +44 (0)1865 301144

Luvians, www.luvians.com, +44 (0)1334 654820

Fine Cheese Company Bath, www.finecheese.co.uk, +44 (0)1225 448748

Fortnum & Mason, www.fortnumandmason.com, +44 (0)845 300 1707

Majestic, www.majestic.co.uk, +44 (0)1923 298 200

SH Jones, www.shjoneswines.com, +44 (0)1295 672296

Simply Wines Direct, www.simplywinesdirect.com

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