Newman’s Celebrated Port and Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry have been traditional wines in many a local home during the Christmas season. Sure, they appeal to the sweet tooth most of us have, but they also pair quite well with some of the treats and desserts that are always on offer this time of the year.
The holiday sweets I know include cookies like date squares, plum pudding, dark and light fruitcake, cherry cake and raisin cake, and all kinds of chocolates.
In terms of wine and food matching, an important consideration is that all of these treats tend to be quite sweet. Dry wines and sweet food usually don’t work well together because the wine either seems bitter, or disappears behind the sweetness. So if we are going to indulge during the season, and why not a little, then we will want something sweet to sip.
You may have noticed that a lot of the sweets I have listed have dried fruit as a major ingredient, and flavourings such as cinnamon and nutmeg are
common, too. These rich flavours require rich wines.
Most sherries and ports spend a lot of time aging
in oak barrels. The higher alcohol content of these fortified wines extracts lots of flavour compounds from the barrels, some of which are complementary with cocoa and chocolate.
So even if you may have considered sherry and port to be a little old-fashioned, they do deserve a place in your holiday wine service.
Sweet sherry choices include the already mentioned Harvey’s ($15.49) and Walnut Brown Oloroso ($15.75) which are authentically from Jerez in Spain. Another sweet choice in a sherry style is Taylor’s Cream ($12.47) from the United States. Unfortunately we don’t have a wide range of sherry available here. Pedro Ximenes or PX is a style and grape varietal of a special sherry which would make a perfect match for fruit cake — there was one offered at WineFest a few years back.
We have a much larger selection of ports and port-style (not from Portugal) wines available at the NLC. Ruby ports, such as Newman’s ($19.65), are fermented, fortified, and bottled without oxidation to preserve their fruit and colour. Reserve ports are premium versions of ruby ports. These are not complicated, are relatively inexpensive, and serve just fine for most purposes.
Late bottled vintage ports are wines that might have been good enough to be bottled as vintage port, but have spent four to six years aging in barrels before bottling. They tend to be more approachable for drinking when purchased and are richer and heavier than the ruby ports.
Tawny ports spend many years aging in barrels, so that their initial purple colour mellows to a golden-brown hue. The aging modifies their flavours so that they acquire somewhat nutty aromatics and, as already noted, makes them a choice with chocolate.
Vintage ports are the fine quality extreme in the port world.
These are only made in good years, from the best vineyards and grapes, and are a tiny portion of port production — so they are expensive.
They are bottled after two years of aging and usually require at least 10 years of bottle aging before they are tame enough to drink (so you might consider opening a 2000 this Christmas).
You have to plan ahead to drink a vintage port, and not just because you need to decant. Right now, the oldest such port on regular listing at the NLC is from 2003, so you might consider one of those for a future Christmas.
There are quite a range of rubies, reserves, LBVs and tawnies at the NLC, and several port-style wines from Australia and elsewhere. I don’t think you can go wrong with any of them. The Casa Dos Vinhos Madeira (NLC $22.97), which shares many of the flavour characteristics of port and sherry, could also be on your list.
Steve Delaney is a member of the Opimian Society.
Email him at email@example.com