Cheese, nuts, fruity puddings and cake are all important parts of Christmas eating, whether at the end of the main feast itself or when grazing throughout the festive season. This is where wines with a bit of sweetness come into their own. They suit contemplative sipping, rather than garrulous glugging, and can work really well with both sweet and savoury food.
Port and stilton is a classic Christmas combo, of course, although the tannins in red ports – ruby, vintage or late bottled vintage – can clash with the salty cheese. Tawny port is mellower and more forgiving, and really versatile with other things, too. Sip it chilled with cheese or cake, or make it long and refreshing by mixing 25ml of tawny port, 50ml of gin and 2 tsp of lemon juice in a tall glass and topping up with tonic.
Sherry varies from very dry (fino and manzanilla) to uber-sweet pedro ximénez, which makes a great match with christmas pudding, poured over vanilla ice cream, or in coffee. Amontillado is somewhere in between and goes really well with hard cheeses, cuts through the sweetness of a mince pie and also works with the earthy flavours of mushrooms and charcuterie. Or try it in a fabulous adonis cocktail: mix equal parts amontillado and sweet vermouth, add a few coffee beans, chill for several hours then strain into small glasses or over ice.
Sweet white wine is a fine match for blue cheese, as well as with any pudding involving baked orchard or tropical fruits. Sauternes is perhaps the most prized but there are plenty of others to suit all pockets, from Tesco’s Finest Dessert Semillon from Australia at a bargain £6, to the extravagant, wonderfully luscious Biddenden Ortega Late Harvest 2018.
And a mention for madeira, which also ranges from bracingly dry to lusciously sweet. All are characterised by their incredible longevity – once opened, they’ll last for many months. All these options are stronger than table wine, so serve them in small glasses. You can always have another if one is not quite enough.
Best sweet bottles to buy
This rare wine has a whopping 122g per litre of natural sugars, the highest level recorded in England. Aged in oak, this has layers of jasmine, dried apricots, tangerine peel and white pepper. Really special.
Nutty and intense with vanilla and gentle spice, and a really appetising, slightly saline finish. A whacky partner for the lobster thermidor en croûte, or with the clementine and ginger viennese whirls.
The Liberator ‘Napoleon Bona Part Five’ Noble Late Harvest 2019, £10.50 (half bottle), The Wine Society
Chenin blanc/muscat blend full of generous pineapple and apricot fruit with a zesty freshness.