First published in The Irish Times, 22nd December, 2018.
It may be the cold weather or simply we associate them with the festive season, but retailers tell me that sales of fortified wines increase exponentially as Christmas nears. Fortified simply means the wine has been beefed up with a little more alcohol, although the Montilla-Moriles below achieved 17 per cent simply through evaporation over the years. This was originally done to stabilise the wines before they were shipped around the world.
Some fortified wines are sweet, but many are bone dry, and are better drunk alongside savoury foods, notably cheese, cold meats and nuts, but lots of other dishes too. They include some of the greatest wines of all.
Over the past few months, I have tasted some of the finest fortified wines that I have come across in years. The intensity, the range and depth of flavours of some have been quite amazing. I covered Port earlier this year, so today, sherry, its neighbour Montilla-Moriles, and Marsala.
Two supermarkets seem to be taking sherry seriously. Marks & Spencer has a very good range, including its excellent Very Rare Palo Cortado (€12 per half bottle), while Aldi has the very tasty Aldi Exquisite Collection Dry Amontillado Sherry for a bargain €7.99 for a 50cl bottle.
Elsewhere, Mitchell & Son has a mouth-watering display of half bottles of Lustau sherries, as well as a grown-up size bottle of la Ina Fino, one of the best-value wines in the country. Hats off to O’Briens which recently took delivery of a range of fortified wines from Montilla-Moriles, an area beside Jerez. The wines are spectacularly good. My favourite was probably the stunning Marqués de Poley Amontillado Viejísimo 1922 at €43.95 for a 50cl bottle but I have also sipped very happily away at the Oloroso below.
Winemaker Ramiro Ibáñez gave one of the most fascinating talks and tastings of the year. Under the Cota 45 label, he produces a series of unfortified aged wine, as well as some very excellent sherries. The Fino Balbaina Alta below may seem expensive at €40, but it is one of the most delicious wines I have tasted all year. Anyone looking for the perfect Christmas gift for the sherry lover in your life should look no further.
I also tasted four excellent sherries from Barbadillo, including its fresh dry Manzanilla Pasada en Rama (€14 per half bottle) and three superb older wines – the Principe Amontillado, Cuco Oloroso, and Palo Cortado Obsipo Gascon (all €60 per half). All are available from Jus de Vine, Deveney’s, and O’Driscoll’s, Ballinlough.
Lastly New Zealand Wine will be holding its annual tasting on January 14th at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Dublin, 6:30pm-8:30pm. Tickets (€15) from iti.ms/2zSkTWI or contact Jean Smullen on firstname.lastname@example.org; tel (086) 816 8468.
Lustau Dry Amontillado Los Arcos Sherry
Complex, tangy, bone dry wine with hazelnuts, toasted almonds, orange and old woody notes. Delicious served lightly chilled with mixed cheeses or the perfect adult stocking filler.
Stockists: Mitchell & Son, chq, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue and Dunboyne, mitchellandson.com; The Vintry, Dublin 6, vintry.ie; D-Six Wines, Dublin 6; peggykellys.ie; Bradley’s Off-licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; La Touche, Greystones, Latouchewines4u.ie.
Marqués de Poley Oloroso
17%, €19.95 for a 50cl bottle
Toffee and butterscotch mixed with toasted hazelnuts, walnuts and bitter orange. Fresh and lively with a dry finish. Wonderful wine. With cheese and walnuts.
Stockists: O’Briens, obrienswine.ie
Marsala Dolce, Vito Curatolo Arini, Italy
Light toffee and caramel, with dried fruits, figs, sultanas and raisins. Sweet but not sickly. A small glass, served chilled, with mince pies, Christmas cake, plum pudding or hard cheeses such as Parmesan or a nice sharp Pecorino.
Stockists: Redmonds, Ranelagh; Redmonds.ie; Searsons, Monkstown, searsons.com; Wineonline.ie; World Wide Wines, Waterford, worldwidewines.ie; 1601 Off-licence, Kinsale; The Corkscrew, Chatham St, thecorkscrew.ie.
Bodegas de la Riva, Fino Balbaina Alta
An utterly astonishing wine, deep in colour with fresh clean grilled almonds, intense savoury saline flavours that last for minutes after you have swallowed. Enjoy lightly chilled by itself or with some of the highest quality Iberico ham.
Stockists: Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie.