Don't make the mistake of thinking fortified wines are just for Christmas, writes Decanter associate editor Tina Gellie, who picks 12 that offer great value.
Poor fortified wines. The sweet ones only get dusted off at Christmas and the dry ones even more rarely than that – unless it’s Sherry, in which case there’s been a minor resurgence in London and New York bars.
But Madeira – when have you thought about that (and no, the island and the cake don’t count). Or Marsala, excluding tiramisu?
London’s annual Big Fortified Tasting, held in April and now in its sixth year, is the largest fair in the world dedicated solely to this much-maligned wine style.
While New World producers seem sadly to have all but abandoned exhibiting (except for two Australians this year), there were some 40 producers showing a great range of Madeiras, Ports, Sherries and a smattering of Marsalas, Montillas and Moscatels de Sétubal.
The best wines aren’t cheap, but it’s hard to put a price on wines that have taken years – decades, even centuries – to craft, many of which are virtually indestructible.
Here are 12 great-value fortified wines to try. The en Rama Sherries should be consumed within six months after bottling – perfect for summer – while others can be enjoyed over the next decade easily.
Blandy’s, Verdelho Colheita Madeira 1998
19/20 points (96/100 points)
Chris Blandy is the seventh generation of his family to run this famous Madeira house since 1811. This has incredible intensity of walnut skins, figs, sweet spice, orange peel tang and faint tobacco notes. Medium-dry, rich, fresh and long. Serve it (or any other of the Blandy’s range) chilled and marvel at the complexity. Alc 20%
Niepoort, Crusted Port
£22 Raymond Reynolds
Bottled in 2011, this is only the second crusted made by Niepoort, from some of the best wines from the 2007 and 2008. Just 6,000 litres made, so if you can snap some up, it’s a great-value alternative to LBV. Elegant, complex and moreish, full of dense dark fruit and rich fruit cake spice. Alc 20%
Curatolo Arini, Superiore Storica Marsala 1988
£25 Liberty Wines
This is not a wine for the tiramisu. From Sicily’s oldest family-owned Marsala house (1875) this is a selected blend of Grillo and Cataratto grapes from coastal vineyards that have high natural sweetness and natural oxidation. Great complexity and finesse, where high acidity balances rich almond cake, figs, dates, sweet spice and floral notes. Alc 18%
Bodegas Hidalgo, La Gitana Manzanilla En Rama Sherry
Hidalgo, now run by the seventh generation of the family, has been making Manzanilla and other Sherries in Sanlúcar de Barrameda since 1792. There’s not much left of this limited-release en rama, which is as refreshing as a bracing dip in the sea. Delicious spiky saline notes, tangy citrus fruit and a nutty savouriness to finish. Alc 15%
Gonzalez Byass, Tío Pepe Fino En Rama Sherry
£16 Gonzalez Byass UK
This 2015 vintage release was bottled in mid April and released on 1 May and is one the best en ramas yet from this 175-year-old company’s famous fino brand. Fresh, citrussy and saline with a big hit of yeasty flor and high yet balanced alcohol. Alc 19%
Graham’s, Six Grapes Reserve Port
The name of this wine refers not to the number of varieties in it but the secret Graham’s code winemakers chalked on to barrels to describe their contents – the best, vintage Port-quality wines were marked with six grapes. This is a bright, fresh, juicy Port, full of spiced dark fruit and grippy tannins. Top value. Alc 20%
Fonseca, Late Bottled Vintage Unfiltered Port 2008
No stranger to plaudits, this wine won Gold at the 2014 Decanter World Wine Awards. Made in limited quantity, the wine was aged for five years before bottling. It has great structure and depth, boasting chocolatey, dark berry fruit, sweet Christmas spices and dusty tannins. Decant before serving. Alc 20%
Henriques & Henriques, Single-Harvest Sercial Madeira 2001
Founded in 1850, this historic house has been run since 1968 by friends of the last Henriques, João de Belém. This would be a super wine to try with a chocolate dessert: it has 50g/l of residual sugar but balanced by firm acidity. Mango, mandarin and salted nuts on a bright, fresh and silky palate. Alc 20%
Justino’s, Fine Dry 5 Years Old Madeira
£17.99 Liberty Wines
Established in 1870, it was a family-run house until being bought in 1991. Rich coffee and toasted walnut notes with a seam of fresh citrus acidity. Nutty, bright and great value. Try it as an aperitif. Alc 19%
Delgado Zuleta, Goya XL Manzanilla En Rama Sherry
While not as immediately recognisable as other houses, this is the oldest family-owned Sherry bodega, founded in 1744. The average age of this criadera is 10 years, giving a mellow, nutty wine with delicious savoury depth and firm structure. Fresh and pure, complex and long with that en rama yeasty tang. Alc 15%
Noval, Black Port
£18 Gonzalez Byass UK
An innovation now five years old, but still going strong for this Port house founded in 1715. A ‘new-age Port’ made to need no further ageing or decanting, enjoyed with chocolate and even used as a cocktail ingredient. Dense, deep, rich berry fruit, plump fruitcake notes and a dusting of spice. Alc 19.5%
Valdespino, Deliciosa Manzanilla En Rama Sherry
£10/375ml Liberty Wines
This is Valdespino’s first year of producing an en rama (bottled on 17 April) from its Miraflores vineyard and, as with other en ramas, the wine is taken directly from barrel and bottled unfiltered to preserve the savoury yeasty flavour it gained from its time under flor, as well as manzanilla’s typical saline, almond and floral notes. Alc 15%