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Top fortified wines for Christmas

The 97+ point fortified wines from the 2020 Decanter World Wine Awards worth seeking out...

Christmas tends to be the time of year fortified wines take the spotlight. Though these often deliciously complex wines are to enjoy all year round, the best examples can make for a very memorable experience during the festive season.

The expert judges at the 2020 Decanter World Wine Awards have done the “hard” work for us – blind tasting and evaluating more than 250 fortified wines to offer trusted, unbiased wine recommendations.

Below we’ve highlighted the competition’s top-scoring fortified wines – the Platinum and Best in Show medal winners – plus tasting notes, to help you find the perfect bottles for Christmas, or whenever else you’d like…


Search all DWWA 2020 award-winning fortified wines

Premium: Expert’s choice: Tawny Ports


Top DWWA 2020 fortified wines

Portugal

Cálem, Colheita, Port 1961
Best in Show, 97 points
This single-vintage tawny port is older than its 40 Year Old Best In Show sibling, but the fact that it is unblended (and has perhaps spent time in glass as well as barrel) gives it a very different character: lighter, more graceful and more fugitive, yet at the same time refined, long, graciously but not cloyingly sweet, and with a succulence and silkiness rarely rivalled by other fortified wines. You might choose to drink it because you were born in 1961 – but almost any other excuse would do just as well. A carefully guarded treasure.

Justino’s, Terrantez 50 Years Old, Madeira NV
Best in Show, 97 points
Fifty years is a long time… unless you’re a fine Madeira, in which case you are just getting into your stride. There’s almost no old-vine Terrantez left on Madeira, though it is being replanted, which makes this wine doubly historic – and Terrantez seems, too, to be an island native. It all adds up to a compelling glassful: walnut in colour, with scents of citrus peel, hessian, orris root and dried peach, and flavours which combine dried versions of most orchard fruits with a little tannin but above all the growing extracts which are the legacy of time itself. It’s not a hugely sweet wine, nor does it need to be when the other lineaments of flavour share this level of intensity. Every sip is a privilege.

Blandy’s, Sercial, Madeira 1980
Platinum, 97 points
Full yet lithe, showing very inviting aromas of pecan, pastry and burnt citrus peel with delicate mirabelle plum. A tangy dryness belies the sugar level, and there’s a lovely saline finale to the fig and dried apricot palate.

Vista Alegre, 40 Year Old Tawny, Port NV
Best in Show, 97 points
Time lightens some wines – but old tawny ports have long since passed that point, and time has darkened this 40 year old to a glinting, clear walnut. The aromas are richly brocaded with scent: the memory of the red fruits the wine once possessed, but also caramel, hessian, antique furniture, vellum, dried flowers and a twist of barley sugar. On the palate, this is a wine of compelling concentration, drive and depth, and its sugars are easily balanced by the extractive contours with which time has engraved it.

Dalva, Colheita, Port 1982
Platinum, 97 points
Evocative and ethereal aromas of honey, sweet spices and toasted nuts – the nose alone is worth a gold medal – but the palate also delivers, with a sumptuous array of caramel, sweet fruit and nuts.

Kopke, Colheita, Port 1966
Platinum, 97 points
Gloriously rich and savoury, with rich dried fig and apricot aromas, and the weight and texture of wood ageing. Dates, caramel, leather and thyme on a steely palate with brazil nut hints and roasted spices.

Spain

Lustau, 30 Years Old V.O.R.S., Oloroso, Sherry NV
Best in Show, 98 points
There’s something almost disarming about the relatively pale hue of this Oloroso, so accustomed are we to associating intensity with depth of colour. Don’t be misled. A sniff or two should set you on the right course: the great wealth of aroma that lifts from the glass gives you a sudden impression of gravity and depth, lurking unseen. What you’ll find on the palate magnifies that impression further: this is a plunging, driving wine of almost shocking intensity, ricocheting around the mouth and evoking a full library of sensual allusions, from leather and apothecary elixirs to apricot skins and beeswax polish.

Lustau, 30 Years Old V.O.R.S., Pedro Ximenez, Sherry NV
Best in Show, 97 points
This dense, saturatedly black and decidedly viscous elixir is as much food as wine – but what led our judges to pick this one out over its peers was precisely the fact that that it is, once sniffed and swallowed, a wine after all, with the complexity of age, and with a repertoire of flavours other than the paste of raisins which every PX always delivers, and with a base line of leather and tar, of mineral oils and beeswax. Pedro Ximenez is a sensational wine world ultimate, but this one really does repay time and attention.

González Byass, Del Duque V.O.R.S, Amontillado, Sherry NV
Platinum, 97 points
Glorious, enticing aromas of spice, nut, white pepper and toast leads through to a plush, rich palate layered with butterscotch, honeycomb, dried peach, white chocolate and tamarind, then on to a silky, salty powerful finish.

González Byass, NOE V.O.R.S, Pedro Ximenez, Sherry NV
Platinum, 97 points
Captivating, smoky dark nose, with layers of toffee, liquorice, citron peel and vanilla leads on to a luxurious palate graced with confit chestnut, almond, glace orange and a beautiful bitter chocolate and coffee complexity.

González Byass, Tio Pepe Cuatro Palmas, Amontillado, Sherry NV
Platinum, 97 points
Opulent and perfumed, with hints of vivid burnt sugar, vanilla, dried orange peel and menthol leading on to a textured, savoury palate framed with frankincense, sea salt, honeycomb, barley sugar and a long, liquorice finish.

González Byass, Tio Pepe Tres Palmas, Fino, Sherry NV
Platinum, 97 points
Opulent and seductive with aromas of red apple, honeyed almond, cardamon and cumin, then on to a plush palate of Seville orange, bitter herb, white pepper, buttermilk and red apple. Exceptionally powerful and long.

Lustau, Botaina Autumn 2019 Edition, Amontillado, Sherry NV
Platinum, 97 points
Perfumed and enticing, with layered aromas of muscavado sugar, brine and wood lead through to a subtle, saline palate of cumin and coriander spice, salted caramel, vibrant citrus orange pith and marmite.

Valdespino, Solera de su Majestad V.O.R.S., Oloroso, Sherry NV
Platinum, 97 points
Heady, with smoky layers of eucalyptus, mushroom, honey and roast nut, then on to a luxurious, savoury palate of bitter orange, dark chocolate, roasted coffee, cherry and a long, controlled, peppery finish.

de Alberto, Dorado, Rueda NV
Platinum, 97 points
Complex aromas of beeswax, grilled nuts, clove and dried wood along with candied orange. Rich but dry palate with a layered profile of oxidative nutty flavours, interlaced with bitter marmalade, pecans and honeycomb. Very long and complex.

Australia

Morris, Old Premium Rare Topaque, Rutherglen, Victoria, Australia NV
Best in Show, 97 points
Just a few drops of this wine splashed into a glass will tell you it’s an elixir, staining where it falls and releasing its great engine of sweet scent. Fill the glass a little further and you have an hour or two’s meditative sniffing and sipping to look forward to. The harmony and seduction are remarkable, as you tick off dried fruit after dried fruit; the wine is truly tongue-coating as few are, and the aftertaste of treacle and tar lingers saltily for minutes. Despite the huge levels of sweetness, the extracts and essences of flavour contrive to make this wine seem, 30 seconds or so after you swallow, almost dry. A Rutherglen monument.

Campbells, Isabella Rare Topaque, Rutherglen, Victoria, Australia, NV
Platinum, 97 points
Perfumed and heady with hints of plush floral notes and aged, steeped prune, while the luscious palate is bursting with vibrancy, finesse and has a beautiful clean purity. Wow!

De Bortoli, Black Noble 10 Years Old, Riverina, New South Wales, Australia, NV
Platinum, 97 points
Opulent and plush with black fig, treacle, candied orange rind and hints of burnt caramel on the nose, while the palate is richly layered with bitter chocolate, coffee and lush peach.


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