I can clearly remember the first time I tried sherry and Port. My parents handed me a tiny glass of Harveys Bristol Cream; it was sweet and smelled of Christmas. A year later, I got to try Port – Cockburn’s Special Reserve – which to my palate was absurdly rich, fruity, decadent, and like nothing I’d ever tried before.
Many years on, it’s safe to say that my tastes have changed a little – I prefer sherry on the drier side these days – but I remain on a mission to get people drinking fortified wine, so am always delighted when people tell me they've fallen in love with them.
Why do I like them so much? Firstly, I believe that sherry is the most versatile wine on the planet. Its flavour profile ranges from bone dry, savoury and saline, all the way to dense, rich and luscious (with all points hit in between). Not only that, but it’s also remarkable value considering that sherries can sit in warehouses maturing for three to 30 years (or more).
When it comes to Port, I have never known anyone turn down a glass. Whether you have a sweet tooth or not, Port is one of the most dependable wines you’ll find, a great match for a wide variety of dishes, and is also seriously good value considering its age. As a post-dinner sip, it takes some beating.
Both sherry and Port are a brilliant shout for Christmas drinking, so, with the aid of some of my Society colleagues, here are some tips to help you enjoy sherry and Port to the full – or encourage you to try them for the first time.
An introduction to sherry
At The Society, we sell an awful lot of sherry. And whatever the style, it’s immensely food-friendly. There’s a great adage to use when selecting a dish to pair with sherry, brilliant to keep in the back of your mind when pairing with Christmas dishes:
- If it swims: fino/manzanilla
- If it flies: amontillado/palo cortado
- If it runs: oloroso
But when it comes to Christmas dining, I’ve drawn on the considerable knowledge of my colleague (and food expert) Steve Farrow, who has paired a selection of our sherry range with festive fare.
- The Society’s Fino – ideal for setting up the palate, and is delicious with smoked fish and salmon, as well as soup and cold cuts.
- Alegria Manzanilla – pair this with olives, salami, salty snacks, and almonds – it’s also one of the few wines that works brilliantly with peanuts.
- The Society’s Medium Dry Amontillado Blend – a fatter style of sherry that is great with curries – the touch of sweetness works well with the spice. This is also a fine match with Welsh rarebit with chutney, as well as rich pâté or goose.
- The Society’s Exhibition Mature Medium Sweet Oloroso Blend – nice and simple: drink this with Christmas cake, a yule log, or anything chocolatey.
An introduction to Port
Port, perhaps even more than sherry, is wrapped up with all things Christmas. Perhaps it’s because of its long association with the king of festive cheese, Stilton. Maybe because its higher alcohol level and rich flavour make it an ideal winter warmer. Either way, to many drinkers, Port is an essential cold-weather wine.
However, our Port buyer, Jo Locke MW, says it can (and should) be enjoyed at any time of the year. In the summer, a Portonic (a white-Port G&T alternative made in similar proportions, served with a sprig of mint or rosemary and citrus peel) is ‘a gorgeous summer drink, lighter and less alcoholic than a G&T. It’s a reminder of holiday time at a snip of the price.’
But in colder climes, Jo agrees that ‘Ports sweetness gives a feeling of indulgence and comfort, whether a refreshingly cool tawny or a warming red. Opening a bottle of Single Quinta or Vintage Port you’ve been cellaring for years brings such pleasure, especially when sharing with friends and family.’
While there’s no denying a solo glass after dinner brings enjoyment, Steve suggests drinking different Ports throughout the Christmas meal:
- The Society’s Tawny Port – this particular Port is a good all-rounder. Drink it as an aperitif, as they do in France, or try it with anything with cheese or mushrooms. Go the whole hog and pair it with mushrooms stuffed with blue cheese.
- The Society's LBV Port 2017 – this Port is fuller with more structure and a touch more tannin, so try it with Christmas pudding or mince pies – any dessert with a bit of warmth.
- The Society's Exhibition Tawny Port, 10 Years Old – a nailed-on match for anything with chocolate.
- The Society's Exhibition Vintage Port 1980 – enjoy this beautiful bottling for what it is. It's had four decades of softening, so will have lost touch of sweetness but gained silkiness and layers of complexity. Venison in a fruit sauce would be a lovely pairing.
I hope that this has encouraged you to make sherry and Port part of your Christmas celebrations. They’re both incredibly useful things to have around, if people drop by unexpectedly or you’re undecided what to pair with a festive dish. And may all your Christmases be fortified!
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