Your fortified friends: how to pair sherry and Port with food at Christmas

While inextricably linked with all things Christmas, the enjoyment of sherry and Port is usually confined to post-meal sipping. However, as fortified wine devotee Stuart Peskett reveals, they’re worthy to be drunk throughout the festive season.

Fortified friends

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. 

Malvedos terraces
The Douro Valley in Portugal – the home of Port – is one of the most picturesque wine regions in the world

An introduction to sherry 

Venencia and flor
Flor is the layer of yeast that protects fino sherry from oxidation, locking in freshness

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  
Solera fino barrel
The solera system involves adding older sherries to younger examples to ensure consistency across vintages

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.  

An introduction to Port 

Port and Stilton

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! 

>Browse our range of fortified wines

>Read more on sherry 

>Read more on Port 

Stuart Peskett

The Society’s Content Manager

Stuart Peskett

Stuart has written about wine and spirits for 20 years, working for a host of magazines, websites and retailers. He runs The Society’s content team.

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