Lifestyle & opinion

Your fortified friends

Although they’re delicious drunk all year round, sherry and Port are inextricably linked with Christmas. Stuart Peskett shares his love of both, and offers some inspiration for how to enjoy them to the full during the festive season.

Fortified friends

I remember very clearly 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 and decadent, and like nothing I’d ever tried before. 

My tastes have changed a little – I prefer my sherry on the drier side these days – but I remain on a mission to get people drinking fortified wine, and am delighted whenever people tell me they've fallen in love with them. 

Why do I like them so much? Well, first of all, I believe that sherry is the most versatile wine on the planet. It can be bone dry, savoury and saline, all the way to dense, rich and luscious, and all points in between. Not only that, it’s remarkable value considering that sherries sit in warehouses quietly maturing for anything from three years up to 30 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. And as a post-dinner sipper, it takes some beating. 

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

Simply 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. Our sherry buyer Tim Sykes likes to pair fino with sushi, and manzanilla with fish and chips, as well as sherry’s staple partners, olives and almonds. 

There’s a great adage to use when selecting a dish to pair with sherry, that bears out Tim’s favourite matches: 

  • 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, 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’
  • Cayetano del Pino Palo Cortado Solera – ‘This palo cortado is excellent with rich meat dishes or a nut roast. Or try with slow-braised pig cheeks with dates in sauce. It also complements a cheeseboard well due to its acidity’
  • 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!’

Pass the 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 relatively high alcohol level and rich flavour makes 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. 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, a reminder of holiday time, and at a snip of the price!’ 

But in colder climes, Jo says: ‘There is something special about a glass of Port. Its sweetness gives a feeling of indulgence and comfort, whether a refreshingly cool tawny or a warming red. And opening a bottle of Single Quinta or Vintage Port you have cellared brings such pleasure, and it’s a pleasure usually shared, which makes it even more joyful and rewarding.’ 

Over to Steve for some more festive food matches: 

  • The Society’s Port – ‘This particular Port has a slighty tawny vibe and is a good all-rounder. Drink it as an aperitif, as they do in France, or try it with anything with cheese or mushrooms – in fact, 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, and 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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