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Rose Murray Brown: A dozen sweet wines to enjoy this winter

Scotsman wine columnist Rose Murray Brown picks out her top 12 sweet wines to enjoy this winter

Published: December 28, 2015
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One thing you might well need over the Christmas holidays is a bit of fortification to cope with all the seasonal stresses. Here are my top 12 sweet fireside sippers from around the world priced from £5 to £20. Something to savour.

Under £10

STAR BUY- Languedoc, France: Muscat De St Jean De Minervois

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A brilliant bargain Vin Doux Naturel. If you normally buy Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, try this elegant alternative instead from the tiny village of St Jean de Minervois in Herault. Made from the ripest raisiny grapes, with some fortification to stop the fermentation, the result is a gently honeyed bargain with candied orange peel. It is both sweet and fresh; serve well chilled with an orange, pear or apricot dessert.
15 per cent (fortified)
£5 hf bt, Sainsbury’s

Setubal, Portugal: Moscatel De Setubal 2012 Adega de Pegoes

Moscatel de Setubal is surely the wine world’s best sweet bargain. Late picked muscat grapes are given extra skin contact and maturation in American and French oak. The result is a bit like drinking a sweet rich tea with hints of marmalade, raisins and caramel – it has more structure than many French muscats, with lots of rich sweetness on the palate but finishes quite dry; a good foil to mince pies. It’s made by the Adega de Pegoes co-op near Lisbon by winemaker Jaime Quendera.
17.5 per cent (fortified)
£8.95 bt, Strictly Wine; The Wine Society; Tanners; Cambridge Wine

STAR BUY- Rutherglen, Australia: Blind Spot Rutherglen Muscat Nv

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The best bargain Rutherglen muscat on the market. The care that goes into making these wines is not shown by its cheap price, but I guess fortified liquor muscats are just not in vogue. Deep coloured, unctuously sweet, orangey, pruney, figgy, but still pretty fresh: sip by the fireside with rich, raisiny mince pies or a coffee-flavoured dessert.
17 per cent (fortified)
£6.95 hf bt, The Wine Society,

Under £15

STAR BUY- Sicily, Italy: Pantellaria Passito Liquoroso 2013 Pellegrino

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From a windy volcanic island just 40 miles from the African coast, this enchanting candied peel, sweet, raisiny delight is made from the zibibbo grape (otherwise known as muscat). It has very grapey aromas, a rich figgy palate but is not cloyingly sweet.
15 per cent (fortified)
£10.95 hf bt, Oddbins

Gascony, SW France: Pacherenc Du Vic-Bilh 2012 Plaimont
This has dried apricot and light orange marmalade flavours with a bright citric acidity – it’s not as rich and dense as other wines in our tasting. Made from late picked local petit manseng grapes, harvested over several ‘tries’ (picking passes through the vineyard) to ensure all grapes are picked well ripened, it’s a revival of an 18th century wine style which ought to be better known – but the complicated name does not help.
13 per cent (unfortified)
£14 for 50 cl bt, Corney & Barrow Scotland,

Madeira: Single Harvest Malmsey 2008
I find at this price level the sweetest style of Madeira, the Malmsey, tends to be the best bet. It’s deep amber with a green tinge, with baked fig, prune and rich caramel flavours and has a rich, intense sweetness tempered by a natural, fiery acidity to keep it fresh. It’s made in Sao Jorge at 200m altitude, and will last months in bottle once opened.
19 per cent (fortified)
£13.99 for 50cl bt, Waitrose

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£20 & under

STAR BUY - Tokay, Hungary: Tokay 5 Puttonyos 2009 Royal Tokaji
Lidl are branching out in a bid to to attract bargain wine hunters with Hungary’s famous dessert Tokay at such a good price. Chosen from the very reputable Royal Tokaji Company (part owned by wine writer Hugh Johnson) who are based in the charming north east Hungarian village of Mad, their style has a particularly deep, dark golden colour with roasted toffee flavours, and it tastes a bit like runny, dark caramel. Delicious with cheese, mince pies or fruit cake.
11 per cent (unfortified)                  
£18.99 for 50cl bt, Lidl

Liaoning, China: Golden Valley Ice Wine 2009
If you have already enjoyed Canadian icewine, try this deliciously fresh Chinese equivalent. Vidal grapes are grown near the North Korean/Russian border near Huanlong Lake at 380 metres where extremely low winter temperatures mean that vines are buried underground once the frozen grapes have been picked. What I liked about this is that it is not too unctuously sweet, but citric, relatively vibrant and it would certainly create a talking point. It’s the cheapest of Changyu winery’s three part icewine range.
11 per cent (unfortified)
£19 hf bt, Berry Bros & Rudd,

Malaga, Spain: Ariyanas Natualmente Dulce 2008 Bodegas Bentomiz

I’m delighted to see a supermarket listing a wine from this superb Malaga bodegas which makes Spain’s best sweet wines. Beautifully balanced, naturally sweet Muscatel is grown on Axarquia slate soils and this is made by a Dutch couple Clara Verheij and Andre Both from Holland who rescue abandoned vineyards near Malaga.
12.5 per cent (unfortified)
£18.99 for 50cl bt, Waitrose & Waitrose Cellar,

Santorini, Greece: Vin Santo 2003 Hatzidakis
Santorini’s nectar has been made since Byzantine times on this famous Greek island and enjoyed by many a passing Venetian sailor, who took the news to Italy (where Vin Santo is now much more widely made). Under the hot Greek sun, the grapes (80 per cent assyrtiko and 20 per cent aidani) are sundried for 12 days, then fermented with no added sugar or alcohol. It is just pure Passos heaven. The caramel, honey, raisin and ginger notes go rather well with goats cheese.
13 per cent (unfortified)
£19.95 hf bt, Berry Bros & Rudd,

Jerez, Spain: ‘Matusalem’ 30 Year Old Oloroso Dolce
I loved this Oloroso sherry as it is raisiny and intense, without being too sweet. Think dark dried apricots, squidgy dates and scents of cinnamon spice – it would work well with a fruit dessert or mature cheese. It’s made in very small quantities by the sherry giants, Gonzalez Byass.
20 per cent (fortified)
£17.99 hf bt, Majestic Wine; Tesco; Waitrose; Ocado; Selfridges;

Douro Valley, Portugal: Quinta Do Noval Late Bottled Vintage 2009
Like a ‘baby’ vintage port: with very good complexity, structure and depth of fruit, this is a particularly good example of an LBV (late bottled vintage) ruby from highly respected Quinta do Noval estate, who make unfiltered LBV (so it will need decanting from its sediment). It’s traditionally made from foot trodden grapes – mainly native touriga nacional and tinta roriz – with a high proportion of the grapes from Noval’s own estate high in the Douro Valley.
20 per cent (fortified) 
£20, Oddbins

• Join Rose’s wine tastings in Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews,

Rose Murray Brown is one of only 323 Masters of Wine worldwide and is the only one to host wine courses and regular wine tastings in Scotland.

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