Brian Elliott: The best festive fortified wine

Scotland on Sunday wine columnist Brian Elliott picks out the best moderately priced fortified wine for you to enjoy this Christmas

Published 8th Dec 2015
Updated 21 st Sep 2023

Christmas is the traditional time for fortified wine so let’s start with a good illustration of the complexity and weightiness of vintage port but at a modest price.

1998 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port (£23.99 at Waitrose until 29 December) has attractively smooth, textured black cherry and ripe bramble fruit with touches of spice.

Single quinta versions, however, give glimpses of vintage port style but without all the blending and balancing (and, hence, cost).

2001 Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage Port (£23 at Sainsbury’s until Tuesday), for instance, delivers classic plum, clove, chocolate and dried fruit flavours with good acidity.

Sainsbury's Quinta Vintage Port Feature Pic

Changing style, try the rounded, smooth, cherry and raspberry fruit of Taylors 10 Year Old Tawny Port (£16 at Sainsbury’s until Tuesday). It has been matured in cask rather than bottle and has an agreeably nutty backdrop, yet retains much of its colour and acidity.

Greatly in vogue now is sherry, and lovers of fresh, light finos should seek out the latest Fino Una Palma (£12.95 for a 50cl bottle at The Wine Society) with its smooth, nutty style mellowed by an edge of orange-centred sweetness.

"Single quinta port gives glimpses of vintage style but without the cost"

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Gonzalez Byass Noe Pedro Ximenez Viejo VORS Sherry (£17.99 for a half bottle at Majestic) delivers dense, almost black, but silky, sherry with date, fig and muscovado sugar components to provide sweetness – but with gentle hints of cherries and of acidity too.

My personal favourite style sits between the two and is neatly typified by Harveys Very Old Palo Cortado (£22.59 for 50cl at Waitrose) with its light, tangy acidity yet buttery texture and nutty orange touches that contrast well with its edge of sweetness.

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Waitrose Harveys Palo Cortado Feature Pic

Finally, never overlook Madeira and, especially, the rich dried and candied fruit flavours, cinnamon and balancing marmalade influences of Blandy’s 10 Year Old Bual Madeira (£14 for a 50cl bottle at TB Watson, Dumfries).

bual 10 012


2005 Bodegas Ontanon Rioja Reserva
Spain, 13 per cent

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Here is a good all-round, warm, rioja that will work well for Christmas. It has bright, bramble and sour cherry fruit, a fresh acidic nip, marzipan, cinnamon and chocolate influences with well-judged tannic grip and an attractive mineral-centred backdrop. All those components integrate particularly well with none overpowering the others.
£14 at WoodWinters

2014 Canapi Grillo
Sicily, 12.5 per cent


An excellent example of grillo’s transition beyond being principally a grape for Sicily’s marsala fortified wine. It has the potential – as here – – to deliver white wine with pear-centred texture and an appealing savoury edge. Enjoy, too, its fresh lime acidity and the mango touches that add a mellowing ripeness.
£9 at Bon Vivant Companion, Edinburgh

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