IT’S not most people’s average choice when they find themselves in the wine aisle, but with Christmas looming on the horizon, some of us will be contemplating buying a dessert wine.
This week – with help from a couple of tasting elves – I explore the sweet wine world some never consider. There’s a couple of reds too, for cheeses.
Here we go: France tends to dominate the sweet wine consciousness, but Yalumba Museum Muscat (£11.99, 37.5cl, Morrisons) from South East Australia is well worth a try.
It’s a hugely attractive deep caramel colour – think the bottom of creme caramel. Looks aren’t deceiving because it’s a lovely honeyed caramel on the tastebuds.
I tried it with rich Christmas cake and it developed a hit of sharpness that cut through all the sugar of the cake’s dried fruits. And it turned out to be versatile with a strong cheddar, the contrast intensifying the muscat’s underlying mellow sweetness. (CJ)
Also, from Morrisons, and fabulous for cheeses, The Grahams Crusted Port is reduced to £13.99 from £17.99 over the festive period. The 2003 won a silver medal at the International Wine Challenge (IWC) last year – and also a gold at the 2011 Decanter awards. It needs gentle pouring but it’s worth it for the concentrated red and black fruit which take you to a luxuriant place.
If you want to dip your toe nervously for the first time into sweet wine but don’t want to splash the cash, then Sainsbury’s House Dessert Wine is a sweet delight at just £3.99 for a half bottle. It has the peachy zestiness and delicate fruity tingliness of honeyed lozenges I bought as a child.
So moreish – it was sipped with mince pie and fruit cake morsels. Even a blue cheese couldn’t subdue this spritz of a German wine.
Croix Milhas Rivesaltes Ambre (Tesco, £4.99, 37.5cl) was commended in this year’s IWC. It is a fortified, blended wine which has had at least three years in oak. A rich amber, it speaks of crystallised fruit and sprinklings of cinnamon and even crusty bonfire toffee. Oh yes please, it said to cheese and mince pies.
The Wine Society’s Portal Moscatel do Douro, Reserva, 1996 (£7.95, 37.5cl) was elegant in its bottle and refined in the glass. A sunburst of concentrated, candied oranges to serve with dessert or sip on its own. There’s no law against it.
I wasn’t convinced by The Chocolate Shop (reduced from £8.99 to £5.99, Co-op) which is a red with added chocolate flavouring. I thought it a trifle odd. On the other hand, you can save £5 on some fine wines at the Co-op until January 1. Chateau Belgrave 5ème Cru Classé 2008 is a bordeaux blend, with blackcurrant notes and a waft of tobacco leaf. It did a fine two-step with a slither of brie.
Benjamin Darnault Montahuc 2010 (from £9.49 at www.nakedwines.com) is 500ml of organic muscat – a pale straw nectar rich with pretty honeyed notes. But just like Beth Tweddle, its femininity disguises a devilish little kick. I loved it.
Also from Naked, is Ocaso Malbec 2011 (from £7.99) from Mendoza in Argentina. It has a lighter, fruitier flavour than some malbecs – which make it a good match for cheeses that always seem to arrive with the Christmas cheeseboard. Spanish manchego works well as does tangy, slightly soft taleggio cheese from Italy.
But two locally-produced blue cheeses – Butler’s Blacksticks Blue, from Preston – are less salty than most blues. Their flavour is a good match for the fruity and fragrant malbec. (BM)