If ever there is a time for a little extra indulgence, it is Christmas. And, if there is ever something that typifies extra indulgence, it is dessert wines. These sweet treats, alongside more sweet treats – to me that’s Christmas.
If you want a full in-depth look at some of the world’s sweetest, most famous wines and the desserts to go with them, then it is available here. However, in this article, we will run you through five styles of dessert wine for Christmas that we think are just right for any dinner table or armchair.
We at Savage Vines have long championed the world of Sicilian wine. Therefore, it should come as no shock that first up on our list of Christmas treats is Marsala. This Sicilian fortified wine really began to take off in the British market, in the late 18th century. The famous Admiral Nelson, had a standing order of 500 bottles a year. Indeed, the British Navy was likely responsible for a lot of the early demand for Marsala.
Unfortunately, a large initial demand and lack of regulations led to high-yield and low-quality Marsala. This led to Marsala often being resigned to a cooking ingredient, rather than a drink of its own right. However, conditions did change. So, since 1984 stronger regulations were put in place. These looked to control the yield. When you control the yield, smaller amounts of higher quality grapes are grown. This leads to a better, more flavourful final product.
Marsala is making inroads and slowly, regaining its reputation. For a perfect Christmas treat, we recommend a ruby Marsala. Ruby Marsala is sweetest of the varieties, often made from classic black Sicilian grapes, such as Nero d’Avola. This rich ruby liquid is no doubt going to delight, with its strong flavours of cooked stone fruits, brown sugar and vanilla.
Don’t let Marsala waste away at the back of a cabinet. This Christmas, grab a glass, pour yourself a drink and thank us later.
Next is the prestigious French dessert wine Sautérnes. Sautérnes is a small wine region within Bordeaux. In this region, Sautérnes is produced primarily from the Sémillon grape. These two facts are key indicators of what makes Sautérnes so sought after and why people will pay astoundingly high prices for the finest examples of this dessert wine.
Any oenophile knows of the clout that Bordeaux has in the world of wine-making. It is one of the most famous and well respected wine regions in the world. Within this region, there is none that are so well known, in the world of dessert wines, than Sautérnes. It exemplifies dessert wine in Bordeaux.
In terms of tasting notes, the rich complexity that Sautérnes can offer is the other side of why it is so desired. Sémillon has a rich ageing potential. Often aged in oak, vanilla and smoke aromas will come through in droves. Then, the Sautérnes which are left to age in the bottle itself can develop further into rich flavours of marmalade, honey, caramel, and dried fruit – just to name a few!
The prestigious Bordeaux label and the potential for rich complexity to develop over time can cause prices to soar. However, do not let that dissuade those among you who want a good deal. Young Sautérnes are often still delicious, with many of the same tasting notes still being present. They may also have more aromas of fresh green and citrus fruits, allowing the drink to taste slightly lighter and more acidic. All while not breaking the bank!
If you want to see what the hype is, get yourself a bottle of Sautérnes. Whatever price you can afford you’re sure to find aSautérnes dessert wine for Christmas.
Pineau des Charentes
It isn’t just the Victorian tradition of the lighting of a Christmas pudding that makes Brandy and Christmas seem so heavily linked. The inherently warming nature of the drink gives it the allure of the perfect thing to sip when the weather outside is so frightful.
Be that as it may, our suggestion for dessert wine is not Brandy, but something slightly different. Introducing Pineau des Charentes. This is another dessert wine from the Bordeaux region, but with far less notoriety within the UK market, compared to a Sautérnes.
Pineau here is a fortified wine from Charentes. A winemaker will initially produce a base wine. Generally, either from Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc for the white variety. Or from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, for red and rose. All of the above being primary grapes for the Bordeaux region. This base wine is then fortified through the addition of Cognac. This is what really gives Pineau that distinct Brandy taste.
The rouge variety of Pineau exudes that classic Christmas Brandy feel. The deep caramel colour liquid pouring out aromas of smoke, dried fruit and figs. It could easily be thought of as giving the exact same aromas as that famous centrepiece, at the end of so many of our Christmas dinners – the Christmas pudding.
Christmas pudding on the plate and Christmas pudding in a glass. This is as festive of a dessert wine, as they come.
Sherry is going to be the occupant of both the fourth and fifth spots on our list. One for the Dry Sherry lovers and another spot for the Cream Sherry lovers. Both are unique within their own right and if you’re looking for a general and in-depth look at all things Sherry, then simply click here.
Without a doubt Sherry is a drink that has that festive feeling. Sometimes confined to a drink for our Grandparents when they come over, but don’t let them have all the fun! Sherry is a delicious dessert wine that we should all enjoy.
There are three basic kinds of dry Sherry. Fino, Amontillado and Oloroso. Oloroso is the boldest and biggest of the three, with seasoned Oloroso oak barrels often being in very high demand amongst whiskey makers. (Puckette and Hammack 2018, pg.170).
Winemakers age Oloroso Sherry in large oak casks. This leaves it to interact with oxygen, which impart strong dried fruit and nutty flavours, with aromas of smoke also presenting themselves. A strong intense flavour with a long finish. The perfect end to any meal and the perfect dessert wine for Christmas.
The final place on our list of Christmas tipples is Cream Sherry. Cream Sherry however, may not have the appearance that you’d expect. While cream may throw up images of Baileys or Advocaat, in fact Cream Sherry is far more similar in appearance to traditional still wines.
Cream Sherry is made through the blending of the previously mentioned Oloroso Sherry, with Pedro Ximénez Sherry, (sometimes referred to as PX). Winemakers will use dried Pedro Ximénez grapes to make this sweeter Sherry. Drying the grapes concentrates the sugars, allowing for a far sweeter final product.
Indeed, these Pedro Ximénez grapes are what gives the sweetness to Cream Sherry. Blending this with the dry Oloroso creates an incredibly rich and decadent dessert wine. An abundance of dried fruit and nuttiness will come through, with a syrupy, sugary aroma. Someone crack out the cheese and chutney, pair it with a glass of Cream Sherry and you’re good to go!
These are my top five dessert wines for Christmas. Each one will have its perfect time to shine. No doubt if you’ve got these five friends behind you, this Christmas is going to be a good one.
Puckette, Madeline, and Justin Hammack. Wine Folly: Magnum Edition. Michael Joseph – an imprint of Penguin Books, 2018.
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