WINE O’CLOCK: Sweets for the Christmas sweet
I like Christmas pudding but it is usually St Stephen’s Day, or later, before I get to taste it.
It is too rich and heavy to enjoy on top of the big festive meal. After turkey, ham and all the trimmings, I have no wish for any more food and I am usually happy to round off the proceedings with a nice dessert wine.
Broadly speaking, they come in two types: natural and fortified.
With naturally sweet wines the fermentation process is stopped before all the grape sugars are absorbed.
The most common way of stopping fermentation is by introducing a little spirit, usually brandy. This doesn’t add significantly to the alcohol content or alter the taste. It produces a rich wine sweetened with natural grape sugars.
There are red varieties but the good ones are hard to find so I will stick with the whites, favouring Sauternes and Muscat-based wines from France, or the lovely Tokaji (toe-kye) from Hungary.
Fortified wines add extra spirit; how much they add will determine the sweetness and strength of the wine. Port and Madeira are the best-known fortified wines – as a general rule the dark, ruby varieties tend to be both sweeter and higher in alcohol.
For Sherry, the alcohol is added after fermentation so it is usually less sweet than Port. All these dessert wines tend to be quite strong: be warned, they are for sipping not slurping.
Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 1413 (€19.99 for 500ml, Celtic Whiskey shop)
Classic Hungarian dessert wine. Smooth and not so sweet that it will overwhelm most foods. Nice with blue cheese.
Castelnau de Suduiraut Sauternes (€33.50 Wines on the Green)
Sauternes is my favourite dessert wine and this is about as good as they get. Lovely fruit and honey flavours. It can go with cheese or paté but is best enjoyed just by itself.
Offley 10 Year Old Tawny Port (€34.99, The Wine Centre Kilkenny)
If you want to try something a bit different, this could be a Christmas treat. It looks like a light tawny and has flavours of vanila, raisins and almonds.
Justino’s Madeira, 5-Year-Old Fine Rich Reserve, (€15.99, Wineonline.ie)
Not unlike the Offley 10-year-old. This Madeira is a lightish colour with flavours of vanilla and sultanas. A nice one to surprise your guests.
Bunratty Mead (€10.81, Celtic Whiskey Shop)
As an alternative to wine, you could round off the meal with this Irish product, made from dried fruit, honey and herbs. If you are eating Christmas pud, then this might be the one to go with it.