8 best ports to enjoy this Christmas
Sweet, flavoursome and enjoyed with much more than just cheese, it’s time to get to know this fortified wine
We’d argue that it’s a great drink all year-round, however, it’s still the winter months that seem to be synonymous with port. This is in part because the flavours in our traditional festive food favourites are such a great pairing with a generous glug of the good stuff.
Whether that be a chunk of stilton, or the dried fruits in mince pies, with dark chocolate desserts or simply drunk alone in your favourite chair with a good book – it’s an essential part of the Christmas day spread.
Like all wine, styles dictate price, with entry level ruby ports being the least expensive, through to more premium vintage ports.
However, we’ve kept our round-up to under £35, with many supermarkets offering some exceptional value bottles for well under £20. On the whole, these are all readily available, requiring no effort to track down, so stick one in with your festive shop.
If port isn’t something you’re too familiar with, or perhaps you’re buying as a gift, the label can be confusing. Here we explain the main differences behind the labels…
White port – Delicious served with tonic as an alternative to your G&T, it’s lighter with more citrus notes and best served chilled.
Rosé port – Just as you’d expect from many rosé wines, you’ll find notes of strawberries, raspberry and cranberries. We prefer this served icy cold.
Ruby port – Generally inexpensive and good value, this style is designed to be drunk young while fresh and vibrant. Serve slightly chilled to appreciate notes of blackberry, warm spices and chocolate.
Tawny port – Sweet and amber in colour, this is where you’ll find nutty, caramelised notes start to develop. Aged for a minimum of two years, the label will commonly show 10, 20, or 30 years which is the average age of the vintages used, not the total ageing time.
Late bottled vintage (LBV) – A ruby port from a good year, as the name suggests, it spends longer in the barrel so is bottled later than a true vintage. However, once bottled it requires no further ageing and is ready to drink.
Vintage – Considered the most premium style of port, it’s made with grapes from one outstanding year only, this will be left in oak for two to three years but can be (and sometimes needs to be) left to mature for decades in the bottle.
Even though, thanks to its silky smooth nature, port can be exceptionally easy to drink, most will have an ABV of about 20 per cent – much higher than most everyday wines you’re probably used to drinking. As such, smaller wine glasses should be used if you have them (or at the very least, smaller measures!).
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Sandeman 20 year-old tawny port, 75cl, 20%: £31.99, Waitrose
Exceptionally good value, given the complexity, this is Christmas in a glass. Slightly spicy and bursting with dried fruit, this is a wonderfully smooth old tawny with a long, lingering nutty finish. As you might imagine, it’s excellent paired with salty cheese and decadent desserts – we like it served slightly chilled. And we’re clearly not the only ones as we’re yet to meet anyone who doesn’t ask for another glass.
Berry Bros. & Rudd st James's finest reserve port, 75cl, 19.5%: £15.95, Berry Bros. & Rudd
Despite being a ruby port, which is typically the least expensive style, this special little number picked up bronze at the International Wine Challenge awards 2019. Of course, we’d expect no less from Berry Bros. & Rudd, which has entrusted the wine making skills of Jorge Moreira who heads up the family-run Quinta de la Rosa vineyard. Fruity and floral, it’s excellent with a slice of dark chocolate torte and has a pleasing complexity that belies the price. A sure-fire winner to have on standby this Christmas, it’s also worth trying in cocktails.
Morrisons special reserve port, 75cl, 20%: £8, Morrisons
Christmas is a great time to scan the supermarket aisles for special buys. We couldn’t believe our luck with this one – despite technically being a ruby port, it was considered so good by an independent official tasting panel it was actually granted permission to be relabelled as a special reserve – this is not an honour often bestowed! It’s had plenty of time to develop complexity as it’s been ageing since 2008 and is now silky smooth with a decadently long finish. Expect hints of chocolate, jammy fruit and a good vibrancy.
Heranca late bottled vintage port 2012, 75cl, 20%: £14.99, Virgin Wines
Created by world-renowned port producer Taylor's, it’s made exclusively from grapes harvested in a specific year – in this case 2012 – from a variety of vineyards. This late bottled vintage (LBV) was left to age for up to six years before you can get your mitts on it and as such is ready to drink now. And with its thick syrupy mouthfeel, notes of rich vine fruit and warm spices, it couldn’t be more perfect for your Christmas day dessert.
Fonseca organic terra prima porto, 75cl, 20%: £18.39, Waitrose & Partners
Fonseca may be most well known for its bin no.27 reserve blend but if you’re a fan of the port house we’d recommend trying this completely organic version for something new. With black fruit on the nose, moving to intense red berries on the palate, it’s both rich, fruity and oh-so-smooth. Working equally well with chocolatey desserts and the cheeseboard, it’s the ideal way to round of a cosy winter’s evening.
Sainsbury's taste the difference special reserve port, 75cl, 20%: £9, Sainsbury's
Made by the Symington Family Estate – a well-known house in Portugal’s Douro Valley – this is a very well-priced special reserve. Left to age in oak for two years, you can expect those appealing toasty nutty notes, balanced with concentrated red berries, a touch of liquorice, coffee and winter spices.
Tesco finest vintage port, 75cl, 20%: £20, Tesco
Only years which display exceptional quality are bestowed the title “vintage”. Also from the Symington Family Estate, this 2007 is well structured with smooth tannins and rich, concentrated berry notes. Deep purple and full-bodied, if you can resist opening now this will age well. We’d recommend decanting before serving as you can expect to find some sediment in vintage ports.
Graham’s 10 year old tawny port, 75cl: £15, Ocado
A slightly younger aged tawny than the Sandeman version above, which means you’ll still find lots of fresh ripe fruit on the palate. However it’s still bursting with that super sweet honey quality we’d expect from a tawny, with notes of almonds, cinnamon and figs. Full and rich with a beautiful long finish, we’d recommend serving slightly chilled, with creme brulee.
The verdict: Ports
Deliciously sweet, intensely rich, a chilled glass of Sandeman’s 20 year-old tawny port is one of Christmas’s greatest pleasures and therefore has been awarded our best buy.
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