I think I’m going to have to drink more Port and Sherry this year than in previous years. Not necessarily because I want to, but because I feel obliged as they are such good sharing drinks and I’m going to pretend to share…. These higher strength wines are oft the tipple of this time of year for a few reasons. One clue being in the previous statement, that they are higher alcohol. The extra alcohol not only does the trick in the depth of winter, it helps to preserve the wine over the course of its consumption, which might well be a period of weeks, or not, as the case may be. The extra sweetness afforded by Port is also a welcome antidote to the chills of winter and goes extremely well with many a mince pie, Christmas Pudding or equivalent.
The difference between Port and Sherry, apart from the obvious that one is Portuguese and the other Spanish, is that Sherry is a wine that has had brandy chucked in after fermentation and Port has had brandy chucked in before fermentation. In effect, Sherry is Fortified “Wine” and Port is Fortified “Grape Juice”. This is why Port is always sweet, whereas Sherry can be dry. Sweet Sherry has sweetener added after the fermentation into wine. The sweetener can be in the form of unfermented grape juice or sticky raisin syrup. The ultimo sweet Sherry is called PX (Pedro Ximines, pronounced Him-i-neth) and smells and tastes like overly-brandied, gorgeous, homemade Christmas pudding. If you have never tried it, you absolutely must.
One of the finest aperitif tipples know to human kind is good quality dry Sherry, although its use has dwindled in recent years. It has minerality, texture, and is as refreshingly salty as a Portobello swim (maybe just a dip at this time of year). Fino is the name given to the dry style, along with a somewhat lighter version called Manzanilla (the “Z” in the middle is pronounced “th” and it rhymes with Godzilla). Both are exceptional with your standard nutty offerings before and between meals over the festive period. Smoked nuts; salty nuts; plain nuts; and slightly crackers; all go well with Fino. Serve ice cold and you could even put a lump of ice in it (or snow if to hand) to keep if refreshing (think Portobello dip again).
Port demands cheese and pudding. If you have finished the Fino it is time to pass the Port. If you have a bit of Highland Fine Cheese (www.hf-cheeses.com), preferably a blue version like Blue Murder or Strathdon Blue, then you would be foolish not to wash them down the hatch with a spot of Port. Tawny Ports are lighter in colour and would be slightly better with whiter cheeses like their Highland Brie. With your blue cheese reach for Late Bottled Vintage Port (no need to decant these) or push the boat out with a vintage tawny (these are called Colheitas). The latter are life-changing, quality wines and worth seeking out.
With your new found knowledge you have no excuse not to get a drop of Sherry and Port in the house for your festives. They are the epitome of Christmas. If you can’t manage these wines in one sitting, they keep excellently in the fridge for weeks (as though) and would be excellent to see in the New Year.