Our Picks: Sweet & fortified wines for every taste

Now is a good time to sample some of the best wines in the sweet and fortified categories. From a classic Recioto di Soave and rare single cask Palo Cortado Sherry, to a decadent Sauternes and luxurious 10-Year-Old Tawny Port, there is something to suit every taste. Many are traditional pairings to seasonal food, while others pair just as well with an armchair and a good book…

Framingham Noble Riesling 2018
Marlborough, New Zealand

A painstakingly-made sweetie from botrytised sections of the 38-year-old estate vineyard in the Wairau Valley, a sub-region known for its hallmark fruit intensity and body. Winemaker Andrew Hedley, with his global reputation for Riesling, uses a combination of guesswork and experience to select bunches for hand picking. Inspired by the classic German ‘Beerenauslese’ style, the Noble Riesling has 200g/L of residual sugar, balanced by its vibrant acidity. One of Joanna Simon’s Top 10 New World Sweet Wines in the January 2020 issue of Decanter magazine, the Noble Riesling 2018 scores 95 points for its “concentrated, creamy, beeswax” aromas, “threaded with orange zest and fragrant white peach”, and its “intensely fresh and mouth-filling” palate.

Greywacke Botrytis Pinot Gris 2015
Marlborough, New Zealand
Kevin Judd sourced the fruit for his 2015 Botrytis Pinot Gris from an 18-year-old vineyard surrounding Greywacke HQ in Renwick, just down the road from Framingham (see above). The juice from gently squeezed shrivelled berries was fermented for almost three months in old barrels to an impressive ABV of 13.5%. Over half of the ferment was spontaneous, and the wine spent another 10 months in barrel before bottling - Kevin’s signature hands-off approach. In her Top 10 New World Sweet Wines for Decanter magazine (January 2020 issue), Joanna Simon describes the Botrytis Pinot Gris 2015 as “a lavishly flavoured wine” with “luscious apricot and black fig with exotic spice and dried orange peel.” A decadent, layered example of this noble variety. 

Pieropan 'Le Colombare' Recioto di Soave 2016
Veneto, Italy
Pieropan's estate covers 58 hectares of vineyard on the stony hills of Soave Classico and all their wines are organically certified from the 2015 vintage. Recioto di Soave is a classic sweet wine made from dried Garganega grapes, which derives its name from 'recie' (or 'ears'), the shape of the ripest, top part of the bunches that are carefully selected for this wine. 'Le Colombare' is a Pieropan family favourite, made in the same way from generation to generation by laying the grapes on bamboo cane mats in a well-ventilated loft for around five months, allowing them to dry naturally and concentrate, and for botrytis to develop. Rose Murray Brown MW says that Soave's sweet wines are "incredible - and the Pieropan family make the best..."

Inniskillin Niagara Riesling Icewine 2017
Ontario, Canada

Inniskillin is now synonymous with top quality Icewine, consistently setting the bar higher than its competitors and producing richer, more intense wines as a result. The grapes for their Riesling Icewine 2017 are picked at -10֠ C, then pressed immediately while the water content is frozen in crystals, leaving a few coveted drops of rich, concentrated juice. It has a crisp, lively acidity that balances 268g/L of residual sugar. Reviewing the 2017 vintage Icewines from Inniskillin in The Wine Advocate, Mark Squires says: "This would easily be my pick of the stickies...The Vidals on their own are terrific, but this just seems to add a little something extra. That finish, of course, is delectable and succulent."

Chateau Laville Sauternes 2013
Bordeaux, France

With its decadent flavour and aroma profile, Sauternes is a Christmas table staple, and this wine is no exception. Chateau Laville is owned by Jean-Christophe Barbe and his family, whose particular area of expertise as an oenology professor at the University of Bordeaux is 'noble rot' - something that, as a Sauternes producer, he has had plenty of opportunity to study at first hand! A blend of 85% Semillon, 12% Sauvignon Blanc and 3% Muscadelle, the wine is aged in oak (50% new) for 18 months to give it just enough complexity, while retaining freshness and the distinctive botrytis character. It is richly textured, with indulgent flavours of candied fruits, honey, barley sugar and sweet spice, complemented by balanced acidity and alcohol. It makes a fabulous match for fruit-based desserts, or equally with pates and cheeses.

Valdespino Palo Cortado 'Single Cask' Macharnudo Alto 2000
Andalucia, Spain
Valdespino is one of the oldest bodegas in Jerez, with a history of Sherry production going back six centuries. They have 750 hectares of their own vineyards, which is extremely rare in this region, and are the only bodega to make single vineyard Sherries. The 'Single Cask' Palo Cortado is unique. It is made from grapes grown in the 'Macharnudo' vineyard, all of which are from a single vintage (2000), and rather than ageing in a Solera system of many barrels, it is aged in a single cask. It boasts a myriad of flavours (dried fruits, orange zest, hazelnuts and figs) and is everything we love about Valdespino Sherries in a single glass. Adam Lechmere describes it as "astonishing" on ClubOenologique.com.

Justino's Madeira 10-Year-Old Boal NV
Madeira, Portugal
Justino's is not only one of the oldest producers of Madeira (established in 1870) but also one of its most dynamic producers today. Their single varietal wines made from noble grapes - Sercial, Boal, Malvasia and Terrantez - are a study in the diversity of Madeira, from the relatively drier, crisper styles to those which are more more nutty, rich and full. In The Wine Advocate, Dr William Kelly describes the 10-Year-Old Boal as "offering up notes of ripe fruits, figs, orange rind and brown sugar...medium to full-bodied, fleshy and enveloping with ripe but racy acids, an attractively layered core and a nicely defined finish. This is a fine Boal that comes recommended.” 

Offley 10-Year-Old Tawny Port NV
Douro, Portugal
Offley has thrived under Sogrape's ownership. Their best wines come from prime sites in the Cima Corgo and the ports are very approachable and fruit driven. The Offley 10-Year-Old Tawny Port is blended from a selection of wines between nine and 12 years of age to maintain its consistency and character. It has elegant and complex aromas of ripe fruit, marmalade and nuts, along with notes of vanilla and raisins. On the palate, the balance between rich sweetness and fine tannins provides the wine with an excellent structure, and a delicate yet complex finish. John Wilson chooses Offley as one of his top four great value 10-Year-Old Tawny Ports in The Irish Times, and it is also Matthew Nugent's 10-Year-Old Tawny recommendation for the festive season in The Irish Sun.