Let’s start this week with a couple of questions. What is the world’s best-value wine? And what is the world’s best-value fine wine for long ageing?
My answer to the first is always sherry, as even the youngest bone-dry fino is aged for five years before release, and for long-ageing fine wine, my answer is vintage port which can be bought for under €100, and under €50 in the case of Single Quinta Ports (released in non-vintage years).
Most houses that declared 2016 also declared 2017, including the Symington Family (Dow, Warres, Grahams), Quinta do Noval, and Taylors (Fonseca, Croft and Krohn).
Back-to-Back declarations are rare as most port houses only declare around three times a decade.
The 2017s are more austere and reserved in style compared to the open and elegant 2016s, but both will live long.
In tasting the 2017s from the Taylor’s fold I found the Croft and Krohn lively and elegant for earlier drinking, with the Fonseca more brooding with spice and dark blueberry and plum fruits.
The Taylor’s was the star as usual with some violet aromas but with big black fruit flavours and big textured complexity.
The 2016s and 2017s are not really on the market yet, but you will find lots of earlier vintages in good wine shops.
I called into O’Donovan’s on Oliver Plunkett Street last Friday and spotted Taylors Vintage 2003 on offer at €79.99 as well as some Taylor’s Tawny (see below), Henriques & Henriques Madeira, Tio Pepe En Rama and even a relatively rare bottle of Cork Cream 806 and Lustau Oloroso.
Bradleys on North Main Street in Cork City is worth a visit if you are looking for fortified wines (or beer, or foodie presents). Michael has the full Lustau range including the gorgeous East India Solera which is perfect after-dinner sipping.
Bradleys is one of the few places stocking Gonzalez Byass’s 30 Year Old Methusalem (see below) and Nöe Pedro Ximinez.
He also has a good range of ports from Taylors, Warre and in vintage has Dows 2000 at €100 and Dow’s Quinta do Bomfim at €50 — both bargains.
For the diary: O’Donovan’s Off-Licence Christmas Wine Tasting with Gary O’Donovan, 7.30-9.30pm Friday, December 6, Maldron Hotel, South Mall, Cork. Tickets €15 via Eventbrite — https://bit.ly/34m897O
Maynard’s Tawny Port, Portugal — €13.99
Maynard’s is a solid old name in the Douro (the family once owned Quinta do Noval) and I can’t quite fathom how Aldi keeps its prices so low.
The stunning 40-year-old Tawny is €39.99, cheaper than most 20-year-old Tawny. This is full of raisins and soft sweet almond aromas, textured and fresh with fig and confit plums on the finish. Best served cool.
Exquisite Collection Fino Sherry, Spain — €8.99
The Exquisite Collection has dropped its amontillado this year sadly but at least it still has the cream and the fino. The cream is perfect for trifles or sipping chilled with a mince pie but the fino is designed for seafood starters or fish and chips.
Bone dry with a salty fresh dried lemon and almond aromas, crisp and pristinely fresh with a salty lemon tang.
M&S / Lustau Very Rare Palo Cortado 375ml, Jerez, Spain — €12.99
Stockist: Marks & Spencer
M&S wins the supermarket fortified game with all styles covered and all impeccably sourced.
The Williams & Humbert Rich Cream is excellent as is the Lustau Rare Pedro Ximinez but this is the best bargain in the shop — a rare hybrid style with Fino and Oloroso character — citrus, raisins and toasted almond aromas, silky and complex with lingering oak touches.
Fonseca Guimaraens 1996 Vintage Port — €44.95
This is Fonseca’s second label Vintage Port, released in non-declared Fonseca Vintage years — a sort of Triple Quinta Port (grapes are sourced from three properties), early maturing but with almost all the flavours of the full Vintage version.
Aromas of prunes, sweet plum and blackberry fruits with a touch of pencil lead, concentrated cherry on the finish.
Taylors Historical Tawny Port 1 litre — €50-€57
Stockists: O’Donovans, O’Briens, Green Man Wines, Le Caveau, Mitchell & Son, www.wineonline.ie
Taylor’s remain one of my favourite Port houses and while I recommend everything in their range I am especially fond of their Tawny Ports — the 10 Year Tawny (c€32) is silky and fresh tasting with lingering fig fruits.
This ‘Historical’ Tawny has a dramatic antique one litre bottle with more plum flavours with red fruits and a pleasing juicy dried cherry finish.
Matusalem Oloroso Dulce 30-Year-Old Sherry, 375ml — €24.95
Stockists: Bradleys Cork, Independents, www.winesoftheworld.ie
This is very special, one of those Sherries everyone should taste once in their life, it is a particularly fine match with Christmas Pudding.
The original Oloroso is aged for eight years and then blended with 25% sweet Pedro Ximinez and aged a further 22 years in the Solera system.
Complex aromas of dried figs, coffee and chocolate, nutty-sweet. Serve cool.