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 luxurious Rutherglen Muscat and decadent 40-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."

Morris of Rutherglen Old Premium Rare Liqueur Rutherglen Muscat NV 
Victoria, Australia
For over 155 years, the Morris family have earned their position as one of the most prominent winemaking families in Australia. Their vineyards are situated to the east of Rutherglen, where the climate is warmer and drier, and their wines fall into the 'sweet and rich' style of Rutherglen. Only the best wines from the best vintages are chosen for the Old Premium Rare Muscat and artfully blended to find the right balance of very old and much younger components. Awarded the Fortified Wine Trophy at the IWSC 2019, this wine was praised as "an outstandingly well-made example, with a great balance and fantastically long finish of dates and black coffee" by the judges.

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.” 

Sandeman 40-Year-Old Tawny Port NV
Douro, Portugal
In Portugal, a Port house is judged on its Tawny Ports, an area in which Sandeman excels, largely because it has always held some of the highest levels of stock of aged Ports of any of the major houses. The 40-Year-Old is Sandeman's oldest Aged Tawny and represents the pinnacle of premium Tawny Port, with absolutely staggering complexity and length. Created in a rich and smoky style, with plenty of roasted, nutty notes, dried plums and sour red cherry flavours, then a powerful spicy finish, the 40-Year-Old is the ultimate expression of the Sandeman family. Awarded the Port Trophy at the IWSC 2019, it was judged to be "a truly exceptional wine which has superb poise and elegance, worthy for a wine of this age and stature.”