Drink

Sweet sherry is too good to leave out

You may only ever put it out for Santa, but sweet sherry deserves to be one of your festive drinks in its own right, not least because it’s one of the bargains of the wine world.

Cream sherry such as Harvey’s Bristol Cream (currently on promotion at Waitrose for £8.69) is probably the one you’re most familiar with, no doubt kept in a cupboard by senior relatives since last Christmas, if not the year before, but there are equally good and certainly cheaper own-label versions around – Sainsbury’s, for example, has a bottle for just £5.50. And if you find it too sweet and syrupy, temper that by keeping it in the fridge or serving on the rocks with a slice of orange.

A step up in quality from that would be oloroso sherries such as Gonzalez Byass Matusalem, which, like cream sherry, is based on oloroso sweetened with pedro ximénez, but which incorporates sherries that are around 30 years old. (Watch out, though, because some olorosos are dry, or seco; also delicious, but if we’re talking sweet sherry, you want to look out for the word dulce.)

Sweetest of all are the rich, raisiny, treacley PX sherries, which can have more than 400g of sugar per litre. Tesco’s Finest Pedro Ximénez, say, which is a bit of a bargain at £6 the half-bottle, has 370g per litre, compared with 118g for the same store’s finest cream sherry (15%). Personally, I find them too sweet to drink with cake or Christmas pudding, but I could be tempted with fried mince pies, particularly if they’re topped with ice-cream. Again, most supermarkets sell them by the half-bottle; most come from the respected bodega Lustau, which makes those prices all the more impressive. And I’m assured by a wine consultant pal who looks after the cellars of the great and the good that a dash of PX is great in a espresso martini.

There are also sweet sherries made out of moscatel that are a little lighter and more aromatic than PX. Berry Bros & Rudd stocks the gorgeously raisiny Lustau Moscatel Emilin (17%) – yes, Lustau again – at £8.78 the half-bottle.

Don’t forget you can drink sweet sherry with more than just mince pies and Christmas cake – also try it with continental sweetmeats such as panforte, lebkuchen and stollen, for a start. And sweet oloroso sherry is surprisingly good with stilton and other blue cheeses, and with rich caramel or toffee-flavoured desserts. So there’s really no excuse not to finish the bottle before next Christmas.

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