Katherine Donnelly: Something to keep you sweet
Tradition has it that the Christmas cake and pud are made by now. Another golden rule for the season is to get the dessert wines in early, too.
Sweeties are a great excuse for a festive treat. They make a perfect pressie, round off any meal with style, and may even be the dessert in itself. For me, pudding wines make the pud entirely optional.
Sweet does not mean gloopy. The essence of these wines is that they have a rip-roaring acidity slicing through the sweetness. And it won't do to pull out last year's unfinished port and sherry from the back of the cupboard!
The only wine that won't deteriorate after being open for a lengthy period is Madeira; it undergoes a heating process in the making.
Tawny port is the most obvious festive sweetie. The mellow, dried-fruit flavours mingle well whether the company is Christmas pudding, mince pies or cheese. A rich ruby port is good with chocolate desserts.
Sherry covers the spectrum from an appetite-whetting dry fino through a range of sweet styles, the most luscious of which is PX. Best described as liquid plum pudding, if you must add food then try it with the cake, chocolate desserts or poured over ice cream.
It's not only about port and sherry, which derive their sweet edge from the process of fortification that also brings their alcohol levels up to around 18-20pc.
Other dessert wines gather all their sweetness on the vine. Harvested later than other grapes, they continue to build up sugar reserves, while also concentrating their acidity. It is one of the wine world's miracles.
Unlikely as it may seem, sometimes the whole process is helped along by a kindly fungus, which may be why Sauternes hits the spot with blue cheese. You could also try it with the Christmas cake.
Sauternes may be the best-known sweetie, but it's also worth trying Australia's famous 'stickie' Muscats -- a good bet with the cake and pud -- or the light and frothy Moscato d'Asti, which is also a good pudding partner.
Serve all well-chilled and enjoy.
Thomas Woodberry's in Galway is holding a Christmas Wine Fair tomorrow at the g hotel from 2-7pm. Tickets are €10. All proceeds go to charity.