A great way to round off a festive meal

A selection of digestif wines.

A selection of digestif wines. - Credit: Archant

If you enjoy a relaxed end to a meal chatting over cheese, chocolate and coffee after dessert or if like me would rather skip pudding altogether, then a glass of a luscious dessert wine is just the thing to drink to round off a meal.

Port has long been the drink associated with the end of a meal, accompanied by a chunk of cheese or chocolate. Savour the rich smooth mouthfeel of a late bottled vintage port, which is a port that was originally destined to be a vintage port but was left in the barrel too long. The mellow nutty notes of a tawny port is also a delight and both can be paired well with different cheeses.

Many of the port houses such as Grahams and Quinta do Noval have been creative over the last few years and offer some great value ports to encourage people back to a drink which has seen sales decline over the years.

These are often termed 'Reserve' ports and they are premium ruby ports with a seductive rich perfume of ripe plums and cherries.

The palate is complex, with a good structure and a long lingering finish. A great example is Graham's Six Grapes Port.

If you like port and want to try something similar but different there's the amazingly seductive Zuccardi Malamado which is a rich fortified Argentinian Malbec.

However, although it is great with some cheeses and rich chocolates port is not a perfect match nor the only one. My favourite is the complex delicious flavour of a dessert wine and there are many to choose from. Their luscious richness isn't sugary sweet but a mélange of honeyed, fruity notes with a hint of caramel and is a great match to softer cheeses whose main flavour notes are similar such as ripe Brie. Wines including Tokajis from Hungary, Sauternes from France, Botrytised Viogniers from Australia, and many more deserve a try.

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Chocolate is renowned for being one of the most difficult foods to match with wine. A rich chocolate mousse or torte with its lovely mouthcoating textures needs a wine with equivalent notes.

Fortunately, there are wines like this such as the sweet red wines from the Rhone Valley, Madiran and also California to name a few regions though they are not widely available. Rasteau Domaine de Beaurenard from the Rhone Valley in France is a good example with its deliciously textured and sweet elegant, vibrant chocolatey fruit. A glass of red Pineau des Charentes is another great match for chocolate, deriving its stylish flavour from a number of years barrel-aging after fortifying with brandy.

White Pineau des Charentes, a white fortified wine made from Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes, has very delicate floral aromas and delicious honeyed apricot flavours even after five years aging, so it pairs well with some lighter cheeses.

It's also a wow with cake due to its soft 'cakey' mouthfilling texture.

Madeira deserves a mention here too; the varied sweet styles were much loved with past generations but like many fortified wines its popularity has declined. However, the Barbeito Malvasia Reserve Madeira has concentrated aromas and taste of rich, buttery nuttiness and a delicious sweetness and purity: oranges and lemon fruit, with a finesse and racy quality.

Sherry, like Madeira, has sadly declined in popularity but there is one in particular, the PX, which is most suitable as an after-dinner drink or digestif and can easily be described as liquid Christmas cake! Noe, Pedro Ximenez Muy Viejo Sherry made by Gonzalez Byass is one of the world's oldest and rarest dessert wines, and has a powerful bouquet, oozing heady aromas of concentrated raisins, figs, coffee and Christmas spices.

Sometimes, just a small glass of a digestif is enough and the great thing is many are sold in half bottles and in gift boxes so they're a great solution when seeking inspiration for a Christmas present.