The combination of cheese and port is one of the defining Christmas staples. These two yuletide essentials help oil the wheels of friendship and make a family event just that little bit extra special. And there’s good reason a glass of port and a slice of cheese can help provide these treasured moments. Port offers an array of flavours, from sweet, fruity and ripe berries to figs, raisins and toasted almonds, while cheese has a savoury and sometimes salty tang that contrasts beautifully with the port’s sweetness.
As a practical guide to help amplify our enjoyment, we’ve picked a few ports from leading port lodges Fonseca and Taylor’s and matched them with a range of widely available cheeses. To add to the fun, this year we have suggested some chocolate matches too. It’s not a science and most ports are very versatile. Ruby port, for example, has a fruit-forward profile while Tawny has a nuttier flavour, so it’s understandable that both should pair well with milk chocolate.
Taylor’s First Estate Reserve Port with Camembert de Normandie, Valencay, Red Leicester or Ticklemore goat’s cheese
These two first-rate entry-level ports are rich but elegant wines with generous fruit sweetness and intensity, softened by several years of ageing in oak vats. Both have a creamy restrained finish which marries superbly with full flavoured, creamy cheeses like Camembert de Normandie, Valencay or a goat’s cheese which might have citric, nutty notes. We particularly liked the Fonseca Bin 27 – creamy, sweet and fruity, with spicy tannins – with a Sparkenhoe Red Leicester that was dry, crumbly and complex with grassy tones.
Chocolate Match: Milk chocolate also provides a lovely pairing for this style of port as the fresh fruit-forward sweetness in the port goes well with the chocolate. It’s not for no reason that chocolate covered raisins are so moreish.
Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage Port 2014 or Fonseca Terra Prima Organic with Valençay, Sainte-Maure, Bix or Mossfield
Late Bottled Vintage is the classic all-year-round port made from the grapes of a single year, aged in barrel for between four and six years and then released when ready to drink. It makes an excellent match for goat’s milk cheeses such as a fresh Valençay or a Sainte-Maure. As the thick crumbly texture of the cheese dissolves in contact with the wine, the ripe and opulent red berry fruitiness and delicate chocolate notes of the LBV merges with the rich, tangy flavours of the cheese. The rich concentration and silky purity of the organic fruit of the Fonseca port is a particularly fine match with the savory, rich, buttery Mossfield which balanced acidity, sweetness and smoothness to wonderful effect.
Chocolate Match: The bitter intense flavours of Green & Black’s high cocoa chocolate also marries superbly with the sweet, fruit-forward, relatively lively LBV. Delicate truffles are another great match.
Paxton’s or Taylor’s 10 Year Old Tawny Port with farmhouse Cheddar or a creamy blue cheese
Aged tawnies, characterised by an attractive reddish brown colour, rich aromas of dried fruit and a smooth silky palate, are a must for Christmas, but unsurprisingly are delicious at all times of the year. Prunes and sultanas characterise these ports and the sublimely complex, nutty, spicy, raisin-y Christmas-like flavours of the Taylor’s 10yo are a particular joy, as too the long intense finish. These pair beautifully with the fruity, nutty character of a mature farmhouse Cheddar like Montgommery, which brings out the nuttiness in the port, or a supremely creamy blue cheese like Beauvale – a balanced, soft and sensual cheese with no lingering sharpness. NB Always serve Tawny port chilled.
Chocolate Match: Aged tawnies also work well with praline chocolates or plain milk chocolate.
Taylor’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port with Aged Gouda
Taylor’s is one of the few remaining houses to produce a 20, 30 and even 40 Year Old Tawnies, where casks of 20, 30 or 40 year-old reserve ports are blended for balance and finesse. Lighter in colour than the 10 Year Old, you’ll find dried figs, dates and honey aromas alongside nutty notes in the 20 Year Old. Meanwhile on the palate it is even more concentrated, with layers of caramel, nuts and Christmas cake flavours, and an awesomely long finish. Match it with complex aged cheeses like nutty, creamy aged Gouda to maximize the umami hit; and serve it slightly chilled. Yum!
Chocolate Match: Walnut studded brownies or hazlenut truffles with the nuttier profile of this old Tawny.
Fonseca Guimaraens 2004 or Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas 2004 Vintage Port with Stilton or Roquefort
The pairing of vintage port and mature blue cheeses such as Stilton is one of the classic food and wine combinations – although Stilton also goes brilliantly with vintage-style ports like LBV or the fruit-packed First Estate. The soft, buttery texture, mellow character and piquancy of the cheese, together with a slightly sweet aftertaste, matches perfectly with the majestic, powerful, complex flavours of this pair of 2004 Vintages. We loved the warm plum and cherry jam notes (and hints of violets), which brought out the tangy salt flavours in the cheese. A few grippy tannins also work well with the strong cheese flavours, including the malted, toasted, savoury notes of Stilton. Alternative cheese matches include Cashel Blue and Roquefort, Julius Caesar’s favourite cheese.
Chocolate Match: Pair with dense, rich dark chocolate dishes like flourless chocolate cake or chocolate pots. If there’s some high cocoa (85%) chocolate, walnuts and dried fruit on the table, the integrated tannins, rich fruit, spice and chocolate palate of vintage port will simply add even more dimension to the experience.
Fonseca Siroco or Taylor’s Chip Dry with hard ewe’s milk cheese
And now for something completely different. These two white ports deliver a wonderful balance of ripe fruit, delicate citric acidity and a delightful nuttiness from ageing in oak vats. Best of all, they boast a crisp, dry finish. Serve slightly chilled or as a longer refreshing drink, with tonic and a sprig of mint or orange zest. And for something to match it with? Look no further than a beautiful hard goats’ cheese like Warwickshire’s Berkswell – a savoury but fruity cheese with a firm crumbly texture – or Spanish Manchego.
Alternative Match: Salted Macademia nuts or roasted Marcona almonds, rather than chocolate.
Top tips for storing and drinking port
To get started on your Christmas port and cheese odyssey, here are a few Port tips to help you get the most out of your port and cheese pairings during the festive season
The SquareMeal team has tried and tested some of London's best port and cheese matches
- While you can keep a decanted bottle of vintage port a few days, the aromas are far more expressive on day one
- A wine that matches well with chocolate should exceed the chocolate’s sweetness
- A Tawny port can be served by the glass for several weeks after the cork is pulled
- The bittersweet nature of a high cocoa chocolate really brings out the sweetness in a vintage port
- Don’t forget to serve Tawny port chilled
- Why is stilton so good at Christmas? A good stilton will have been aged for 12 weeks. It comes from milk that is the product of the ‘second flush’ grass you get in September, which bumps up the fat content in the milk
Where to buy Taylor's Port
Check out these Port suppliers, many of whom also provide a good range of cheese. If you’re looking for a bespoke cheese shop in the centre of town, the primus inter pares is Paxton and Whitfield in Jermyn Street.
Taylor's First Estate – Asda, Wine Rack, Majestic, Tesco (RRP, £13.00)
Fonseca Bin 27 – Majestic, Wine Rack, Harvey Nichols, Ellis of Richmond, VirginWines.co.uk (RRP, £13.50)
Fonseca Terra Prima – Waitrose, Fortnum & Mason, Selfridges (RRP, £18.00)
Paxton's 10 YO Tawny – Paxton & Whitfield (RRP, £19.95)
Fonseca Guimaraens 04 – Harvey Nichols, Selfridges, Corney & Barrow, (RRP, £28.00)
Fonseca Siroco – Selfridges, Saxty’s, Hay Wines (RRP, £17.00)
Taylor's Chip Dry – Waitrose, Majestic, VirginWines.co.uk (RRP, £16.00)
Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage 2014 –Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose, Wine Rack, Morrison’s, John Lewis, Asda (RRP, £15.50)
Taylor’s 10 YO Tawny – John Lewis, Sainsbury, Selfridges, Waitrose, Asda (RRP, £24.00)
Taylor’s 20 YO Tawny –Selfridges, Speciality Drinks, Cambridge Wine Merchants (RRP, £40.00)
Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas 2004 – Co-op, Fortnum & Mason, John Lewis, Majestic, Selfridges, Waitrose, Laithwaites (RRP, £30.00)
This feature was produced following a tasting organised by Fonseca, Taylor’s and Paxton & Whitfield.