Port and cheese is one of the classic Christmas rituals. It comes at a moment when we are at our most relaxed and helps make this family event that little bit extra special. For that matter it adds joy to any special occasion, whatever time of year, oiling the wheels of friendship and creating a sense of slow time and well-being.
And there’s good reason a glass of port and some cheese helps lift the occasion. Port offers an array of comforting flavours, from sweet and fruity to rich and nutty. Common flavours include ripe berries and figs, raisins and toasted almonds, while cheese has a savoury and sometimes salty tang that contrasts beautifully with the port’s sweetness or matches its power.
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, 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.
Fonseca Bin 27 with Golden Cross, Camembert de Normandie, Valencay, Red Leicester or Ticklemore goat’s cheese
This first-rate and accessible port is rich but elegant, with opulent fruit sweetness and intensity, softened by several years of ageing in oak vats. It has a creamy, restrained finish which marries superbly with full flavoured, zingy, yeasty, creamy cheeses like a charcoal-coated Golden Cross goats’ cheese, which becomes creamier and denser as it matures. Valencay and Camembert de Normandie are excellent alternatives, demonstrating the versatility of port with all manner of different cheeses.
The Fonseca Bin 27 – with its creamy, sweet fruitiness, spicy tannins and lovely cassis and plum notes – is particularly good at highlighting the richness, creaminess and saltiness of the cheese.
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.
Fonseca Unfiltered LBV 2015, Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage 2015, or Fonseca Terra Prima Organic with Valençay, Sainte-Maure, Bix or Mossfield or Westcombe Cheddar
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 well as a full-flavoured Cheddar like Westcombe. The latter is packed with earthy, buttery and tangy flavours and matches superbly with liquorice and delicate chocolate notes and chewy tannins, as well as the big plummy, red berry opulence of the Fonseca Unfiltered LBV 2015. Together the flavours bounce off and amplify each other like a rock concert match.
The thick crumbly texture of the Valencay dissolves in contact with the LBV and the wine’s richness merges with the rich, tangy flavours of the cheese, while the concentration and silky purity of the Fonseca Terra Prima is a particularly fine match with the savory, buttery Mossfield, a cheese with a wonderful balance of acidity, sweetness and smoothness.
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.
Taylor’s 10 Year Old Tawny or Paxton’s 10 Year Old Tawny with farmhouse Cheddar, Gruyère Premier Cru or a creamy blue cheese
Aged tawnies, characterised by an attractive russet 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 10yo tawnies are a mellow, harmonious match with the fruity, nutty character of the Gruyère Premier Cru. The cheese’s salty, sweet and slightly crystalline nature amplified the toffee, burnt sugar notes in the wine. Also good are 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. Please note: 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 Vintage 2004 or Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas 2005 Vintage Port or Paxton’s Vintage 2000 with Stilton, Roquefort or Shropshire Blue
The completely harmonious pairing of powerful vintage port and mature, strong 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, too. The soft, buttery texture, mellow character and piquancy of the cheese, together with a slightly sweet aftertaste, matches perfectly with the fruit and the majestic, powerful, complex flavours of this pair of Vintage ports. We love the explosion of warm plum and cherry jam notes (and hints of coffee and violets) in the Fonseca Guimaerens Vintage, which brought out the tangy salt flavours in the cheese. A few tongue-coating tannins also work well with the strong cheese flavours, including the malty, toasted, savoury notes of Stilton or the restrained bitterness of a Shropshire Blue. 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 White Port or Taylor’s Chip Dry with hard ewe’s milk cheese or Manchego Curado PDO
And now for something completely different but truly delicious. 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 Manchego Curado – aged for nine months which sees its sweet grassy notes develop into nuttiness.
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 and Fonseca Ports
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.
Fonseca Bin 27 – Majestic, Harvey Nichols, Ellis of Richmond, VirginWines (RRP, £13.50)
Fonseca Terra Prima – Waitrose, Fortnum & Mason, Abel & Co, Selfridges (RRP, £18.00)
Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage 2015 –Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose, Wine Rack, Morrison’s, Asda, Coop (RRP, £15.00)
Fonseca Unfiltered Late Bottled Vintage 2015 – Saxtys, Speciality Drinks, Jaded Palates Wines, Fortnum & Mason, Ellis of Richmond (RRP, £16.50)
Taylor’s 10 YO Tawny – Sainsbury's, Selfridges, Waitrose, Morrisons, Asda (RRP, £22.00)
Paxton’s 10 YO Tawny (50ml) – Paxton & Whitfield (RRP, 24.95)
Taylor’s 20 YO Tawny – Selfridges, Speciality Drinks, Cambridge Wine Merchants (RRP, £40.00)
Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas 2005 – Co-op, Fortnum & Mason, John Lewis, Majestic, Selfridges, Waitrose, Laithwaites (RRP, £32.00)
Paxton’s Vintage 2000 – Paxton & Whitfield (RRP, £39.00)
Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage 2004 – Harvey Nichols, Selfridges, Corney & Barrow, (RRP, £28.00)
Fonseca Siroco White Port – Selfridges, Saxty’s, Hay Wines (RRP, £17.00)
Taylor's Chip Dry White Port – Waitrose, VirginWines, Speciality Drinks, Amazon (RRP, £14.00)
This port and cheese feature was produced following a tasting organised by Fonseca, Taylor’s and Paxton & Whitfield, compered by Amanda Lloyd (Taylor’s and Fonseca Port) and Hero Hirsh (Paxton & Whitfield).