December is without a doubt the time for fortified wine. There’s nothing quite like sitting in front of a roaring fire with a glass of port on a frosty night.

The addition of brandy to the wine during fermentation is surely the key to the long standing popularity of this festive beverage. Originally designed as a way to preserve the wine on the sea journey from Douro, the fortification has become this brilliant wine’s point of difference in our market today. Port is always fortified during fermentation which halts the fermentation process leaving a residual sugar in the wine. That’s why port is always sweet. Sherry (on the other hand) is fermented out to complete dryness before fortification, which allows a range of styles on release as you can sweeten the sherry after fortification by the addition of a sweet wine such as Pedro Ximinez.

The port grapes include Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz which is the local name for Tempranillo (the main grape of Rioja). Port will be aged either in cask or in the bottle. Ruby ports, tawny ports and LBV’s (late-bottled vintages) are ready to drink on release. The full-blown vintages require a bit more patience.

White port is also available, but I always think of it as a summer aperitif in a tall glass with ice and tonic. It’s fortified in the same way as other ports, but using white grapes instead of red.

Tawny ports tend to be labelled as ten, twenty or thirty years old with prices to match. The wood influence makes for a lighter wine in your glass, and I like these wines lightly chilled. Try a bottle of the Kopke 20 years old Tawny (Inverarity One to One, £37.99) as a perfect expression of the style. It’s lovely on its own, or with a mild, creamy blue cheese.

The late-bottled vintages are the most common expressions on the market, especially at this time of year. They are flavoursome and approachable without the need to decant, and they are a lovely way to end an evening with friends in front of the aforementioned fire. You’ll find Taylor’s, Graham’s, Dow’s and Warre’s in all the supermarkets this Christmas and they are all very tasty. Graham’s is slightly sweeter and Taylor’s longer lived but they are all of a similar quality.

Taylor’s Late-Bottled Vintage Port (Sainsbury’s, normally £13, currently on offer at £10). This is a super port, even at the full price…if you can pick it up at a tenner, it’s even better. Cheers!