From Wine Enthusiast.
Sherry wines have long gotten a bad rap—tagged as fusty and old-fashioned. But no style in the category has suffered more slings and arrows than cream Sherry.
“When I suggest it at the bar, people will say, ‘no, it’s sweet and gross, like my grandma’s Sherry,’” says Leanne Favre, beverage director for New York City’s Clover Club and Leyenda. Favre’s usual response? “That bottle was probably sitting on your grandma’s counter for the last 25, 30 years.”
As a category, Sherries are hamstrung by the very complexity and variety that make them so unique. “When people tell me they don’t like Sherry, it’s because they don’t really know them,” says Casilda Gurucharri, a Madrid-based sommelier. “To appreciate Sherry, you need to taste enough of them, and it helps to understand how they are made.” A flow chart doesn’t hurt either.
Sherries are fortified wines produced in southwestern Spain, within the so-called “Sherry Triangle,” a region whose D.O.—short for denominación de origen, the Spanish geographical indication—is known locally as Jerez. All Sherries are made with Palomino, Pedro Ximénez, and/or Moscatel grapes, and they many undergo an elaborate system of aging (criadera and solera), which involves blending a portion of newer wines with progressively older ones stored in neighboring casks. But that’s where the similarities end.
For the five popular drier styles—Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Palo Cortado and Oloroso—the fermented grape juice produces a thin protective cap of yeast, known as “flor,” before the wine is fortified with grape spirit. Fino, Manzanilla and Amontillado age with their flor cap intact, while Oloroso receives a stronger dose of grape spirit, which prevents yeast development and exposes the wine to oxygen as it ages. (Palo Cortado is a bit of an outlier, with a toe in both maturation styles.) The naturally sweet Sherries, Pedro Ximénez (PX) and Moscatel, are made from overripe or sun-dried grapes.
What Is Cream Sherry?
To make cream Sherry, Oloroso is blended with a natural sweet Sherry (most commonly PX, though sometimes Moscatel) or grape must, in a process known as cabeceo, before the blend goes on to oxidative aging. First developed by British producer Harveys in 1882, the style was created for export to the United Kingdom. The company’s Bristol Cream did indeed travel well, thanks to the preservative effects of its high-sugar and alcohol content.
Despite the “cream” in its name, this style of Sherry is actually a mahogany-hued wine that balances the nutty aromas and full-bodied elegance of an Oloroso with the sweetness of PX. “The Oloroso adds acidity, which helps lighten the heavy sensation of residual sugar,” says Jordi Paronella, wine director for José Andrés Restaurants. The best examples of cream Sherry are well-integrated and far more multifaceted than the style’s reputation would have you believe. “They’re less cloying and more versatile than PX or Moscatel dessert wines,” he adds.
While some creams are made with Sherries that have aged for more than 20 or 30 years—earning them the designation of VOS or VORS (acronyms for the Latin rendering of Very Old Sherry and Very Old Rare Sherry, respectively)—they’re also ready to drink the moment you buy them.
“That’s one of its great advantages relative to other wines that require much more time in the bottle,” says Josep Roca of Spain’s El Celler de Can Roca, who earned the World's Best Sommelier Award by 50 Best in 2022. Roca sees something profound in this trait. “Jerez’s barrels safeguard hidden treasures,” he says. “Cream is a gift of time.”
What to Pair with Cream Sherry
The most traditional food pairings for Sherry are desserts, blue cheese and foie gras, but cream Sherry is capable of complementing a much wider range of foods. Beyond flan and churros, Favre has matched it with savory items on Leyenda’s Latin American menu, including tacos al pastor, whose warming spices work well with cream’s nutty Oloroso base.
Additionally, Roca has offered cream with foie gras, cacao and a dessert made with licorice. He would also pair it with umami-rich foods and spicy flavors, like kimchi, soy sauce, mole poblano and curry. “Its semi-sweet quality works well with heat,” he says. “When there’s a lot of capsaicin in a dish, cream [Sherry] softens that intensity.”