Cream / Dulce
Cream sherry is the general name for different kinds of “artificially” sweetened sherries, usually produced by blending a dry wine like Oloroso with naturally sweet Pedro Ximénez or Moscatel wines. Lesser sherry will be sweetened (and coloured) by adding a vino de color, a mixture of wine and Arrope (a kind of cooked and concentrated must). Sweet sherry used to be a hugely popular category, especially in certain export regions, but it is losing ground in favour of the drier styles. The name Dulce is sometimes used for naturally sweet wines (for example by drying the grapes before fermentation, which concentrates the sugars). Although less popular than before, these styles still account for the majority of global sales.
The Cream category is named after a hugely popular product called Bristol Cream from Bodegas Harveys. Around 1860 they invented a kind of thick, sweet blend that originated in Bristol but conquered the world. Since the 1950’s this is the top selling sherry worldwide. Nowadays it’s still commonly found, but it is slowly becoming the symbol of an old generation of sherry drinkers that are not really looking for authentic wines.
Once called abocado or amoroso, sometimes rich or dulce, the common name for sweetened sherry is now Medium and Cream
Don’t just ignore the category of sweetened sherries though. The best examples still rely on Oloroso or other dry types for most of their character, with Pedro Ximénez only added as an enhancement (sometimes to balance out the rough edges of long ageing in wood).
The best examples of sweetened sherry (e.g. Gonzalez Byass Matusalem or the Harveys Oloroso V.O.R.S.) are old, venerable wines that are much more balanced than the cheap commercial types. The best sweet sherries are the ones that were sweetened long before bottling. That way, the sweeter wine will blend nicely with the dry one, creating a harmoniously integrated end result that is usually off-dry rather than thoroughly sweet.
Note that you can have sweetened Fino, sweetened Amontillado or sweetened Oloroso, but a lot of sweetened sherries will be blends, compositions of multiple styles. Usually there’s some Fino and Amontillado as a base wine, with Oloroso to add depth and Pedro Ximénez to add sweetness. Most of these blends are mixed right before bottling, but again the better examples return to a solera to mature further and integrate their flavours.
Types of sweetened sherry
There are different labels for sweetened sherry, based on their sugar content and flavour:
- Dry sherry contains between 5 and 45 grams of sugar.
- Medium sherry is between 5 and 115 grams of sugar per liter. Usually composed around Amontillado.
- Pale Cream contains between 45-115 grams of sugar per liter. Usually composed around Fino.
- Cream is between 115–140 grams. Usually composed around Oloroso.
- Dulce will contain at least 160 grams.
I find this classification a bit confusing. Firstly, Dry doesn’t mean it is naturally dry – it can be sweetened, if only very lightly. Secondly, the categories are overlapping. In fact the sugar contents is not the only difference, there is also a taste description that should help to draw the lines between separate categories.
Another style worth mentioning is East India sherry, bottled by Lustau and named after the tradition of maturing wines in the holds of ships that sailed for the East Indies (this practice was not exclusive to sherry, also Madeira, whisky and other spirits were treated this way). The motion of the ship and the specific climatic conditions would create a softer, more gentle style of sherry. Today the style is recreated by blending some Pedro Ximénez with Oloroso.
Because of its sweetness, it should be served lightly chilled, between 9 and 12°C. It can be had in a wide variety of ways: with sweet apple pie or other kinds of pastry, after dinner on the side with a coffee, or with paté, foie gras and mature cheese. Some people tend to drink it as an aperitif, usually with ice, but this will not suit the purpose of an aperitif to start the appetite very well.