In more recent decades, cream sherry has been used as a special-occasion drink for people who don't drink much (notice the layer of dust on the bottle the next time someone offers you a glass) or as a sugar shot for folks who haven't gotten over their attachment to Frosted Flakes but are too proud to order Thunderbird. You could say that cream sherry has fought its way to the bottom of the heap.
All sherries, including cream, start out as completely dry wines. Then they are fortified; some alcohol is added. Cream sherry, which was developed by English merchants to compete with port, also gets a dose of a sweet wine called Pedro Ximinez. This could be a recipe for elegance, but until recently, anybody looking for elegant cream sherry was bound to be disappointed.
So I was surprised at a New Year's Day party to hear one of my wine-loving friends urging me to try a glass of Osborne Cream Sherry and a hunk of cheese. The wine itself was rich and concentrated, all the usual raisin and nut flavors showing up as expected. But there was none of the syrupiness that has made cream sherry such a joke. Instead, the wine had a spicy, earthy character and just enough sweetness to keep everything together.
The big surprise was how well the wine went with Spanish cheese. I was impressed enough to pick up a few more cheeses from Spain. What I got for my trouble was the blueprint for a surprising and delightful after-dinner course. Try one or more of the following Spanish cheeses with a glass of Osborne Cream Sherry, and you, too, will be pleasantly surprised.
Tetilla. This is a young cow's milk cheese with a light, slightly floral flavor and a creamy, spreadable texture. The slight bitterness of the sherry seemed to extend the flavor of the cheese.
Roncal. Comes from the Pyrenees in Navarre to the north of Spain. It is a medium-cured ewe's-milk cheese with a springy texture and slightly sharp and salty taste. Its flavor is rich and persistent. The sweetness and raisin aroma of the sherry blends with the cheese and the bitter, sour, sweet and salty tones combine. Yummy.
La Serena. This is one of the most unusual cheeses produced in Spain. It is made of ewe's milk and has a sour taste with a bitter tone. By itself, it's definitely one of those acquired tastes. Combined with the sherry, the sweetness and bitterness blended into something truly sensational.
Osborne Cream Sherry ($9). An elegant, powerful wine at an incredible price. Buy it now before everybody else and you'll be ahead of the curve on the new cream sherry craze that this is sure to spark.
Tradition calls for serving sherry in a tiny glass that looks like a miniature champagne flute. If you didn't inherit a set of these from Grandpa, use flutes and serve cool.