Vinos generosos de licor: the perfect blend of sherry

by Great British Chefs 27 April 2022

Sweet blended sherries, or vinos generosos de licor as they’re known in Spain, account for roughly half of the sherry drunk in Britain yet often aren’t held in as high esteem as their unblended counterparts. We take a closer look at the different types of vinos generosos de licor and what makes them so special.

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Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews as well as access to some of Britain’s greatest chefs. Our posts cover everything we are excited about from the latest openings and hottest food trends to brilliant new producers and exclusive chef interviews.

There are a multitude of different things that make people fall in love with wine, but one of the biggest attractions to it as a drink is the fact it has such a huge variety of different styles and subtypes, with something for practically every palate. Few wines better demonstrate this than sherry, which itself encompasses a plethora of styles ranging from the beautiful dryness of fino to the stunning sweetness of Pedro Ximénez. However, lying somewhere in between the dry and the ultra-sweet sherries at either end of the scale are blended sherry wines, or vinos generosos de licor such as cream sherry, which, although often misconceived as being inferior to unblended styles, can actually be just as exceptional and a brilliant introduction to the drink more broadly.

According to the rules laid out by the Denomination of Origin, there are three different distinct families of sherry, all of which are very distinct both in terms of the way they’re produced, and their final taste and appearance. The first of these groups is the generoso vinos (dry sherry wines) which includes fino and oloroso amongst its varieties and is produced by complete fermentation. Also produced via fermentation are the dulces naturales (naturally sweet sherry wines) such as muscatel and Pedro Ximénez, but for these the fermentation process is stopped early to ensure a higher sugar content. The vinos generosos de licor meanwhile, are unique as they’re obtained via the process of blending these other two styles of sherry together (a practice known as cabeceo), which leads to a huge number of different varieties. What was it though, that originally led bodegas to start making these blended sherries?

Unlike most types of sherry whose origins are rooted in the south of Spain, the vinos generosos de licor actually have a history that’s closely linked to the UK. Up until the mid-nineteenth century, there hadn’t been a huge amount of experimentation with blending dry and sweet sherries. However, as wine grew in popularity more broadly throughout Europe in the 1800s, wine merchants from the UK began coming to Jerez to request blends which were adjusted to British taste. This was how the likes of cream sherry first came to be, with some brands even producing their own blended sherry in the UK. Whilst all styles of sherry must now be produced in the Jerez region of Spain, there’s no doubt that the British palate ultimately had a big impact on the sweet blended sherry wines we know today.

Nowadays, these vinos generosos de licor are typically split into three styles: pale cream, medium, and cream sherry, all of which end up with a sugar content over five grams per litre but differ in terms of which dry sherry is used as the base and what is used to sweeten them. Pale cream sherry is not only the least sweet of the vinos generosos de licor but is a far more recent creation than the other two styles, only being officially recognised by the DOG in the sixties. Made by adding concentrated must to either fino or manzanilla, pale cream sherry combines the crispness of wines aged under flor with a touch of sweetness to maintain freshness but eradicate any bitter aftertaste.

Blended sherries with between five and one hundred and fifteen grams of sugar per litre are categorised as medium sherry (further split into medium dry and medium sweet) and are typically made with an amontillado base, giving them notes of sweet pastry and sometimes baked apple, which grow in the mouth after the initial dryness. Lastly, the sweetest and probably best known of the generosos de licor is cream sherry, which is produced by blending oloroso with Pedro Ximénez. Boasting a fuller body than pale cream and medium sherry, creams tend to give off a hint of caramel on the nose, a well-balanced sweetness on the palate and a lingering sweet aftertaste, making them a popular choice for those with a sweeter tooth.

While these three styles of vinos generosos de licor all fall within the category of sweet blended sherries, they all very much have their own personality in terms of how and when they’re best served. Pale cream sherry, for example, is best served chilled due to its light and crisp style; whereas both medium and cream sherry should only be slightly chilled to around twelve degrees. Cream sherry also works particularly well as part of a cocktail and actually can even be served ‘on the rocks.’ The varying degrees of sweetness in these wines also means that they each can pair brilliantly with particular foods. Although the sweetness of cream sherry pairs brilliantly with desserts, it’s an equally great accompaniment to the likes of blue cheese and even foie gras, as that sweetness can cut through these richer, fattier flavours. Likewise, pale creams also work brilliantly alongside foie gras due to their balance of acidity and sweetness. Medium sherries, meanwhile, can stand up fantastically well alongside spicy foods, acting as a great alternative to off-dry white wines like Riesling.

Whether served as aperitifs, used in cocktails, or paired with food, these sweet blended sherries are not only some of the most versatile styles around, but can also act as a great introduction to sherry more broadly, particularly for those with a sweeter tooth. The vinos generosos de licor may not quite have the reputation that the likes of fino do, but they should most certainly be held in just as higher regard.