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BY THE GLASS

Thanks to Pedro Ximénez, you can drink your dessert

The Spanish grape is essential to lusciously sweet sherry

For when you're craving something sweet.Ellen Bhang

Two days before Christmas found me at the supermarket, contemplating the saddest chocolate cake in the world.

The clumsy approximation of a bûche de Noël bore only a passing resemblance to the festive Yule log dessert. A decidedly ungenerous scattering of candy sprinkles dotted the frosting, while a squiggle of icing stood in for what should have been a spiral of cake rolled around whipped filling. “Maybe I should get it,” I thought. My reaction surprised even me.

I never crave dessert. While others press their noses against patisserie shop windows — me, not so much. But after two years of pandemic uncertainty, my predilection for sugar has spiked. If you can relate, now is the moment to explore sweet wines fortified with distilled grape spirits — especially those crafted with an essential Iberian grape.

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Pedro Ximénez, also known as PX, is a golden-skinned variety grown in Montilla-Moriles in southern Spain’s Andalucía. Winemakers in the Marco de Jerez, located on Andalucía’s southwestern coast, use PX wines to craft sweet sherries. (Sherry, you may recall, encompasses a wide range of styles. Some age under a veil of naturally occurring yeast, called flor; others age oxidatively. Key to their development are soleras, tiered systems of casks that allow for extended aging and the gradual blending of new wine into old.) While the vast majority of sherry is dry — think briny, tapas-friendly fino and amontillado — there’s plenty to discover on the sweet end of the spectrum.

A lovely example of 100-percent Pedro Ximénez is crafted by El Maestro Sierra, a women-owned-and-led bodega in Jerez. Aged for 15 years in solera, this pour is a vino dulce natural, a naturally sweet sherry. Partial sun-drying of PX grapes concentrates sugars to the extent that even the most voracious yeasts have trouble fermenting all of that sweetness. Added grape spirits account for much of the alcohol in the syrup-like finished product.

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Next are vinos generosos de licor, or blended sherries. Valdespino’s “Contrabandista” and Lustau’s “East India Solera” are two examples made by venerable sherry bodegas. Both use solera-aged PX to sweeten dry sherries crafted from the palomino fino grape. While PX is not listed on either label, the grape represents 5 percent of the Valdespino, resulting in subtle sweetness, and 20 percent of the Lustau, which expresses a more prominent sugar profile. These rich wines pack quite an alcoholic punch, so a little splash goes a long way.

As for that supermarket cake, it remained on the shelf. But I have to feel grateful. It reminded me that I can drink my dessert.

El Maestro Sierra, Pedro Ximénez Golden amber in hue, with Calimyrna figs, raisins, and baking spice on the nose, it’s like candy in liquid form, with wisps of acidity and orange peel to keep things fresh. Drizzle on vanilla ice cream, or for a sweet-tart contrast, splash on Greek-style yogurt. 15 percent ABV. Distributed by Oz Wine Co. Around $20 for 375 ml. At Burlington Wine & Spirits, Burlington, 781-272-3889; Andover Classic Wines, Andover, 978-470-0500.

Valdespino “Contrabandista” Medium Dry Amontillado Blend Scents of nuts, brine, cigar box, and toffee take the lead in this amber brown pour, leading to a palate of toasted nuts, burnt caramel, and appetizing tanginess. Terrific with salted Marcona almonds. 18 percent ABV. Distributed by Vineyard Road. Around $22 for 750 ml. At Porter Square Wine & Spirits, Cambridge, 617-547-3110; Gordon’s Main Street, Waltham, 781-893-1900.

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Lustau “East India Solera” Cream Sherry Crafted to mimic the historic profile of sherry aged in the holds of a sea-going ships, this dark amber sipper expresses sweet-tangy flavors of milk chocolate, burnt clementine peel, raisins, and cinnamon. Serve alongside dark chocolate. 20 percent ABV. Distributed by M.S. Walker. Around $25 for 750 ml. At The Spirited Gourmet, Belmont, 617-489-9463; Lower Falls Wine Co., Newton, 617-332-3000.

Ellen Bhang can be reached at bytheglass@globe.com


Ellen Bhang can be reached at bytheglass@globe.com