Walnut, blue cheese and cranberry cookies pair perfectly with sweet dessert wines!

Most wine lovers have tasted the sweet Ports of Portugal. Sadly, the sweet dessert Sherries from Jerez, in Spain, are not as well known today as they once were.

Combined with these easy to make savoury fruit, nut and cheese cookies, Ports and sweet Sherries are great gourmet gifts. And, of course, it is getting very close to that gifting time…

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Walnut, Blue Cheese & Cranberry Cookies

1 cup crumbled blue cheese

Half cup salted butter, room temp

Half tsp. fresh ground black pepper

1 cup flour

Three quarters cup walnut bits and crumbs

Three quarters cup chopped dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 325’F. Mix cheese, butter and pepper until roughly blended. Stir in flour, nuts and cranberries until doughy. Form dough into one inch balls and press flat to one quarter inch. Bake 20 –25 minutes until golden around bottom edges. Substitute aged grated cheddar for the blue cheese, if desired – but add an extra tablespoon of butter.

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The best-known dessert wine is Port – made by adding Brandy to half-fermented wine to trap the fruity grape sugars. Other wine regions make their own dessert wines but to be called ‘Port’ the wine must be grown and made in the Douro Valley in the north of Portugal.

Vintage Port is made from the wines of one exceptional ‘declared’ year and bottled after only two years in cask. Dark purple in colour and very true to the real fresh foot-crushed grape flavours, Vintage Ports are made from a wide variety of grapes – primarily Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cão and Tinta Amarela.

Silky and sweet and definitely ready to drink now – although it will continue to evolve in the bottle for at least another 10 years – Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos 2001 (358721) $31.99/375ml oozes aromas and flavours of sweet blackberry, mulberry, prunes, cherry and raisins.

Once known as ‘Vintage Character’ Ports, ‘Reserve’ Ports are house blends of Ports from a number of different years. They are much more affordable but less intensely flavoured than their ‘Vintage’ counterparts and great introductions to the wonders of Port.

Priced for mid-week sipping Warre’s Warrior Finest Reserve Port $24.99 is fresh and fruity, a luscious mouthful of jammy cherry, plum and berry flavours that slides into dried figs, prunes and just a hint of chocolate in the finish.

Less well known than Port, Moscatel Do Douro is a golden coloured dessert wine, made from Moscatel Galego (aka: Muscat à Petits Grains) from the same Douro Valley where Port wines originate. Muscat is one of the oldest and most widespread grape families in the world.

Lightly fortified with brandy Conde du Sabagal Moscatel do Douro $25.99 leads with aromas of raisins, mandarin oranges and honey. Tasted, it shows those same flavours, as well wisps of cloves and cardamom. Serve chilled with soft white cheeses or Walnut, Blue Cheese & Cranberry Cookies.

Unlike Port – which is fortified before the fermentation is finished to trap the sweet grape sugars – Sherry is fortified after the fermentation is finished. In both cases, the fortifying spirit which paralyzes the natural yeasts gives the wines the ability to age for decades without spoiling.

Much as Port must be made in Portugal’s Douro Valley, Sherry must be made from grapes grown around the city of Jerez de Frontera, on the Mediterranean coast of Andalusia in south-west Spain. Progressing from dry to sweetest, those styles are Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado and Oloroso.

Imported into England in the 1700’s Sherry from Spain often arrived at the port of Bristol, where sweet blended sherry has been made since 1796. John Harvey & Sons developed the blend known as Harvey’s Bristol Cream in the 1860’s.

Harvey’s Bristol Cream (215483) $16.99 is routinely dismissed derisively as old-fashioned by sophisticated wine geeks. Perfectly paired with Walnut, Blue Cheese & Cranberry Cookies, made from Fino, Amontillado and Oloroso sherries sweetened with Pedro Ximénez, it offers a medley of delightfully sweet flavours of walnuts and raisins over prunes and molasses.

Reach WineWise by emailing douglas_sloan@yahoo.com

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