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Food & Wine Pairing - Desserts

Simple rules to get started pairing food and wine...

Wine and Dessert is a glorious combination...

Pairing Wine with Desserts

Dessert wine is a broad category of sweet wines meant to be served at the end of a meal. These wines are often sweeter and have a higher alcohol content than other types of wine, and they include a wide range of types such as fortified wines, sweet red wines, and sparkling wines. You can serve dessert wines with sweets or a cheese plate, but many dessert wines, such as Vini da Meditazione can be sipped alone.

Nearly every winemaking region in the world has its own sweet dessert wines. These are some of the best-known dessert wines:

  1. Eiswein: Literally “ice wine,” this unfortified sweet wine from Germany and Austria features grapes, often Riesling that have frozen on the vine, concentrating both their sweetness and acidity.
  2. Beerenauslese: This designation, which means “berry selection” in German, is given to wines in Germany and Austria that are made with grapes, such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer, that have been affected by noble rot.
  3. Passito: Passito is a category of unfortified Italian dried-grape wines. Drying the grapes concentrates the sugars, resulting in a sweeter, more alcoholic wine. Many popular Italian wines are also made as a Passito, such as Brachetto d’Acqui and Moscato di Pantelleria (Muscat of Alexandria).
  4. Moscato d’Asti: This sweet, unfortified, slightly sparkling wine comes from Piedmont in the northwest of Italy. Moscato d’Asti is more of a breakfast wine than a dessert wine, but Moscato d’Asti Vendemmia Tardiva, made from dried grapes, has a pronounced sweetness more typically associated with dessert. Both are made with Moscato Bianco (aka Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains).
  5. Madeira: Madeira is a fortified wine from the island of Madeira in Portugal, 450 miles off the coast of Morocco. Intentional oxidation during the winemaking process creates nutty, bruised-apple or apricot notes in styles that range from dry to quite sweet, and shades of light amber to tawny caramel.
  6. Port wine: This fortified wine gets its name from the city of Porto, Portugal, and is produced in the Douro Valley. Port is made from both white and red wine grapes. While port is always aged at least two years, tawny port is aged even longer, anywhere from 10 to 40 years.
  7. Tokaji Aszú: Made from partially dried grapes affected by noble rot, this unfortified wine from Hungary is high in residual sugar. It’s typically orange in colour due to skin contact in the winemaking process.
  8. Sauternes: Sauternes is a region in France, south of Bordeaux, famous for its production of unfortified sweet white wines. It is made primarily from Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes affected by noble rot.
  9. Vin doux Nature: Meaning “naturally sweet” in French, this wine is made by halting fermentation with the addition of alcohol. The grapes involved are typically Muscat grape varieties and Grenache.
  10. Sherry: This fortified wine is produced in the Jerez region of Spain and is made from the Palomino, Muscat, or Pedro Ximénez grape. Sherry production is unique in that the winemaker intentionally exposes the wine to oxygen, which imparts a nutty and briny flavour profile.

There are no hard and fast rules for pairing wines and desserts. Choose wines you love with desserts you love. Seek flavours that balance each other and wines that help you achieve your desired level of sweetness, and you’ll wind up with a delicious pairing.

Sorbets are so tangy and fruity that they are ruined by most wines. To make it work, try a sweet pink Moscato.

A chocolate cake pairs well with the deep notes in a nice Cabernet Sauvignon.

Go from a humble dessert lover to a verified connoisseur.

A Guide to Different Types of Desserts

Wines pair very well with desserts if you select the right combination. A good pairing enhances the flavors in both the wine and the dessert. Trying these pairings is an excellent way to take your dessert to the next level.

Wines for Dark Chocolate Desserts

Desserts such as dark chocolate torte, dark chocolate mousse, or dark chocolate truffles all pair very well with different wines that complement the rich, bittersweet flavours. You have all kinds of wine options ranging from sweet, fruity wines to dry reds.

Many wineries make raspberry, strawberry, and other berry wines. These wines are a beautifully classic flavour combination with dark chocolate desserts. Chocolate and berries go very well together, and the sweetness in the wine balances the bitterness of the chocolate perfectly.

Ruby Port has a deep, rich, dark fruit flavour that’s perfect with dark chocolate. In fact, it’s a delicious classic combination well worth a try as it balances the bitterness of dark chocolate with sweet, dark fruit flavours.

This bold, dry, spicy red from Australia often has big, bold, fruit-forward flavours that taste like berries and jam. While Shiraz is dry, the fruit flavours complement the dark chocolate well while the tannins cut through the fattiness of the dessert. The wine’s dryness also balances the sweetness of the chocolate while the jam flavours smooth out any bitterness.

  • Wines With Crème Brûlée and Vanilla-Flavoured Desserts

The most classic wine pairing for a Crème Brûlée is sweet white wine from the Bordeaux region. Both Sauternes and Barsac wines are made with SémillonSauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle grapes that have been infected with botrytis Cinera. This fungus adds layers of complexity to the wines while the lateness of the harvest means the wines have a high residual sugar content. The result is a lush, sweet wine with tropical flavours and a nice balanced acidity that perfectly complements the vanilla custard.

This white varietal has a slight sweetness to it. Typical flavours in Moscato wines include apricots and almonds, which complement the lush vanilla custard. Pairing a Moscato with Crème Brûlée also brings down the sweetness of the custard just a bit because although it has a slight sweetness, it isn’t over the top like other dessert wines.

This German dry white might seem like a surprising choice with a rich Crème Brûlée, but when you look at it terms of flavour and balance, it really makes sense. Gewürztraminer is a dry, spicy wine with nice acidity. The acidity cuts through the fat of the custard while the dryness of the wine helps balance the sweetness of the dessert. The spice of Gewürztraminer brings character to the mild vanilla flavours of the Crème Brûlée. This is a great wine choice for people who like their desserts slightly less sweet.

  • Pairing Wine With Apple Pie or Pear Desserts

Riesling from Germany comes in multiple levels of dryness and sweetness. The three best choices for apple dessert pairings are (from the least sweet to the sweetest) Kabinett, Spätlese, and Auslese. Riesling tends to have very high acidity, which cuts through the sweetness of pie well. It also has a lightly spicy character that blends with pie spices.

Finally, the flavour profile of Riesling often favours apples, pears, and other tree fruits, which blends well with the flavour of apples. If you prefer less sweetness in your wine to balance the sugar in the pie, choose a Kabinett. If you want a lot of sweetness in your wine, choose an Auslese.

Prosecco is a lightly fizzy Italian wine similar to Champagne. Prosecco comes in varying degrees of sweetness. To balance the sweetness of the pie, choose an off-dry Prosecco, which is lightly sweet but not overwhelming. Prosecco is crisp and acidic, which matches the acidity of the apples in the pie.

This Italian white is slightly fizzy with a light sweetness. It also has nice fruit flavours like apples and pears, which balances perfectly with an apple pie. While Moscato d’Asti is slightly sweet, it isn’t overpowering, so you won’t be layering super sweet on top of sweet.

  • Lemon Meringue Pie and Citrus Orientated Desserts

Ice wines are made from white wine grapes harvested after the first frost, so the sugars have concentrated. This makes ice wines deliciously sweet. This sweetness balances the acidity in lemon desserts, making a perfect and delicious pairing.

Late harvest white wines are made from grapes harvested late in the season. Therefore, the wines tend to be relatively low alcohol but higher in residual sugar. These wines range from slightly sweet to very sweet. Try a late harvest Viognier or Chardonnay, which tend to have citrusy flavours that will complement the lemon well.

A dry Champagne or Sparkling wine will also pair well with a lemon meringue pie. The biscuity flavors in Champagne match the flavors found in the crust while the toastiness of Champagne matches the browning of the meringue. Finally, Champagne tends to be dry, which will balance sweet flavors in the dessert.

  • Warm Spice Desserts

Tawny Port has a golden colour and a warm, rich flavour. The fortified wine tends to be sweet, but it also has wonderful caramel and spice flavours that perfectly complement the spices. 

Muscat is a fortified wine similar to a Tawny Port. It has sweet and spicy flavours as well as an appealing golden colour. The flavours of this wine are often described as warm, raisin like, or toffee-like. 

Madeira is a fortified wine from Portugal it comes in varying degrees of sweetness, from dry to sweet. Choose a sweet or semi-sweet Madeira to pair with your pumpkin dessert. Madeira tends to have smoky, spicy, and nutty flavours.

Hungarian Tokaji has rainy flavours that are lovely with spice and similar desserts. This is a sweet dessert wine that nicely balances the spice.

  • Tiramisu and Mocha Desserts 

Vin Santo is a sweet Italian dessert wine has a pretty golden colour. It tastes of nuts, such as hazelnuts with a touch of sweetness. Nuts and coffee go extremely well together, so a Vin Santo will balance out the coffee-flavoured Tiramisu beautifully.

Cream Sherry is a sweet, fortified wine with a mahogany colour. It has a nutty flavour with a touch of sweetness that balances the bitterness of the coffee flavours in a Tiramisu dessert.

Ruby Port is a fortified wine has a deep burgundy colour and a complex sweetness. Ruby Port tends to be fruit forward, with flavours of berries taking the forefront. It also has subtle undertones of nuts. The flavour of berries and nuts are the perfect complement to coffee flavoured desserts.

Whether it’s a summer pudding or a raspberry pie, berry desserts work well with various wines that complement their flavours.

Rosé wine ranges from dry to sweet, and it has delicate floral and berry notes that are perfect alongside berry desserts. For sweeter desserts, opt for a drier rosé to balance out sweetness.

Muscat-de-Beaumes-de-Venise is a sweet, fortified wine from the Rhône. It has fruity, honeyed, and citrus notes that go well with most berries and berry desserts.

The Spanish sparkling wine Cava can be dry or sweet, both which work well with berries. As with Rosé wines, opt for drier version with sweeter desserts and sweeter versions with less sweet desserts to create balance and contrast.

An all-round favourite, and wonderfully warm, sticky and fragrant, sticky date pudding is the perfect dessert to enjoy with Muscat– its delicious caramel-like flavour richness and depth is divine.

Home-made cheesecake usually isn’t overly sweet, so an off-dry (semi-sweet) Riesling style is a delicious match as it has just a hint of sweetness.

Who’s a tart? Sweet yet tartly astringent, good lemon tart is ideal with Late Harvest wines – especially those made with Riesling due to the variety’s classic lemon and lime characters.

A quality apple pie should actually have some attractive savoury elements, so you should only need an off-dry wine like a slightly sweet Prosecco to take it to the next level of yumminess.

Mmmmm chocolate. Muscat is sweet, rich, warm and chocolatey, so it’s the natural choice with chocolate-based desserts like gooey chocolate fudge brownie.

Tiramisu is such a comforting and textural dessert. Its layers of unravelling flavours make the gentle complexity of a Tawny Port the perfect accompaniment – don’t fight the temptation!

Ooh la la! Creamy and rich with fabulous texture due to the smokey toffee crunch, Brûlée and other cream-based desserts are fabulous with the marmalade richness and wonderful texture of Botrytis-affected wines.

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