Pairing Wine with Dessert

Posted on 07-03-2017

Author: Lamar Engel

Date: 5/3/2015

Would You Like to See a Dessert Menu?     
Today’s lesson – Discuss how to best pair wine with dessert.

Before I divulge my reckless findings, I thoroughly recommend conducting lots of after-dinner research to ensure that you’ve properly mastered this delicious art, it is very rewarding.
When pairing dessert and wine, the primary consideration is balance. Most desserts are too sweet to be paired with everyday drinking wines. The wine loses its richness and comes across flat, possibly even tart or bitter depending on what it’s served with. The key to balance is choosing a wine that is a bit sweeter than the accompanying dessert.

Wine and chocolate is a popular match. They are also one of the trickiest to pair because chocolate has varying levels of sweetness, which strongly affects the choice of wine. Cabernet Sauvignon and chocolate are a common match, however, chocolate needs to be bittersweet or it may over-enhance the dryness and make the wine taste bitter.

Generally the best wine to serve with chocolate is Port. Ruby Ports are often the best choice as they are big, rich, and sweet enough to handle most chocolates. Two of my favorite ruby Ports are Warre’s Warrior and Graham’s Six Grapes. Both pair beautifully with chocolate dessert and are typically available at most restaurants. Tawny Ports are also well suited for chocolate. They are the lightest, sweetest, and most buttery of all Ports. I suggest a Yalumba Galway Pipe and Graham’s 20 –year old Tawny.

A lesser known but truly wonderful match for most chocolate is Banyuls, a Port-like French wine made from Grenache grapes. Somewhat woodsy like a Tawny Port, Banyuls has sweet flavors of vanilla and cinnamon, but also has a bit of acidity, which helps cut through richer, mouth-coating chocolates.

In addition to keeping balance when pairing wine and dessert, other characteristics to consider are acidity, flavor, and texture. For example, a dessert such as apple pie with a brown sugar crust is quite sweet but not rich enough to be paired with heavy Port. This dessert is best with something rich and sweet but low in acidity, such as Vidal Ice Wine or Sauternes. Many Ice Wines are also well suited for cream- based desserts such as crème brulèe and cheesecake.  

If a dessert has a fair amount of acidity, such as a lemon tart, it needs a lighter, less sweet wine with a bit more acidity. A Riesling or Moscato D’Asti would work nicely with fruit desserts that are not too sweet. With just the right touch of honeyed sweetness balanced by crisp acidity, Hogue Late Harvest White Riesling from Washington State’s Columbia Valley is an excellent choice.

By matching the sweetness, acidity, texture, and dominant flavors of a dessert with those of the wine, you’ll probably find a match that works for you.

Experimentation is, fortunately, the best lesson!