So, I’m absolutely certain that you’re a fan of both desserts and wine if you’re here reading this. And guess what? I’m right there with you (and I’m willing to bet 98% of the world’s population is on the same page). But, as with all the fantastic things in life, there are some, let’s affectionately call them, guidelines when it comes to pairing wines with dessert.
There are a few nifty tricks and general tips you should keep in mind to make the most out of your dessert and wine pairing experience (unless, of course, you’ve got a sommelier at your beck and call; they can handle the nitty-gritty while you enjoy your delicious dessert and sip your wine).
Table of Contents
In this article, we’ll learn about the art of dessert and wine pairings, offering a comprehensive guide to make your next wine and dessert pairing a memorable one.
Wine Pairing with Chocolate Desserts
Chocolate desserts have a wide range of flavors and intensities, from light and milky to bittersweet dark chocolate. To complement these flavors, you’ll want a wine that can hold its own.
Light and Milk Chocolate: Pair with a Ruby Port or a late-harvest Zinfandel. The fruity notes of these wines beautifully balance the creamy profile of these chocolates.
Dark Chocolate: Dark chocolate’s intensity calls for equally robust partners. Tawny Port wines shine in this role, offering complex flavors that dance alongside the bittersweet notes of the dark chocolate desserts.
White Chocolate: Generally, white chocolate goes great with sparkling wine and white wine. Try pairing it with Muscat, White Port, or a late harvest Riesling.
Chocolate Mousse: This airy chocolate dessert is beautifully complemented by a Ruby Port’s sweet and fruity profile. For a delightful contrast, consider a late-harvest Zinfandel with its fruity notes that balance the richness of the chocolate mousse.
Wine Pairing with Caramel Desserts
Caramel desserts offer a delicate balance of sweetness and depth, and they deserve wines that can enhance their rich, caramelized flavors.
Caramel Flan: Tawny Port’s caramel and nutty flavors are a natural match for the creamy, custardy goodness of caramel flan.
Butterscotch Pudding: Try Tokaji or Cream Sherry. The honeyed sweetness and nutty undertones of these wines complement the dessert’s rich, buttery flavors.
Caramel Apple Pie: Late-Harvest Riesling is a wonderful choice to pair with the fruity sweetness of caramel apple pie.
Wine Pairing with Vanilla & Custard Desserts
Vanilla and custard desserts go great with white and sparkling wines.
Ice-Cream: Vanilla ice cream goes great with Prosecco.
Cheesecake: It can be elevated with an off-dry Riesling or a Zinfandel Rosé. These wines balance the richness and provide a refreshing contrast.
Crème Brûlée: The rich, creamy custard of crème brûlée is wonderfully complemented by Sauternes or an aged Riesling. These wines bring out the dessert’s caramelized top layer and its velvety custard.
Tiramisu: Prosecco Secco, Champagne Demi-Sec, and Asti Spumante are ideal choices to enhance the coffee, cocoa, and mascarpone flavors of tiramisu.
Panna Cotta: Late-Harvest Riesling and Moscato are exquisite matches for the silky, vanilla-infused panna cotta. Their floral and fruity notes enhance the dessert’s creamy simplicity.
Wine Pairing with Fruit-Based Desserts
When pairing with fruit-based desserts, it’s all about highlighting the fruit’s natural sweetness and acidity.
Apple Pie: Its flavors are best complemented by Ice Wine or a late-harvest Gewürztraminer. These wines intensify the apple’s sweetness and balance the dessert’s natural tartness.
Peach Cobbler: The luscious, juicy peaches in a cobbler shine when paired with Moscato d’Asti or Riesling. These wines echo the fruity sweetness of the dessert.
Strawberry Shortcake: The crisp acidity and fruit flavors of a good Rosé will enhance the natural sweetness of the strawberries and add a refreshing contrast to the dessert’s richness.
Wine Pairing with Nutty Desserts
Nutty desserts, with their rich, toasted flavors, require wines that can balance and accentuate the nuts’ character.
Pecan Pie: The nutty, caramel notes of pecan pie harmonize beautifully with Amontillado Sherry or Tawny Port. These wines offer a complementary nuttiness and depth.
Baklava: The layers of syrup-soaked pastry and mixed nuts in baklava find their match in Muscat or Pedro Ximénez Sherry.
Almond Cake: Cream Sherry and Bual Madeira are top choices for almond cake.
Wine Pairing with Citrus Desserts
Citrus desserts benefit from wines that complement and enhance the fruit’s natural brightness.
Lemon Bars: The zingy lemon flavors of lemon bars find a superb companion in Late-Harvest Riesling. The wine’s sweetness and acidity highlight the dessert’s citrusy notes.
Key Lime Pie: Moscato and Late-Harvest Sauvignon Blanc are great choices. Their sweetness balances the tartness of the pie.
Lemon Sorbet: When indulging in lemon sorbet, consider Prosecco or Vin Santo. Their crisp acidity and gentle sweetness provide a refreshing contrast to the sorbet’s zesty citrus notes.
Wine Pairing with Spicy Desserts
Spicy desserts present a unique challenge for wine pairings. The ideal wine should complement the dessert’s sweet and spicy flavors without overwhelming them. Dessert wines are usually a safe bet.
Gingerbread: Tawny Port’s nutty and spicy notes complement the warm spices of gingerbread, creating a harmonious pairing that highlights the dessert’s complexity.
Pumpkin Pie: Late-Harvest Gewürztraminer enhances the spiced sweetness of pumpkin pie, offering a delicate balance of sweetness and aromatic complexity.
Spiced Apple Cake: The comforting spices in spiced apple cake come to life with Ice Wine. Its sweetness and bright acidity enhance the dessert’s apple and spice flavors.
General Guidelines for Dessert Wine Pairing
Okay, let’s see what the main principles for dessert and wine pairings are:
Balance the Sweetness
The wine should have a level of sweetness that complements the sweetness of the dessert. It doesn’t mean the wine needs to be equally sweet, but rather, it should have a sweetness level that either matches or contrasts in a way that enhances the overall experience.
If you have a very sweet dessert, like a rich chocolate cake, consider a wine with a similar level of sweetness, such as a late-harvest Riesling or a dessert wine like Tawny Port. For lighter desserts, like fruit salad, opt for a semi-sweet wine like a Moscato d’Asti.
The acidity in wine can help cut through the richness of many sweet desserts, providing a harmonious contrast. High-acid wines like Riesling, a late-harvest Chenin Blanc, or sparkling wines are excellent choices. (1)
If the dessert is quite acidic or citrusy, like a lemon tart, a wine with higher acidity can balance the flavors.
Look for wines that harmonize with the flavors in your dessert. For example, fruity desserts may pair well with wines with dark fruit flavors.
Or, a dessert with caramel or toffee flavors could be enhanced by a wine with nutty or caramel notes (like a fortified wine).
The texture of your dessert can influence the wine choice. Creamy desserts often pair beautifully with sweeter, full-bodied wines.
Sometimes, matching a dessert and wine from the same region can be magical. Think about traditional pairings – like Port with pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts, a.k.a. the best dessert ever).
Wine and dessert pairing is also about personal preferences, so don’t be afraid to experiment and find what you enjoy most. Try different combinations to discover the right wine for your dessert wine pairings.
There’s no wine and dessert pairing police, so if dark chocolate with Barolo works for you, hey, you do you. The only thing that matters is your enjoyment, and not following any strict rules.
Alright, dessert and wine lovers, I believe we’ve discovered some fantastic dessert pairings. The key is to make sure to match the flavors (or, find the contrasting pairings that work well).
However, above all, the absolute most important thing is that both the wine and the dessert are simply delicious. Then, even if the pairing isn’t perfect, who cares? You’ve got wine, and you’ve got dessert, so life’s good!
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