Why Dessert Wine Pairing Is Different
Dry wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Pinot Noir, have exploded in popularity in recent years as people seek to cut out extraneous sugar. But… sometimes, you need a little sweet wine treat. This is where dessert wine comes in! Meant to be enjoyed in small glasses and savored slowly, these options can be the perfect after-dinner indulgence. What should you know about dessert wine pairing before your next dinner party, romantic dinner, or “you” time?
Dessert Wine Pairing: Why It's Different
Dessert wine pairing is different because the wine itself is very different. It is meant to be enjoyed in small servings, and as we’ll discuss, it is sweeter than other wines due to the variations in the fermentation process. Because it is a “dessert” wine, it is understandable that you want to serve dessert with it! Sweet on sweet can be tricky, so it is important to balance flavors.
Types of Dessert Wine
First, what is a “sweet wine” or “dessert wine”? Well, if winemakers are creating dessert wine, they stop the fermentation process before the yeast transforms all the sugars into alcohol. They can do this by super-cooling the wine or by adding the appropriate amount of brandy. What you end up with is a rich, sweet wine replete with wonderful, natural sugars.
When people think of dessert wine, they typically think of port and sherry. Correct! These are two types of dessert wine - but there are more to explore:
- Sparkling (e.g. Moscato, some Riesling, Rose, some Gewurztraminer)
- Lightly Sweet (some Gewurztraminer, some Riesling, Chenin Blanc)
- Richly Sweet (e.g. some Riesling, some Gewurztraminer, Sauternais, Ice Wine)
- Sweet Red (e.g. Zinfandel, Mourvedre, Malbec, Petite Sirah, and some Bordeaux-style red blends)
- Fortified (e.g. Port, Sherry)
Now, any of these types of dessert wines can make a great dessert in and of itself, particularly if it’s a good, rich port or sherry. But what if you want to serve up a little something extra?
Your Dessert Wine Pairing Guide
The key to great dessert wine pairing is to ensure that the wines you serve compliment the dishes without overpowering them. For example, a hearty, rich Merlot with a delicate tart is not optimal because the substantive wine takes over. You won’t appreciate the elegant, airy dessert, and the wine, too, can suffer because it may seem like just too much.
Here are some of our suggestions:
- Very Sweet Desserts: If you’re enjoying a pecan pie, cheesecake, creme brulee, chocolate cake, or other decadent dessert, try a wine that will stand up to these sweet treats. You’ll need an aged madeira or port to hit all the right notes.
- Sweet Desserts: Those chocolate chip or sugar cookies are calling to you. Chocolate chip and Cabernet Sauvignon and sugar cookies and Chardonnay are matches made in dessert heaven!
- Sweet/Savory: What pairs perfectly with pumpkin pie? To compliment the savory hints, try a lightly sweet wine like Riesling.
- Sweet/Spicy: You’ve baked up a batch of gingerbread cookies, and the scent of cinnamon is making your mouth water. Choose a sweeter wine with some hint of spice to maximize impact! Riesling is a great choice here. For desserts with molasses, try a nice Pinot Noir.
- Fresh Fruit/Fruit Pies: If your dessert features stone fruits (e.g. peach, nectarines, apricots), try slightly sweet whites; if you’re going with dark fruits (e.g. cherries, plums, blackberries), go with a sweet red.
We have found that the best way to discover your favorite dessert wine pairing is to experiment! What’s your favorite combination? Does Sherry or Port overpower your delicate torts? Why not try a Chardonnay? Does Riesling get lost in creme brulee? You may need to up the sweetness factor. In any case, it comes down to your palette.
Our advice: plan your own dessert wine pairing taste test, and see what you and your friends/family discover!