Wine & Food

Snooth User: Mary Margaret McCamic

Pairing Wine with Desserts

Posted by Mary Margaret McCamic, Jun 9, 2012.

Most of the time, I choose to drink my dessert - that is, I'll have a glass of Sauternes all alone instead of partnering it with a lemon tart or some other delicious treat to end to a meal. Sometimes, though, I really like to play with pairing dessert with wine.

Opinions about how to do this are often split - many refuse to pair a sweet wine with a sweet dessert (despite what they are told by a sommelier or wine person) because it does, on paper, seem like "too much." But, if you try a bone dry wine with something sugary, the wine almost always falls flat. This week, I had a class with my pastry students about pairing desserts with wine, and we conducted a few experiments. I offered up a range of wines for them to try with their desserts, some dry (the Xavier Gerard Viognier from the Rhone Valley - 13.5% abv, dry, but super floral and perfumed on the nose) and some quite sweet and even nutty (a 2003 Felsina Vin Santo from Chianti Classico). The beauty of it all is that pairing is subjective - the only pairing they all felt was delicious was a 2011 Sant'Evasio Moscato d'Asti with a slice of white cake and white icing. Who says Champagne is a must at a wedding?!? They also really liked the Brachetto d'Acqui with a chocolate covered strawberry.

I wonder if anyone has some favorite dessert wine pairings that they'd be willing to share? In case you're interested, here's the list of wines we tried below. Desserts ranged from simple fresh fruit with whipped cream to dark chocolate brownies to creme brulee. It was fun to share my opinions with them, but it was even more interesting to see how favorite partnerships ranged from person to person. The portions were small, but man, I don't think I'll need any sugar in my diet for at least 2 weeks.

2009 Xavier Gerard Viognier

2010 Dr. Pauly Bergweiler Noble House Riesling

2011 Sant'Evasio Moscato d'Asti

2007 Corte Majoli Amarone

2011 Sant'Evasio Brachetto d'Acqui

2003 Felsina Vin Santo del Chianti Classico


Reply by jtryka, Jun 9, 2012.

I think I am more like you, I am not a really big dessert fan, so often I'll just finish my wine from dinner for my dessert.  However, I'll acknowledge a few weaknesses, I do really love cheesecake, or any other cheese type desserts like a wonderful cannoli when at a nice Italian restaurant.  When I've induged in the past, I've found that a nice tannic red, maybe a cab sauv, or even a nice blend that has some tartness on the hinish can play very well against the creaminess of a nice cheesecake.  And of course there's always the classic dark chocolate and red wine, but I usually indulge there as the waiter brings chocolates with the check and I'm still finishing my wine from dinner!

Reply by GregT, Jun 10, 2012.

THere are a few threads about this issue but for me, the fortified wines and thick, raisined wines can work with some dishes - sweet sherries, Port, fortified wines from Australia, etc., and things like vin santo. For me, that's because the essential quality of those wines is the sugar. So a walnut tart with a vin santo or sherry can be pretty good, or a not-too-sweet peach or apricot tart.

Lighter wines, like botrytized wines tend to fail completely with dessert IMO.  Better with some cheese or nuts. Those wines tend to be more complex and less about the sugar alone. Things like sparkling Moscato or Braccheto are also best alone, although sometimes they work with a simple kind of cake/pastry. The problem is in the US, people think cake comes with some horrid confectioner's sugar-based frosting and that pretty much ruins any wine.  And chocolate of course, is a complete failure with any wine IMO, other than something fortified like a Tawney Port or a sherry.

Reply by Terence Pang, Jun 10, 2012.

It's a great shame that I drink more Moscato d'Asti than Brachetto d'Acqui. The latter is obsolutely fantastic with cream custard pudding. In my house, Moscato d'Asti is usually downed on its own.

I like vin santo with lightly toasted walnuts and sherry with chocolate mousse.

Reply by Mike Madaio, Jun 12, 2012.

I'm not ashamed to admit that my favorite dessert/beverage pairing is to match anything that's chocolatey and rich with a tall glass of...

...wait for it...

cold skim milk!

Seriously, it's the perfect pairing. Why spoil it with wine?

It's interesting, there's this perception that Cabernet goes really well with chocolate, but personally I don't get it. In most cases, the tannins in one bring out the tannins in the other.

On a semi-related note, I do like me some Pedro Ximinez after dinner.

Reply by GregT, Jun 13, 2012.

Well, a glass of milk would make me retch so I guess it really is different strokes!

Love cheese, don't want liquid milk around except in flan, coffee, bread pudding, etc.

And red wine and chocolate really is a disaster. Fat vs tannins?

Reply by dmcker, Jun 14, 2012.

Milk is a childhood thing for me. Still do desserts with it as snacks, but never after a large meal. But I also almost never try to pair dessert wines to proper desserts. Port with stilton and the like is one thing. But matching a tiramisu to any dessert wine, especially unfortified, is problematic. Grappa or other distilled brandies and the like are something else, however. ;-)   And a good sauternes or barsac or ___ can be an excellent dessert on its own. I do like Vin Santo with certain nutty bisquits, however I haven't had that as a dessert for years, now. More like a pick-me-up in place of a cuppa in the late afternoon.

Red wine and chocolate? It's a schizoid mess of a disaster of an abominable attack on the taste buds and texture sensing mechanisms. Calling it a clash is like calling an H-bomb an explosive device. IMHO.

And Mike, I still take fats in my milk and yoghurt and cottage cheese and the like. Never have cooked with anything but butter, olive, canola, sesame and a couple other oils, either--never dreamed of using margarine, and ignored it when people at first said palm oil/coconut milk was a disaster for you.  Use whole cream, too. My cholesterol is great, and body weight is fine when I exercise much at all. To me, taste and texture are extremely important.

I find it fascinating that we all have strong reactions to different things. Acquired tolerance is an issue, too. I know some people who claim after a month of switching from whole milk to skim or no-fat that they like it fine, then, even though the switch was rough at first. Me, I never can get past the first couple sips of the first glass. Guess I'm just weak....

Reply by Mike Madaio, Jun 14, 2012.

Agree about Milk after a large meal (especially if you are going for fatty versions) - it can be too filling.

I actually think Skim Milk is refreshing to drink, whereas Whole Milk is not, which is why I much prefer it as a pairing to a rich chocolate. On cereal, or in a Cappuccino, however, I'd prefer a fattier version.

Not really fair to compare skim to margarine though - skim milk is just milk with the fat removed, not replaced by the some of the worst ingredients you can put in your body.

Reply by GregT, Jun 15, 2012.

"Not really fair to compare skim to margarine though"

To be fair, D didn't actually do that although I agree with both of you that it's an abomination.

Years ago I owned a bakery with a French guy.  We'd make hundreds of croissants each day and I thought we could save some money so I asked him about swapping out some butter for margarine.

"No!" he cried.  "We don't make shit!"

I couldn't really argue with him.

Then I remembered another story, much farther back, when there was a huge influx of French into Detroit because of the Alliance, a crappy car if ever there was one. Anyhow, the local paper had a big article about the sophisticated French who'd arrived and how the Detroiters were learning so much from them. There was a pastry shop and the guy was quite good and he made croissants with 100% butter, which at the time was unusual in Detroit. Both the croissants and the butter.

Anyhow, the magazine interviewed some of the French people and this exec for Renault was commenting on the croissants from this place.

"Nice," he said smiling, "but I prefer part margarine.  It makes for a better texture."

Still irritates me for some reason.


Reply by Mike Madaio, Jun 15, 2012.

haha, funny story

Reply by outthere, Jun 19, 2012.

I can't see pairing dessert wines with anything but my mouth. Tonight it's an 06 JC Cellars Late Harvest Viognier. Richer than butter if you can believe that. Might go well with a Croissant and a defibrillator.

Reply by Mary Margaret McCamic, Jun 21, 2012.

Nice comments - I agree, there's a myth out there that chocolate and red wine are a match made in heaven, but I've never been able to do it myself. The only styles that have been successful for my palate are sweet - Banyuls, Maury, and the like. Sometimes you have to literally show people that reallly dry wines don't work best with sweet desserts to convince them - this was a big part of the class, and the discussion of sweet with sweet.

It is interesting to hear reactions to wine with dessert. A lot of people don't seem to love it, and as I mentioned, it's often too much for me. I once had a phenomenal pairing at Eleven Madison Park that involved Billecart Salmon Demi-Sec - it's funny that I can't remember the dessert, but I do remember the wine - very well. One of my favorite Champagne producers!

Oh, and Mike - I love milk with dessert, too. I was raised with a glass of milk at dinner, and I can drink it any time. We always did skim, though, so I don't know if that really counts...

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