From nutty, caramelized pecan pie to spiced gingerbread cookies, the holiday season is chock-full of decadent desserts. When you find the perfect dessert wine pairing for each of these classic treats, you make the experience feel even more indulgent. A honey-like Riesling can bring out the nutmeg and cinnamon notes in a slice of pumpkin pie, while a rich vintage port can add a complex layer of fruitiness to a cup of chocolate mousse. Fine wine has the power to elevate even the simplest desserts, making them taste as though they were made from scratch in a French patisserie.
Yet finding the perfect dessert wine pairing can be a challenge, especially if, like most people, you plan on serving more than one dessert this season. To take your favorite holiday treats from ordinary to extraordinary, you’ll want to look for sweet wine styles that still have layers of complex flavors.. By investing in the right bottles and finding wines that complement the flavors of each dessert, you’ll end all of your holiday parties on a high note this year.
Serve True Dessert Wines with Dessert
One common mistake wine enthusiasts make when pairing wine with dessert is focusing too strongly on the flavor of the wine itself rather than considering how that wine interacts with the dish. For example, a bottle of 2005 Château Pontet-Canet is undoubtedly rare and of exceptional quality, but if you serve this wine with a sweet dessert, the wine could taste too acidic and tannic by comparison. The pairing simply doesn’t do this incredible wine any justice.
After your taste buds are exposed to sweet foods, like pie or cheesecake, they become temporarily accustomed to the elevated sugar levels. If you take a sip of dry wine shortly after taking a bite of sweet dessert, you’ll usually find it to be too bitter compared to the food. This is true whether you’re serving a $20 bottle of table wine or a $5,000 bottle of Pétrus.
There’s nothing wrong with showing off your most treasured bottles of wine at a holiday party. After all, it gives you the opportunity to celebrate a special occasion by sharing your wine with your friends and family, or simply enjoying the wine you so carefully curated. But if you want your guests to have an enjoyable dining experience, stick with true dessert wines.
A true dessert wine is either very sweet or fortified with distilled spirits, like brandy. You’ll find these qualities most often in Port, Madeira, or in wines that have been exposed to noble rot, like Sauternes. Other popular and valuable sweet wines include Tokaji, Viognier, and certain types of Riesling. There are also many rare and age-worthy dessert wines worth keeping in your cellar long-term, until you’re ready to break them out at the end of a holiday celebration. Below are just a few characteristics you should consider when you invest in a top-quality dessert wine collection.
Getting Creative with Dessert Wine Pairings
When you’re shopping for the right dessert wine, you don’t have to limit yourself to vintage Taylor Fladgate or Château d’Yquem (although these are foolproof selections). You can choose nearly any wine variety you prefer, as long as you ensure that the wine falls on the sweeter side of the spectrum and matches the flavor of your dessert. For example, fruit-based desserts are less sugary can be paired with less-sweet wines. More decadent, rich desserts (like chocolate pots de crème) will pair best with wines that have a sweeter taste.
Once you’ve considered sugar levels, you should also think about how the color and flavor of the wine complement or contrast with your dessert in order to make your final decision. One of the easiest tricks for choosing the right wine for any dessert is to eliminate any wines that are significantly lighter or darker in color than the treat that you want to serve. If you’re eating a slice of dark chocolate cake, then you can eliminate Riesling or Sauternes as an option; if you’re serving peach cobbler, eliminate any dark reds, like red Port. This rule isn’t true in all cases, but it will help you narrow your list of possible pairings down to only the most reliable.
Now consider the flavors of the wine. Do any of the flavors in the wine’s tasting notes match the flavors of your dessert? You may find flavors like cherry, which would pair well with cherry pie, or you may find coffee notes, which would complement dark chocolate desserts that have a hint of bitterness. Likewise, Sauternes is famous for its tropical fruit flavors, which would pair well with any citrus or pineapple-heavy dishes.
Now that you know the basics of pairing wines with dessert, here are a few essential dessert wines you should have on-hand.
The Best Dessert Wine Pairings for Holiday Classics
The basic guidelines above should make it easy to devise your own dessert wine pairing. If you’d like some inspiration, though, we’ve created a list of delicious (and valuable) wines to pair with classic holiday desserts.
Crème brûlée and custards
Pair any custard-based dessert with a sweet white wine. This dessert goes especially well with wines that have a tropical or citrus fruit flavor to offset the density of the custard. Wines with caramel notes also pair well with custard.
Fresh fruit or fruit pies
Match your fruit-based desserts to the fruit notes in the wine. Stone fruits like peaches pair best with white wines, while dark fruits (like cherry, plum, or blackberry) pair better with red wines.
- 2001 Château D’Yquem
- 2016 Taylor Fladgate Porto Vintage
- 2013 Royal Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos Red Border
Pecan pie and other extremely sweet desserts
The very sweet, bold flavors of pecan pie will overpower nearly any wine except a high-quality port.
Chocolate cake and other dark chocolate treats
Pair chocolate cake with a rich red wine, such as port.
- 2017 Dow’s Vintage Port
- 2016 Quinta Do Noval Nacional Vintage Port
- 2009 Taylor Fladgate Quinta De Vargellas Vinha Velha Vintage Port
When you invest in these wines, you not only will have a perfect dessert wine pairing ready for any holiday event, but you’ll also have a long-term investment asset should you choose to keep the wine and resell it later.
Collecting Dessert Wines
A wine collection is a unique financial investment because you have the choice to either drink your bottles now or keep them in storage and resell them for a profit after they gain in value. This is just as true of sweet dessert wines as it is of fine tannic wines like Nebbiolo or Sangiovese. Some of the best white wines for investment can be Sauternes, particularly Château d’Yquem, especially if you buy them young or en primeur. For this reason, it’s important to have at least a few dessert wines in your collection, even if you’re unsure whether you’ll drink them this season. In fact, it’s very easy to invest in dessert wines because many of them are fortified or crafted to stand the test of time and become more complex with age.
In a sense, dessert wines offer some of the greatest flexibility of any wine on the market. Most sweet wines can be drunk young or old, so you can pull them out of storage whenever you’re craving something a little indulgent. By having a number of dessert wines ready and waiting in home storage or at a professional storage facility, you can bring that much more extravagance to the holidays while adding significant value to your investment portfolio.
Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s finest wine.