Dessert and wine pairing suggestions

After having a conversation with Suzanne about Ben Rye, a Passito di Pantelleria, and possible dessert pairings, I decided that this was a good occasion to write a more detailed post about pairing desserts with wine. Suzanne writes a fantastic food blog. Why don’t you give it a visit? Maybe you find your favorite recipe there!

Desserts and wine: The right choices

2006 Trabucchi d'Illasi - Recioto - Recioto di SoaveEvery since their existence, desserts have been used to celebrate birthdays, weddings and other special occasions. In many countries, desserts get also served after dinner. If you are the host of a such a dinner then you have to ask yourself: “What wine should I pair with the dessert?” Should you pick a wine at all or is it better to go with something else? It is said that desserts are the most difficult to pair with wine. This guide will help you to make the right choices.  But remember, these are general rules and there are always exceptions. The guide will focus mostly on recommendations for traditional Italian desserts.

Let’s start with a common mistake that should better be avoided. Never pair dry wines with any type of dessert. Sadly it is a habit to match desserts with dry sparkling wines (extra brut). Why should this be avoided? Dry wines tend to destroy the wine’s flavors and we do not want that to happen. An exception are passtito-style sparkling wine that are especially common in Apulia.

 There are three factors to consider when looking for the right wine.

  1. Intensity – Intense wines call for rich desserts or for no dessert at all.
  2. Sweetness – The wine should always be sweeter than the dessert.
  3. Acidity – Acid wines tend to pair well with fruity desserts, which have a natural acidity.

Sweet bread loafs and foccaia dolce

Italy is famous for its sweet bread loafs. The Italian cuisine has three important types of sweet bread loafs. The first one is Pandoro, which is a traditional yeast bread loaf from Verona. Pandoro is most popular around Christmas. Colomba PasqualeA similar sweet bread is Panettone, which originated in Milan. Last but not least, there is Colomba Pasquale. This Easter cake is the counter-part to Panettone and Pandoro. It is also my favorite type of sweet bread loaf.

Focaccia is a flat Italian bread. Usually it is seasoned salt, herbs and olive oil but also sweet versions exists which are known as focaccia dolce.

Let’s focus on wine. Both, focaccia and sweet bread loafs, are characterized by their sweetness and succulence. Furthermore they are not intense and rather dry. If served together with candid fruits, dried fruits or almonds then the dessert is also characterized by its spiciness. Therefore, these desserts call for fruity, sparkling white wines like Moscato d’Asti DOCG. Moscato d’Asti is a sparkling wine from Piedmont. The wine is produced with 100% Moscato Bianco grapes and is known for its fruity sweetness and low alcohol level.
Alternatively, Pantelleria Moscato Spumante DOC could be served with these desserts. Pantelleria Moscato Spumante is a sweet sparkling wine from the tiny island Pantelleria. Here we have 100% Zibibbo grapes (same grapes that are used for Passito di Pantelleria). The wine is characterized by a fine, long-lasting perlage. The bouquet has aromas of fresh fruit. On the palate, the wine is sweet and the finish is long. Pantelleria Moscato Spumante has a higher ABV than Moscato d’Asti.

But beware, if the Colomba is stuffed with chocolate, vanilla cream or zabaione then these wine pairings will not work very well. To be safe, you should settle for sparkling water instead.

Tiramisù, mousse, semifreddi & bavarian cream

Semifreddo al pistacchio

Semifreddo refers to a variety of semi-frozen desserts like parfaits or certain fruit-tarts. The picture to your left shows a pistachio-semifreddo.

Tiramisù in the traditional way is a dessert that consists of layers of ladyfingers dipped in coffee (and sometimes with Marsala wine) with powdered chocolate and mascarpone cheese cream. Throughout history the recipe has been adapted many times into puddings and cakes. For our wine pairing, it is important the the tiramisù is prepared without alcohol.

Bayerische CremeBavarian cream is a rich custard set. This classic dessert originated in Bavaria, Germany. Main ingredients are pastry cream and gelatin. The dessert is often served with fruits. On the right, you see bavarian cream with sliced fruit and a red-berry fruit sauce.

Mousse is of French origin. There are many varieties of mousse. But all consists of whipped egg whites. Some are flavored with chocolate and others with fruits. For this wine pairing, we are only interested in fruity ones. For example a peach and mint mousse.

So what wine pairs well with these desserts? Here we are looking for sweet wines (not overly sweet) with a rather high ABV. Elegant, noble wines with intense aromas. The wines should be produced from white grapes only. Recioto di Soave and Recioto di Gambellara will work very well. The Passito Sparvieri from Tabucchi d’Illasi is highly recommended. Below you find an excerpt of my tasting notes for it.

Mille-feuille

MillefoglieMille-feuille is a pastry of French origin. It is extremely popular in Italy where it is known as “Millefoglie”.  It is made up of three layers of pâte feuilletée, alternating with two layers of crème pâtissière.

Mille-feuille and similar desserts pair well with Recioto della Valpolicella. Again, I can very much recommend a wine from Trabucchi d’Illasi. Their Recioto della Valpolicella is world-changing. It has been chosen as the best Italian red wine by reputable wine critic Luca Maroni. I do not know any other wineries that produces that many high-quality wines like Trabucchi does. With a mille-feuille, we could also go for a Moscato d’Asti DOCG. These sweet sparkling wines tend to pair well it. A few other wines that are produced from Muscat grapes work as well.

Chocolate-based desserts

Chocolate-based desserts like chocolate cakes and chocolate mousse do not pair well with wine at all and they are therefore the hardest desserts to pair with wine. Only wines with a very high ABV tend to pair decently with them. Examples – Port wine, Sherry and Madeira. But in all honesty, do not pair chocolate desserts with wine. Trust me. Aged digestives like Armagnac and Gran Marnier are a better choice.

Biscotti and other cookies

Vin Santo con cantuccini: sweet wine & dessert matchBiscotti, also known as cantuccini, are Tuscan cookies that originated in the town of Prato. Biscotti are dry almond-cookies. They are among the most traditional Tuscan desserts. These cookies are among my absolute favorites. They pair extremely well with Vin Santo. The name literally translates to “Holy Wine”. Vin Santo is traditionally produced in the Chianti Classico area. The wine is known for its amazing amber color and intense flavor.

Passito di Pantelleria, like the Ben Rye from Donnafugata, works also with biscotti but if you want the true traditional Tuscan experience then you have to go for Vin Santo. Let me know if you enjoy this dessert & sweet wine pairing as much as I do.

Cannoli are a Sicilian pastry dessert. They are tube-like cookies that are filled with sweet, creamy ricotta. They pair well with Moscato di Pantelleria.

Amaretti are more difficult to pair with wine because they are prepared with an almond liquor known as Amaretto. If I had to recommend a wine then I’d go with an Alta Langa spumante rosato DOCG. The pink sparkling Alta Langa wines usually have a fine, long-lasting perlage. On the nose, vanilla, yeast and fresh baked bread. The palate is well-structured and the wines tend to have a lingering finish.

The “no-food” solution

There are certain high-quality wines that make up a fantastic “dessert” by themselves. Examples are German Eiswein and Recioto della Valpolicella. If you ate too much for dinner but still want something sweet afterwards then these two sweet wines will do the trick.

Eiswein is a very sweet wine that can age for decades. Young Eiswein tends to be rather acid so go for aged one. The Riesling grapes for Eiswein are usually harvest at the beginning of December at temperatures below -6°C (21° F)

Recioto della Valpolicellais considered to be one of the best wines in Italy if not of the World. I already mentioned earlier that it pairs well with certain desserts but more important is that Recioto della Valpolicella is so delicious that it is best enjoyed by itself.

Parmesan cheese

Parmigiano Reggiano: sweet wine & dessert matchOften after dinner many people prefer a variety of cheese and not something sweet. If you are one of them then Parmesan cheese is the way to go. Serve with balsamic vinegar creme drizzeled on top.

Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano) has its origin in the Emilia-Romagna, Italy. It is a hard granular cow-milk cheese, which ages very well. According to European and Italian law, only cheese from the provinces Bologna, Modena, Parma and Reggio-Emilia is allowed to call itself Parmigiano Reggiano. Should you find the cheese to be too expensive then go with a Grana Padano.

The cheese pairs very with all kinds of Passito and Recioto. Moscato and many other sweet wines can be served with Parmigiano Reggiano as well. Parmigiano Reggiano is the perfect cheese to pair with your favorite sweet wine. Not recommended with sparkling wines.

Update March 7th

Because many people have said that they enjoy red wine with dark chocolate, I want to inform you that this post is only about pairing desserts with (sweet) wine. And chocolate desserts like mousse a chocolate or chocolate cake certainly don’t pair well with red wine. Dark chocolate on the other hand can be served with a glass of red wine but beware that many people will still not like it.

Parting words

I will leave you with these dessert & wine pairings.  This guide is by no means complete because there are so many desserts but I hope that it helped you understand the process of pairing desserts with wine.What is your favorite sweet wine and with what do you usually serve it? Should you have any questions then simply leave a comment or send me a tweet.

Photo credits:

  1. Colomba Pasquale by Wikipedia with a CC 3.0 license
  2. Semifreddo al Pistacchio by Christian with a CC 2.0 license
  3. Mille-feule by Academiabarilla with a CC 3.0 license.
  4. Parmigiano Reggiano by Sputnikcccp with a CC 3.0 license.

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50 comments on “Dessert and wine pairing suggestions”

  1. talkavino Reply

    Hmmm, I’m not sure I fully agree with your statement about dry wines and desserts. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Shiraz can be perfectly paired with many types of chocolate deserts or just dark chocolate by itself. Spicy chocolate lava cake and Shiraz are absolutely delicious together…

    • vino in love Reply

      Anatoli,
      Thanks for stopping by. You don’t have to agree with me. This is just my personal opinion. I’ve never had a dessert wine from Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah. This post only focused on dessert wines.
      I enjoyed some desserts together with a fantastic Montepuliciano d’Abruzzo – wine that is very dry but again I am only taking about dessert wines in this post.
      If you tell me a good, dry dessert wine from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes then I will try to buy it 🙂

      • talkavino Reply

        Julian,

        I’m not talking about any special “dessert” Cabernet Sauvignon wines – any middle of the road dry California Cabernet or Australian Shiraz perfectly pair with dark chocolate. Just try it and let me know what you think.

        • vino in love Reply

          Anatoli,
          Californian wines – you know how hard it is to get good ones over here without robing a bank 😉
          I had a good experience with Montepulciano and dark chocolate but I can’t imagine pairing any dry red wine with a dessert like chocolate mousse or rich chocolate cake. Do you think a Californian Cabernet would work with them?

          • talkavino

            Only coffee or tea can work with Chocolate mousse in my opinion : ) As far as cake is concerned, it is chocolaty enough and made with good dark chocolate – it might work. Really depends on the cake.

            Most importantly, I don’t insist that dry red wine is always the best companion for the dessert – my whole point was that in some of the cases, it can be an enjoyable combination, that’s all.

  2. hannah-theis hannah-theis Reply

    Very nice post, Julian. I love cantuccini. I knew them under the name Biscotti di Prato but whatever their name might be – they are freaking delicious! I never paired them with Vin Santo but I certainly will do so in the future.
    Can I share this post on my blog?

    • vino in love Reply

      Hannah,
      Thanks for commenting.
      If you mention me as your source then you are free to reblog my post.
      Cantuccini and Vin Santo are a great combination 🙂

  3. wineking3 wineking3 Reply

    Oh my god! This post rocks! I was always afraid of uncorking a sweet wine when hosting a dinner because I never knew what to pick. Usually I went with Champagne or so but that wasn’t too exciting.
    Love this detailed guide. Thank you so much. Now I will have to take a look at Suzanne’s blog 🙂

    • vino in love Reply

      Wineking,
      Thank you so much for your kind words.
      Champagne is alright with desserts but nothing too exciting in my opinion. I’m happy that you like the post

  4. foodwine88 Reply

    What about Habanero Cheddar cheese? Does that work well with dessert wines, too? I was thinking about a Moscato d’Asti maybe?
    I agree with you in most parts but I’ve had some good, dry, red wines together with desserts but as you said you only considered sweet wines for your post.

    • vino in love Reply

      Foodwine88,
      Since we don’t eat Habanero Cheddar were I live, I can’t really tell you whether it pairs well with Moscato d’Asti. But because I imagine that the cheese is rather spicy I wouldn’t recommend it.
      If you try it anyways, then let me know if it paired well.

  5. Suzanne Reply

    This is wonderful, I have had Vin Santo with biscotti and its wonderful. One of the reasons I started wondering about this is because so many serve champagne or sparkling dry wine with dessert and it just doesn’t seem right to me. I often serve dessert wine as dessert, I have Trockenbeerenauslese Cuvee 1998, it’s a lovely sweet wine that I have always served alone but wondered about pairing with dessert but it might be too sweet. Thanks Julian for posting this, I will use this as my guide and when it comes to chocolate I’ll stick to sparkling water or an espresso.

  6. RiojaChianti RiojaChianti Reply

    Eiswien ages well? Didn’t know that I need to improve my German wine knowledge 🙁

    The Alta Langa sparkler raised my attention. Can you recommend a producer?

  7. theducksong Reply

    Great post. I think pairing dessert with sweet wine is a difficult subject. One I usually try to avoid. Your post will certainly help me to understand the process of pairing wine with dessert.

  8. EatwithNamie Reply

    I’m not a sweet wine person. I prefer cheese after a meal. If there IS a dessert, then I’d rather just eat it and go back to my wine. However, I’ve had port wine with chocolate desserts, and some red BDX went well with dark chocolate.
    Savagnin from Jura was a really good match with desserts and even chocolate, I think, with its sherry like rich aroma and taste. What would be an Italian equivalent to whites from Jura?
    It’s good to learn about Italian wines on your blog. Thank you thank you!
    When I eat desserts with wine, I sip wine and then bite a dessert, not the other way around., so that I don’t get overwhelmed by sweetness and spoil the wine taste in my mouth. And you?

    • vino in love Reply

      EatwithNamie,
      Thanks for stopping by! I understand what you mean. The guide is mainly for those who enjoy dessert wine but don’t know what desserts to pair with them.
      Personally I enjoy most quality dessert wines when being served with aged Parmesan Cheese
      I can’t think of any Italian equivalent for Jura wines. The closest might be a Spanish Sherry, which it is made by similar process.

      If wine and dessert are paired well then the sweetness should never spoil the wine. It’s essential to pick the correct wine.
      But if I’m at a dinner where someone didn’t match dessert and wine very well then I usually sip wine and then take a bite of the dessert. Usually though it doesn’t matter since neither dessert nor wine should spoil the other. They should create an even better experience.

  9. TracyLeeKarner Reply

    You appear too young to know so much. I’m impressed by the vastness of your wine knowledge.

    I’ve recently discovered that alcohol makes a medical condition that I have very much worse (bah! terrible news!). But if I have the opportunity to taste any of these luscious dessert wines, I might just have to endure the consequences of one sip. I love the idea of Balsamic on Parmesan with Pasito.

    • vino in love Reply

      Tracy,
      Thanks you so much for your kind words. I am lucky to grew up in a family that loves good food and wine and my Italian roots certainly helped me.
      I’m very sorry to hear that you can’t enjoy a glass of wine anymore. I hope your medical condition will get better.
      Parmesan cheese pairs fantastically with lots of wines and especially with Passito 🙂

  10. petit4chocolatier Reply

    Excellent post! I sometimes will have red wine with dark chocolate. I like it. I don’t like my wines very sweet and your post was an eye opener!

    • vino in love Reply

      Petit4chocolatier,
      Thanks for stopping by! You are right that some red wines pair well with dark chocolate but the aim of this guide was to pair mostly actual desserts with wine. And most chocolate-desserts like Mousse au Chocolat don’t pair well with red wine.

  11. Marco van Puff Reply

    Great guide! I once had a 5-course men at a restaurant and they served Portwine with the strawberry mouse. Never liked it – now I understand why 🙂

    • vino in love Reply

      Marco,
      Thanks for visiting.
      I’m glad you like my post. Port wine with a strawberry mouse doesn’t sound like a good match to me either.

  12. Sean P. Reply

    Italian kitchen is so good! Tiramisu is my favorite desser but Pannacotta is yummy as well 🙂
    Why does the tiramsu have to be made without alcohol in order to pair it with dessert wine?

    • vino in love Reply

      Sean,
      Thanks for commenting. I agree with you that the Italian cuisine is one of the best – in general the Mediterranean kitchen is delicious.
      If the tiramisù is prepared with alcohol then the alcohol of the wine and the alcohol of the tiramisù will very likely not harmonize.

  13. azita Reply

    I know very little about wine but that did not stop me from immensely enjoying your informative and truly wonderful post. Now I want to hit some bottles!

    • vino in love Reply

      Azita,
      Thanks for so much for your kind words. In my opinion there is nothing better than delicious food paired with the right wine 🙂

    • vino in love Reply

      Frank,
      You are too kind! I’m so happy that you enjoyed this post. Dessert wines are a whole different than regular wines. Pairing a piece of Parmesan cheese with a glass of Recioto makes will make you feel like you’re in heaven 😉

  14. The Healthy Epicurean Reply

    I so wish I could drink dessert wines because I love the idea of them, particularly serving as a standalone dessert, but they just always give me a headache 🙁 I do agree though that the only thing that goes with chocolate desserts is black coffee. In France champagne is quite often served with dessert…

    • vino in love Reply

      The Healthy Epicurean,
      Thanks for visiting Vino in Love 🙂
      Have you tried desserts wines from organic agriculture? Certified organic wines are said to cause in general less headaches than wines from industrial agriculture.
      You are right, Champagne is often served with desserts. But since Champagne does not qualify as dessert wine I decided not to include it in this post (it would have gotten too long). Also I think that Champagne is served too often with desserts and sometimes I have the feeling that people only serve it because they don’t know any other wine pairing, which would work.

      Is that Twitter account that you entered yours? You linked to this profile

  15. the winegetter Reply

    Great post, Julian. Really thorough and lots of great ideas. I tend to not pair wine with dessert, because of the intensity or richness in desserts. So, these tips are helpful and make some intuitive sense. You know my policy on all things cheese: Riesling, Riesling, Riesling! 🙂 It is is great with parmiggiano.

    • vino in love Reply

      Oliver,
      Thanks for stopping by!
      Personally I prefer to pair most dessert wines with aged cheese (especially Parmesan).
      In my posts, I decided to focus on Italian wines because otherwise the post would have become way too long. I remember from Suzanne’s blog that you were hoping for more a international pairing. Eiswein is a great sweet wine but because of its extreme sweetness and if drank too young, dominate acidity I wouldn’t pair Eiswein with many desserts. It’s great by itself or, just like you said, with Parmesan cheese.

      • the winegetter Reply

        Oh, I totally agree: I would never, NEVER pair Eiswein with a dessert or even cheese for that matter. Eiswein is the dessert, it is the occasion. It should not be bothered with anything beside it. I don’t mind young Eiswein, probably because I don’t mind the acidity too much, I actually find it very interesting especially in the young Eiswein.

        And no worries regarding more international pairing suggestions. I understand that the opportunities would be endless, and focusing on Italian wines made sense.

    • Julian Rossello Reply

      Mary,
      Thank you for visiting! A pistachio semifreddo is definitely a great way finish dinner 🙂 Especially when its served together with a glass of Recioto di Soave.

  16. Pingback: Prawn Avocado Orange Cocktail and Thai Curry Grilled Salmon with Jura and Alsace Wines | Eat with Namie

  17. Rodrigo Reply

    Here you said the following:
    “So what wine pairs well with these desserts? Here we are looking for sweet wines (not overly sweet) with a rather high ABV. Elegant, noble wines with intense aromas. The wines should be produced from white grapes only. Recioto di Soave and Recioto di Gambellara will work very well. The Recioto di Soave from Trabucchi d’Illasi is highly recommended.”

    But you said this on another page:
    “The wine (Recioto di Soave) does not go well with sweet desserts. No tiramisù, no crème brûlée and nothing else that is sweet”
    (http://vinoinlove.com/2006-trabucchi-dillasi-recioto-di-soave-recioto-di-soave-docg/)

    So, what’s the deal?

    • Julian Rossello Reply

      Hello Rodrigo. This is a mistake on my part. In this post I meant Trabucchi’s Passito Sparvieri and not the Recioto di Soave. Mistakes happen. Sorry about that. Hope that clears it up!
      I edited the mistake. Thanks for making me aware of this.

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