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
Every 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.
- Intensity – Intense wines call for rich desserts or for no dessert at all.
- Sweetness – The wine should always be sweeter than the dessert.
- 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. A 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 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.
Bavarian 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 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 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
Biscotti, 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.
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) 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.
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.
- Colomba Pasquale by Wikipedia with a CC 3.0 license
- Semifreddo al Pistacchio by Christian with a CC 2.0 license
- Mille-feule by Academiabarilla with a CC 3.0 license.
- Parmigiano Reggiano by Sputnikcccp with a CC 3.0 license.
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