Wine with Food: Dessert
By Paul Kalemkiarian Sr. | January 1983
The absolute crowning touch to a meal, in my opinion, is the serving of a wine with dessert, or maybe for dessert. It is so much more substantive than the traditional cordials or liqueurs with their loud flavors. The alcohol content is less, and therefore there is hardly any harsh bite to the beverage. The flavors are more subtle and more harmonious with the preceding or accompanying dessert. (Some recently invented and introduced liqueurs have such a strong artificial flavor that they have a downright sickening effect on me).
As we said last time, the trick is to match the sweetness levels of your wine and dessert In addition, when you can do some flavor complementing, you will achieve the ultimate in harmony.
Before we look at some dessert groups, and see what wines could be considered, let me mention a couple of potential clashes. Citrus or other acid oriented desserts will be difficult to match with any wine. The acid tends to throw the balance of the wine off and you will not have a pleasant flavor. Best to pass up on the wine with those lemony creations. Chocolate is another tough one. A rich chocolate flavor is hard to match with any wine. It would be best to omit a dessert wine with or after this most popular flavor.
I was surprised recently at the International Food and Wine Show, when a representative from the Australian wine booth suggested I try their locally made Madeira style wine with a chocolate from the next booth. I did, and it was rather good! Their Madeira wine was rich and sweet, with a dominant burnt sugar flavor. It seemed to complement the chocolate candy. I have not had it with chocolate desserts of various types like mousse, pie, or ice cream. I will have to try that sometime when I run across the wine again.
Here are my recommendations for wines with some of the groups of desserts:
Fruit pies and tarts: Muscat or Moscato wines, Malvasia wines, California or import.
Cream, custard, or pumpkin pies and tarts: Late harvest California Johannisberg Riesling, German or Austrian Auslese grade wines.
Pecan or mince meat pies: California Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc. Barsac, Montabazillac, or lesser Sauternes from France. Malmsey Madeira.
Custards, puddings, souffle, mousse, ice creams: California Late Harvest Chenin Blanc. Vouvrey demi sec or doux from the Loire.
Cheesecake: Panache, Malaga wines.
Cakes, pastries: California Angelica, Sweet Marsala.
Fruit: Chateau La Salle, California ruby port, Malaga wines.
Fruit-cake, Dublin cake (Irish soda cake): Cream sherry, California or Spain. Zabaglione: Sweet Marsala.
Do not be afraid to experiment with dessert wines. They are much more adaptable and will respond more broadly to flavor matching. Once you are familiar with the different ones, you will find them fun to serve as part of your dessert course.
Some fine sweet wines hold a place for themselves in the course of meal service. These are the better Sauternes from France, the Tokays from Hungary, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese wines from Germany and Austria, Vinage Ports from Portugal, aged Madeiras, and the better California answers to the same imported styles. These are usually served for what they are, as dessert or after other dessert and coffee; alone. They are so special that they should be enjoyed for their own complex flavor sensations. Unsalted, fresh-shelled walnuts, hazelnuts or almonds make excellent companions. The conversation will surely turn to the ambiance of your meal.
As I mentioned in the last issue, I discovered a novel approach to dessert in Florence, Italy. I was there for my Northern Italian Wine Survey trip. If you are ever in Florence, do not miss the experience of dining at Tratorria Omere. It is in the outskirts of the city, and is a charming country style eatery. The dishes are authentic Tuscan and the atmosphere is what you expect romantic Italy to be like. On their menu, they had Vin Santo listed under dessert. It is an Italian dessert wine specialty that is not commonly found here in the United States. I ordered a glass. It was served with a dish of small dry cookies, and I was told that I had to dip the cookies in the Vin Santo, and eat them in between sips of the wine.
The cookies were hard baked, and they had almond halves embedded in the crust. The last time I saw anything dunked in a beverage was at a doughnut stand back home! I was not too sure this was the right thing to do, but looking around me I saw a couple of other people doing it, so I tried it. It was an absolutely delightful flavor combination, and made for an excellent dessert I have since found the same cookies imported from Florence at better Italian grocers in San Pedro and some of them have Vin Santo too. The cookies are called Ghiottini alla Mandorla. Try this sometime, but not for a formal black tie dinner! The dipping might not be very proper.