Wine with Food: with Desserts
by Paul Kalemkiarian Sr | December 1982
If you have chosen to end your meal with something sweet for dessert, rather than cheese, the world of dessert wines awaits you!…And what a wonderful array they are. I have a hard time deciding whether they are my favorite group of wines. There are so many more of them that are consistently good. You can rely on them to perform for your dessert without having to prescreen them. (Don’t ask me if I prefer cheese or sweet for dessert, because I have a hard time deciding that too! The fact that I devoted three issues to wine with cheese says something! However, I think I am in the minority, at least in our country. Europe is another matter.)
By definition, dessert wine is sweet, and therefore goes well with sweet desserts and some, because of their sweetness, may be used alone for dessert
An important underlying principle in the service of wine with dessert is to balance the sweetness levels of the wine and the dessert. You should know the sweetness level of your dessert, as well as your wine, and match them. You cannot serve a medium sweet wine with a very sweet dessert. The dessert will overpower the wine and it will taste very poor. A very sweet wine will overshadow a light delicate dessert Balance is the key.
How do you determine a wine is a dessert wine? Usually the label has indications of this. When you are at your wine shop, and you do not have the expertise of a knowledgeable wine merchant or enlightened sales person at hand, (which seems to be the rule rather than the exception these days) you should be familiar with some of the names or terms that signal “dessert wine”. For two reasons. First, if you are looking for dessert wine, you should be able to spot the labels that indicate that it is a dessert wine. Second, when you are shopping for dry or aperitif wines, you can steer away from the same labels, since they will be sweet and disappoint you if you were in the exploring mood and wanted to try a new label. Here is a partial list of the more common dessert wines by their generic, varietal, regional, or designation of style, which usually appears somewhere on the label.