Knowing Your Wines – Dessert & Cheese

Our wine guide series comes to an appropriate close with the final courses on your table. Whether sweet or savoury, know what to accompany with your dessert and cheese courses.

We’re going to do this one a little differently. The world of cheese and dessert is too wide and varied to put into a table, I felt. Instead, I’m going to relay this information in a more traditional, prose style.

You may prefer a nice coffee with your dessert — that seems to be as fashionable as ever. Not everywhere, though. For instance, in Italy, a dessert wine will always be served with the final course. Experts have designated three factors in choosing the correct dessert wine.

1. ACIDITY

This is especially important if you are looking to pair up with a fruit-based dessert. The natural acids in both will complement one another.

2. INTENSITY

If you are a fan of rich and intense flavours when it comes to dessert, you will want a dessert wine of parring intensity to match.

3. SWEETNESS

Perhaps most importantly, you will always want the dessert wine to be sweeter than the dessert you have chosen.

The other rule-of-thumb, you could say, in dessert pairings with wine is that – the darker the colours of the dessert, the darker the colour of the wine. Based on this, you could apply the following philosophies:

CUSTARD AND VANILLA-BASED DESSERTS

Vanilla Custard Tart, Trifle, Crème Brûlée, etc.

Vanilla Custard TartWith these kinds of desserts, where creamy and buttery flavours are dominant, you will want to complement with white wines. A good Riesling will suit a vanilla custard tart perfectly if you want a “flat” wine. However, the sweet zing from a glass of Asti Spumante or Asti Dolce will be better.

Custard Tarts are seldom on a restaurant’s dessert menu these days, however. You are much more likely to see a Crème Brûlée on there. And this is where overlaps to these rules start to happen. Is a Crème Brûlée a vanilla custard dessert or a caramel dessert? A question for the academics. In the meantime, do yourselves a flavour and pair it with a glass of Sauternes or a Muscat.

Trifles open up a category in and of themselves, since there are so many variations on the classic English dessert. Pair a Sherry Trifle with more sherry, albeit a sweeter one than that used for the pudding itself. Otherwise, go with the aforementioned Asti Spumante or Dolce according to your tastes. In the next section, we will deal with fruit-based desserts, which you can use to inform your trifle decisions too.

FRUIT-BASED DESSERTS

Fruit Tarts, Crumbles and Pies, Banoffee Pie, Pavlova, etc.

Pavlova

You know you are bound to find some form of fruity dessert on the menu. Speaking for myself, I love serving a fruit-based pudding when I give a dinner party (Black Forest Pavlova and Peach Melba as a couple of examples). But how do you pair them with wine?

I will start with the pastry-based, since they are my forte. Pairing with fruit tarts, crumbles and pies depends entirely on the filling. For apples, the earlier-mentioned Sauternes will be ideal, as will a Gewürztraminer. But with berries, a similarly-flavoured liqueur will do better as opposed to wine. If you are insistent, however, a red Moscato d’Asti variation called Brachetto d’Acqui comes highly recommended for berry-based desserts. This includes fresh fruit pavlovas.

Muscat wines also complement bananas well, so they might suit if a Banoffee Pie is on the menu.

CHOCOLATE, CARAMEL & COFFEE-BASED DESSERTS

Chocolate Torte, Sticky Toffee Pudding, Tiramisù

Remember that rule-of-thumb from earlier. We’re into rich, dark-coloured territory now. This is where the inevitable Port comes into play. To accompany all manner of chocolate brownies and the like, but also – it may surprise you – coffee-based desserts such as a tiramisù. As an alternative, a good Australian Shiraz or a Grenache will accompany a sumptuous chocolate torte incomparably.

The same goes for caramel and toffee-based desserts like Sticky Toffee Pudding. However, a little glass of Madeira or sherry wouldn’t come amiss there either.


In a feature a couple of years ago, I gave a brief overview of how to throw a cheese and wine party, though I focused more on the food side of things – as befits a food blog. I only briefly mentioned the wine, really.

Like with chocolate, Port is an ubiquitous go-to when it comes to cheese. Fair enough, I suppose – the sweet of the wine and the savoury from the cheese set one another off perfectly fine. But what other choices are out there?

It may surprise you, but many experts have written that white wine is the better accompaniment to cheese, rather than red. A good Sauternes pairs incredibly well with a Stilton or other blue cheese as an alternative to Port. The creamy French cheeses like Camembert and Brie are best accompanied by something like a Chardonnay.

The harder cheeses that you expect to find on a cheese board – the cheddars of the world and so forth – this is where the reds come in. And really, you are spoilt for choice. Something as simple as a Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon to something a little more refined like a Tempranillo or Pinot Noir. Like a lot of wine pairing, it’s a lot of trial and error to find whatever suits your tastes.


You may be pleased to learn that, after a longer hiatus than I had planned, I will be returning to restaurant critique soon with a few new reviews coming your way in the upcoming weeks…

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