We love dessert, and we love wine, so we think it’s about time to address one of the unsung heroes of both worlds: dessert wine, and subsequent dessert wine pairing. It’s a common misconception in the U.S. that sweet wines are low quality—some of the most renowned wines in the world are sweet wines, and for good reason. Made correctly, they can offer intensely aromatic, honeyed, concentrated flavors that are perfect for slowly sipping after a meal or, our personal favorite, a thoughtful pairing with food.
Here at Plated, we adore sweet wines with cheese, but they can also be paired with dessert. The key is to always choose a wine that’s sweeter than your food pairing—this will allow the wine to stand up to the food rather than coming across as overly bitter and acidic. Here, we’re diving into a few of our favorite wine and dessert matches, from fruity to nutty to simply cheesy. We like them even better together than on their own.
Tawny Port and Stilton
Port is a quintessential dessert wine, and it’s been around for centuries. Hailing from Portugal’s Douro Valley, it’s intensely aromatic and robust, in part due do the region’s hilly landscape and hot climate. And though it comes in many different styles (Tawny Port and Ruby Port are some of the most famous), it’s almost always sweet.
As part of the winemaking process, distilled spirits (typically brandy) are added during fermentation, making it a “fortified” wine, like Sherry and Madeira. When it’s all said and done, the wine typically clocks in at 16-20% ABV (read: don’t drink it on an empty stomach!). This boosts both alcohol content and residual sugar levels, making Port not only an ideal choice for an after-dinner drink, but also a prime match for the right food pairing.
One such pairing made in heaven? Tawny Port—a sweet, rich, nutty version with a deep amber—and an equally rich blue cheese, like Stilton. If you’re a fan of sweet and salty combos, this one’s for you. The higher alcohol content is balanced out by the fat in the cheese, while the sweet and savory flavors take each other to the next level.
Demi-Sec Rosé Champagne and Époisses
When it comes to food pairings, sparkling rosé is incredibly versatile—it’s a formidable match for fatty, creamy, salty, briney, spicy, fried, and fresh flavors. So, all the best flavors, basically. For a dessert-friendly option, check out a demi-sec (medium-dry) Champagne. It’s got enough residual sugar to provide a festive touch of sweetness to the end of the meal, and is also an ideal cheese plate wine (our favorite!). Make sure to include a funkier, washed rind option on your cheese board, like an Époisses or Taleggio. The sweetness of the wine is perfect for balancing the hefty, meaty, salty flavors of the cheese.
Tokaji and Chewy Spice Cookies
Tokaji (pronounced “toe-KAI”) is a region in Hungary home to one of the world’s most renowned dessert wines by the same name. With a stunning, deep gold color and concentrated, sweet flavor, the wine has long been a favorite of European royalty for its honeyed quality, which it gets from something called botrytis, or “noble rot.” As with cheeses like Camembert, Gorgonzola, and Roquefort, we owe this wine’s greatness to a very special, very delicious type of mold, which dehydrates the grapes without depleting their sugar levels. The resulting wine is super-concentrated, with that signature nectar-like flavor.
A perfect food pairing, in our opinion? Plated’s Chewy Spice Cookies with Candied Ginger—the aromatic mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger bring out the spice notes in the wine, while the buttery cookie base is rich yet mild enough to let the wine shine.
Vin Santo and Almond Sbrisolona
Vin Santo (“holy wine”) is a luscious Italian dessert wine that belongs to the family of straw wines. The grapes are traditionally left to dry in the sun on straw mats for several months; then, the raisins are pressed, then slowly ferment to create a rich, honeyed wine. With classic notes of tropical fruit, hazelnut, and dried apricot, the nutty, caramelized wine makes a perfect match for Plated’s Almond Sbrisolona, another Italian classic that’s crunchy, crumbly, and decadently buttery, with a chocolate drizzle for good measure.
Icewine and Maple-Pear Galette
Icewine (or eiswein) is a type of late harvest wine with a sweet, sweet twist. If the grapes happen to freeze while still on the vine, they can be made into icewine—but they must be harvested before they have a chance to thaw. The water in the grapes will freeze, but the sugars do not, so these wines are even more concentrated than their late harvest counterparts.
Due to the labor-intensive harvesting process and unpredictable yields, icewine is more expensive than late harvest wine. However, it’s a special-occasion treat we highly recommend indulging in if you come across it. With intense fruit flavors to match the sweetness, it pairs especially well with tarts, pies, and buttery flavors, like Plated’s flaky Maple-Pear Galette.
Late Harvest Riesling and Pain Perdu
It doesn’t always take a magical fungus or fortification to make a spectacular dessert wine. Some of the best varieties are made from grapes that have been left on the vine longer than usual. This allows them to get riper and more concentrated, distilling them to their sweet essence.
Of course, this works for some grapes better than others. Riesling is an excellent choice for a late harvest wine—it has a naturally high acidity, which can stand up to the longer time on the vine. With classic aromas of apricot, honey, lemon, and jasmine, we find this wine is an excellent match for Plated’s Pain Perdu, with its tangy-sweet cranberry-currant compote and caramelized flavors.
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