Dessert is no longer just an afterthought to dinner, and dessert-lovers are making the course an event in itself. It has become a common option for blind dates, reunions with old friends, or as a mellow alternative to bars on a Friday or Saturday night. To accommodate dessert-lovers looking for a strong drink to complete their night out, many establishments are now offering a full selection of dessert wines in addition to standard coffee and tea.
“Dessert Wines” are sweet wines that are typically served with (or instead of) dessert and include varieties like ice wine, Sauternes, Tokay or fortified wines such as sherry and port. Dessert wines can even be poured over ice cream or pound cake and enjoyed as a topping. One of the most popular varieties, ice wine, is traditionally produced from frozen grapes (or apples, resulting in apple ice wine.) The freezing process affects the water in the fruit, but not the solids, resulting in an unusually concentrated, very sweet wine. I first learned of ice wine after seeing the beautiful packing of Neige Apple Ice Wine featured on the The Gothamist, and was won over before ever taking a sip. Typically served in a beautiful, tall glass with a narrow base or flared edge, the presentation of ice wine is as impressive as its flavor.
The general rule of thumb for dessert wine indicates that the wine’s sweetness should be equal to or greater than that of the dessert. The dessert actually works to detract from the sweetness of the wine, as opposed to coffee or tea which helps offset the sweetness of the dessert. If the dessert is overly sweet the wine will seem dry.
When asking which dessert wine should be served with which dessert, the answer is never simple. Author Erika Lenkert put it best by saying “Because most desserts are a combination of core ingredients, like chocolate and fruit or fruit and nuts, pairing … is not as straightforward as cookies and milk. But on the other hand, it’s a lot more fun tasting your way to the perfect match.” To help those of us less informed about this area of desserts, Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein prepared a “Dessert Pairing Cheat Sheet” to serve as a guide:
Dessert Pairing Cheat Sheet
Tips from Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein
Source: The Perfect Match by Erika Lenkert
LIGHT STONE FRUITS: Think late Harvest Riesling, which echoes stone fruit flavors.
APPLE OR PEAR BASED TREATS: Go with Sauternes or late-harvest Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon blends. They retain ample levels of acidity and play wonderfully on dessert flavors and textures.
FRESH BERRIES: Young Ruby style ports have complementary berry flavors. Conversely, extra dry or demi-sec style sparkling wine provides a nice platform for the fruit.
NUTS: Oxidized wines such as Bron or Cream Sherries, Madeira, and tawny Ports give nutty toasted nuances that mirror nuts’ flavors.
CUSTARDS: Oak-aged Sauternes-style dessert wines accentuate the vanilla and the creamy texture.
CHOCOLATE: Pour vintage or vintage character Ports or Banyuls. Like chocolate they play on bitter and sweet.
If you have trouble deciphering the cheat sheet (like I do) and are still unsure of what to order, the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City is offering a class titled “Dessert Wines of the World Paired with Desserts” to help sort it out. Formal instruction may be the key to understanding what it really means to order an “Oak-aged Sauternes-style dessert wine” with our custard.
The Institute of Culinary Education
Dessert Wines of the World Paired with Desserts
Wednesday, May 18, 7:00-9:00pm
More information at www.iceculinary.com
Neige Apple Ice Wine
Visit Wikipedia for a complete definition of dessert wine and related topics.