Just like every course of the meal, there is a wine to go with dessert. And contrary to popular belief it’s not always sweet. When pairing wine, beer and spirits with dessert keep in mind the sweetness level, body and flavor profile of both the dessert and the beverage. A beverage will usually work well with a dessert if these elements complement or contrast with the dessert.
Complementing examples are sweet beverages with sweet desserts (Sauternes and crème brûlée,) full-bodied beverages with rich desserts (heavy, bold beers with chocolate ice cream) and oxidative, nutty wines with nutty desserts (amontillado sherry with hazelnut tarts.)
Contrasting examples are dry wines with slightly sweet desserts (dry, red Lambrusco with dark chocolate cake) or sweeter wines with salted desserts (Madeira with salted caramels.)
Just like your ingredients, don’t skimp on quality. Shop at a store dedicated to wine with knowledgeable staff and a wide selection. And NEVER buy “cooking wine.” Not even for cooking! Here are a few suggestions to start experimenting with:
Champagne & Sparkling Wine - These guys have the bubbles that dance on your taste buds and help refresh the palate, so the richness of a creamy mousse does not feel so heavy. Pair off dry styles (Demi-Sec Champagne, Moscato d’Asti, Riesling Sekt) with light, creamy and fruity desserts. Pair deep colored, concentrated styles (Lambrusco, Brachetto d'Acqui, Rosé Saignée) with chocolate desserts.
Sherry – Choose a sherry style that is dry and nutty (Amontillado, Palo Cortado, Oloroso) with crunchy, nut and caramel based desserts. Sweeter styles (Cream, Pedro Ximénez) pair great with dark, bittersweet chocolate.
Madeira – Most high quality madeiras are made from four noble grape varieties. These are (from less sweet to more) Sercial, Verdelho, Boal and Malvasia and are listed on the bottle. The wines are purposely heated during aging to give them flavors of dried fruits, nuts and caramel. Desserts with these same ingredients are a perfect match.
Port – The two main styles of port are ruby and tawny. Tawny ports spend time in barrel before bottling where ruby ports do not. Therefore a tawny will show flavors of nuts and dried fruit. Pair them with desserts showcasing chocolate, figs, vanilla and baking spices. Ruby ports are rounder and show bright berry notes. Desserts with raspberries, blackberries and cherries work well.
Sauternes, Tokaji, Beerenauslese – These are all wine styles created by noble rot. Noble rot is a fungus that attacks the grapes (in a good way!) while they are still on the vines and concentrates their sugars to make them sweeter. Sauternes (from France,) Tokaji (from Hungary) and Beerrenaulese (from Germany) have high acidity to balance their natural sweetness. Think honey, apricot and orange marmalade.
Beer – Complex beers with a bit of weight work best with desserts so their flavor is not overpowered by the dessert. A dark, heavy porter, stout or Belgian dubbel is great with ice cream, chocolate mousse or extra-bitter chocolates. Belgian tripels, with their extra sugar, play well with caramel and orange. Try one with crème brûlée. Fruit lambics pair great with vanilla creams, red and black berries and tropical fruit flavors. Save your hoppy IPAs for another course of the meal.
Spirits – Spirits can be a great dessert sidekick. They are not sweet and are high in alcohol. This alcohol cuts through rich creams without adding extra sweetness, getting the palate ready for the next bite. Barrel aged spirits work best, such as bourbon, rum, Cognac, Armagnac and other brandies. Calvados, an apple brandy from France, is the perfect match for anything involving apples and caramel, such as a tarte tatin.
And now, for my favorite parlor trick of all time…sabering! Or, how to slice the top off a bottle of bubbly with a knife!
1. Chill the bottle well.
2. Remove the foil & wire cage.
3. Find the seam that runs up the side of the bottle.
4. Using the back end of a knife, slide the knife up the bottle to the neck following the seam.
5. Follow through! (Pretend you are playing tennis!)
Always point the bottle away from people (and animals, glass windows, antique vases!)
Make sure the bottle is COLD or it could explode.
After you saber, be careful when handling the bottle neck, as it is extremely sharp. Recycling can be dangerous! But important nonetheless.