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Wines can go with or be the dessert

Wines can go with or be the dessert

Many of us end dinner with a cup of coffee with dessert without ever considering the option of wine. The truth is, a glass of dessert wine can make dessert the unsurpassed course of the meal.

But wine doesn’t have to be part of the dessert course; it can be the dessert.

With just a few pointers, understanding dessert wines is relatively easy. There are five major types.


The sweetness from these wines comes from the grapes being infected with a mold known as botrytis. It dehydrates the grapes, concentrating their natural sugars. Botrytis wines include sauternes, vouvray and Tokaji.


These wines get their unique sweetness from grapes that have frozen on the vine. The water freezes but sugars and other solids don’t, leaving a spectacularly sweet wine when the grapes are pressed. Germany and Canada produce exceptional ice wines.


The grapes used for these wines are simply picked later than most, allowing for the sugar levels to rise, making the grapes overripe, resulting in the juice being sweeter than regularly harvested wines. Quality late-harvest wines are being produced in California, Washington state, Australia and New Zealand.


Fortified wines’ sweetness comes about by fortifying the juice with alcohol during fermentation before all of the natural sugar is fermented (consumed) by the yeast. The most well-known fortified wines are port and madeira.


These grapes are left to dry after harvest to turn into raisins. Some countries leave them on the vine while others place them on large concrete slabs in the baking hot sun. Because of this technique, the grape essentially loses its water content, making the ending juice sweet. Examples include Italy’s Vin Santo and Amarone.

So, as the dessert menu is passed or you’re finishing up your dinner party, you may simply bypass the pastry, chocolate or pie and opt for the delectable sweetness of a wine for dessert.


  • 2011 La Playa Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, Chile (about $15 retail — 375 mL)


  • 2010 Zonin Amarone, Italy (about $54 retail)
Dinner can sparkle with holiday wines

Dinner can sparkle with holiday wines

This is the time of year when many of us start looking for unique, yet intimate entertaining ideas. Unique doesn’t have to mean elaborate ice sculptures or expensive cuisine.  Think about adding some sparkle with holiday wines.


It may not be to everyone’s taste, but Champagne or sparkling wine can be served throughout an entire meal or evening. Begin with brut non-vintage Champagne or sparkling wine as an aperitif as guests arrive. This wine will match with any food selection with a salty characteristic. For the main course, pair a fish (salmon, sole or sea bass), poultry or white meat topped with a beurre blanc, cream sauce or hollandaise with vintage Champagne or a premium sparkling wine. If a red meat or game dish is your preference, sparkling rose is an ideal match. When it comes to dessert, avoid chocolate or ice cream and serve a soft, creamy, fruity pastry with a sec (sweet) or demi-sec Champagne.


  • NV Treveri Cellars Blanc de Blancs, Washington (about $16 retail)


  • NV Moet and Chandon Rose Imperial, France (about $70 retail)


Offering a holiday party menu of dessert and wine pairings can keep the party planning minimal, and is ideal if guests will be attending other functions or dropping into several parties the same evening. One classic pairing is vanilla bean ice cream with the delectable rich and sweet Pedro Ximenez Sherry poured over the top. Nut desserts like pecan pie, chestnut mousse or walnut tarts match well with fortified wines such as Royal Tokaji, Cream Sherry or Australian Muscat. Cream- or dairy-based desserts such as cheesecake are complemented by late harvest Gewurztraminers. Egg desserts such as custards or souffles pair well with Tawny Port.


  • 2012 Hogue Late Harvest Riesling, Washington (about $12 retail)


  • NV Osborne Tawny Port, Portugal (about $22 retail)


A meat and cheese tray takes on a special flair when it is composed of locally cured meats and hand-made cheeses. The menu sets itself up for an easy drop-in entertaining opportunity with minimal preparation, zero cooking time and a fun casual setting. Salami, sausage, prosciutto, chorizo and jamon serrano each pair ideally with red wines as do many cheeses. Consider adding a cheese board pairing of blue cheeses, aged goat cheeses, and nutty sweet cheeses like gruyere, cheddar and parmesan. Wines that pair well with most charcuterie and cheeses include cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, merlot, red blends, port and oloraso sherry. An added bonus — there’s no need to have specific individual wine and food pairing options. Let your guests (and yourself) explore the pairing choices.


  • 2013 Force of Nature Red Blend, California (about $17 retail)


  • 2013 Migration by Duckhorn Pinot Noir, California (about $43 retail)