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Dessert wine for those with a savoury palate

Champagne and strawberries

Question from Heath: I’m in a sticky situation! I really don’t like sweet wines; I like a more dry wine (like my personality). I was at a restaurant the other day and we had a degustation with matching wines. It was lovely until dessert! The wine was so sweet I couldn’t drink it! Can you recommend something that goes with dessert that isn’t sweet?

In a nut shell: I sure can but you’re going to have to be specific about what you eat for dessert. No more crème brûléefor one thing and forget about chocolate cake! You’re going to have to stick to fruits and berries if you want to drink dry wines with your dessert.

In a clam shell: Lots of sugar was the reason why you were served a super sweet wine with dessert and that’s absolutely what you should have been served (sorry). A dry wine would taste bitter, sour, tart and would lose all its flavour if paired with something sweet (and there’s no point drinking that). Your wine should always be sweeter than the food it’s paired with and hence why we drink super sweet wines with sweet desserts. A sweeter wine with a sweet dessert should taste less sweet than if you had have drunk it on its own but still fragrant, aromatic and delicious.

So if sweet desserts should only be paired with sweeter wines for a successful ensemble then there goes your favourite molten chocolate pudding and vanilla panna cotta. Correct but save your tears because here’s the good news! Wine should be higher in acid than the food it is paired with otherwise the wine will taste flabby and lack structure. This means that acidic desserts (fruit based desserts people) go fabulously with dry wines specifically dry (brut) Sparkling wines. Why a dry Sparkling specifically and not a dry Chardonnay? Because you don’t want too much going on in the wine or you’ll overpower the subtle flavours of the fruit.

When pairing a dessert with a dry Sparkling make sure you remember that the less sweet the dessert the less sweet the wine needs to be and the better it is going to pair with a dry Sparkling. Try to limit the sugar in your dessert as much as possible and your matched dry bubbles will go perfectly!

So what ‘fruit’ desserts should you go for? Let’s take a berry tart for example. Berries are acidic but shortcrust pastry is sweet. The theory is that the acidity from the fruit will mute the sweetness of the pastry therefore pairing perfectly with a dry Sparkling wine. Go for Champagne, Prosecco (a fruity Italian Sparkling), Crémant (what the French call Sparkling), Cava (Spanish Sparkling), Australian Sparkling wine or Sparkling Rosé.

I know what you’re thinking – serve Sparkling after dinner? Ummm yeh! Got for it! Champagne is a great palate cleanser. Citrus based desserts (think lemon tart) go even better with a dry sparkling because a highly acidic dessert needs an even more acidic wine and a glass of dry bubbly is just your answer!

So after convincing you to try a dry Sparkling with your berry tart I’d urge you to also try a lightly sweet wine. I’m talking Gewürztraminer(highly floral – think lychee and rose petals), Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Viognier (fruit driven and aromatic) or Moscato (fruity). All of these wines can be found slightly sweet or bone dry but because they are high in acid and aromatic they often smell and taste sweeter than they actually are and therefore pair perfectly with a fruity dessert or perhaps something slightly sweeter like a vanilla panna cotta.

Now for all those people out there who don’t mind a sweet wine and love a sweeter dessert like a crème brûléeor perhaps a gooey caramel something let’s talk about sweet wines – the perfect partner. Try a Late Harvest wine which is produced from grapes that have hung on the vine too long and have shrivelling and become super sweet. Or a Noble Rot wine which is made from grapes that have been affected by botrytis rot which concentrates the sugar and adds a unique flavour. A few Noble Rot wines to look out for – French Sauternes, Hungarian Tokaji, German Auslese or Beerenauslese or Trockenbeerenauslese Rieslings or Eiswein (aka. Ice Wine). If you want to read more about these richly sweet dessert wines I’ve written a more details blog post about them here.

Okay, so that covers fruit desserts and sweeter creamier desserts but what happens if you need chocolate. Go for a fortified wine. For those sweet wines haters like yourself Heath, you might actually warm to an intensely sweet fortified drop (rather than those richly sweet wines described above which I don’t think you’ll even like). Fortified wines are full bodied and high in alcohol (17-20%) which mutes the sweetness a little. Remember that fortified wines (and richly sweet dessert wines for that matter) are meant to be drunk in small glasses and treasured like a single malt Scotch. You don’t eat a whole chocolate cake do you (that would be sickly and unenjoyable) so why would you drink a wine glass full of dessert wine? Stick to the less is more rule and you might find yourself warming to it.

So when I say fortified wines I’m talking about Port where grape spirit is added to the wine during fermentation to kill the yeast and stop fermentation which ensures sugar remains. Or you could go for a sweet Sherry like a Cream or a Moscatel (perfect with a nutty chocolaty dessert) or Pedro Ximinez.

Well now, that’s the full spectrum! I’ve covered off on dry Sparkling wine with a fruity dessert, lightly sweet and richly sweet wines with vanilla and caramel and fortified wines with chocolate and nuts. So perhaps the lesson in all of this – if you’re fussy with your wine then pick it first and follow your wine selection by your dessert selection depending on the sweetness of your drop.

Image from zendesigns.co.nz/product/strawberries-champagne-fragrance-oil/#

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