What’s for dessert?
January 24, 2007
Food and wine pairings are always a sensitive thing. Remember when you used to buy a bottle of red wine and it had a little crude outline of a chicken on the back. The old white wine with fish and red wine with meat ideology is certainly outdated and pairings have become much more complicated. What is the sauce and how do the flavors in the wine accentuate the dish? Is it cooked rare or well done and how will the texture of the wine affect the meat? What’s on the side? Well, there is good news folks. Dessert pairings are the easiest pairings out there. Nothing. In this wine guy’s personal opinion coffee is the best thing to compliment almost any dessert. When considering pairings of all other dishes, the first thought is whether or not the components of the wine balances with the food. In the case of a creamy, fatty cheese, the best thing is invariably a bright acidic white wine to cut through all of the fat. In the case of a rare steak, the tannic structure of a big cab is perfect for adding structure to the juicy character of the filet. Why people pair dessert wines with dessert is beyond me. The last thing you would ever want to do to a sugary dessert is add more sugar. That is why I always have to make that horribly difficult decision; do I want dessert, or do I want dessert wine? I bet you can guess which one I usually go for. So when I put down the whisk and open the liquor cabinet, here is what I hope to find.
It is, of course, really tough to beat a great bottle of Porto. This classic fortified wine is an English favorite and always makes a good nightcap. Port is basically a mixture of partially-fermented wine, which has still retained much of its residual sugar and brandy distilled from grapes in the Duoro River Valley in Portugal. There are many variations of Port. The basic non-vintage Ports such as the Warre’s Warrior and the Graham’s Six Grapes Ruby are great to have around the house considering that, once opened, they still retain a shelf-life of a few months. The great vintage Ports on the other hand are a real treat, though you should make sure that you have enough guests to polish off the whole bottle. You will be sad to find out that the next day the isn’t nearly what it was the night before.
One of my truly favorite dessert treats is the elegant and complex Icewine, which has become a specialty of Canada. Icewine is made by crushing ripe grapes that have frozen on the vines, thereby leaving ice crystals in the press and resulting in a sweeter and more concentrated wine. The house Inniskillin has taken rank as the most well-known and possibly the best of these most delicious sweet wines.
For me, there is no greater sweet wine than fine Sauternes. These wines are made in the Sauternes region of Bordeaux and are made great due to a rot called botrytis cinerea that takes over the grapes during the fall as harvest approaches. It really is an awful looking thing. Moldy and shriveled, the grapes stay on the vines until they are almost completely devoid of juice. They are then pressed and fermented. The wine that results is one of the most succulent and delicious things one could ever imagine. The layers of nuts, dried fruits, and vanilla that unfold are enough to make the senses real. Try Chateau D’Yquem sometime and you will know what I mean.
So next time a beautiful chocolate tart arrives at your table, ask for a black coffee and see how it treats you as a pairing. Otherwise, let the dessert wines stand alone. They are sweet enough as it is.
Zev Rovine is the sommelier and resident cheese monger at the Spotted Frog Bookstore Cafe and Wine Bar where he teaches weekly wine classes. His wine education comes from the American Sommelier Association in N.Y.C. and he tries his very best not to spill the Pinot on the bestseller section. If you have any wine queries or comments he is easily contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .