Ultimate Wine Lover’s Guide To Holiday Desserts

Nothing shouts “holidays” louder than desserts and wine. Not surprisingly, the holidays are the favorite time of year for most people when a mix of traditions, family time, food, desserts and of course, wine come together. Think cozy relaxed evenings around the fire, sipping your favorite wines and enjoying delicious desserts after a sumptuous meal! With Thanksgiving just behind us and Christmas around the corner, it is time to bring out that treasured bottle of wine you carried back so safely in your VinGardeValise and share it with friends and family, along with your memories.

But wait, you consider yourself pretty much a pro at pairing wine with food. What about holiday desserts? Do you feel dazed when you hear that Rieslings must be paired with bright berries and rich warm spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg, caramel, vanilla, chocolate and creamy cheesecake?

You’re not alone.

It is not easy to pair desserts with wines and since we’ve been getting quite a few questions about this since our post about wine and food pairing, we thought now is a good time as any to put together our favorite holiday desserts and wine pairing recommendations.

But first, a few guidelines.

Wine Lovers Guide To Desserts

Pairing wine with dessert tips:

There are three factors to keep in mind about wine: Acidity, intensity and sweetness since wine and dessert should complement each other.

  • Pair with similar colors.
  • Always go for sweet with sweet. Pick a wine that is equally sweet or sweeter than the dessert, otherwise the wine feels sour.  
  • While choosing dessert wine, remember the darker the dessert, the darker the wine.
  • If your dessert is very sweet, wait and serve a dessert wine later! The same goes for frozen desserts that will numb the taste buds.
  • Remember, the sweeter the chocolate, the sweeter the wine” and “the darker the chocolate, the darker the wine.
  • For simple flavors such as vanilla bean, butterscotch and caramel, pick oaky wines
  • The sweeter the wine, the colder it should be served

Unlike the main course of a meal, the taste of the same dessert can vary. For example, an apple pie can be sweet or tart.  The same goes for cakes, puddings, cookies and ice creams. If you like a particular dessert-wine combination, just go for it. With guests, you might have to take the more traditional route. For large groups of people, stick to vanilla/strawberry/chocolate as you can pair these with a simple Merlot.  

Wine and Dessert Pairings

Pumpkin pie

First on the list, is naturally pumpkin pie. Savory rather than sweet, it pairs well with a wine that is not too sweet. Since it is made with pumpkin, cream cheese, cinnamon, ginger and sugar, the perfect wine to pair with it should be a light creamy, red berry somewhat spicy or floral wine. Perhaps with a tinge of caramel? We have two choices – red and white and these include Riesling, ice wine, White Bordeaux, Zinfandel and Port or Sherry.Try Vinsanto, sweet yet spicy, complementing the spices in the pumpkin pie. It also adds the acidity necessary to balance the pie’s rich creamy texture. Whether you go in for the Greek Vinsanto or Italian Vin Santo, go for the savory one with its nutty, fruity flavor. Semi-sweet Moscato’s bubbles infiltrate the pumpkin pie very well, with the right sweetness to match the sugary filling and whipped cream.

 Apple Pie

Apple pie with wine and grapes

This delicious holiday dessert is an alltime favorite, really. The ideal blend of fruit and cinnamon and nutmeg spice, pecan nuts is like coming home. This is lighter than other pies, and you want to pair it with a light botrytized wine, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon with its caramel and honeyed flavors. The acidity will slice through the sugar and butter, cleansing your palate as it goes. Another excellent choice is ice wine with its refreshing sweetness balanced by high acidity that is perfect for both apple pies and tarts. Riesling can also enhance the baked flavors in apple pie. Chenin Blanc also works well. And if you have a really sweet tooth, a richer sparkling wine or Sauternes is the way to go.

Pecan Pie

Denser than apple pie and rich, nutty and sweet, pecan pie is loved for its interesting flavor. While you could choose from a variety of dessert wines, the experts recommend Portugal’s Tawny Port, a full bodied rich wine that is perfect for this pie with its own nutty flavors. Its acidity balances the pie’s sugar, crust and nuts. Another perfect match for pecan pie is Sherry.  

Chocolate Pie

This universal favorite needs an elegant and fruity wine. The full bodied Ruby Port, with its red berry flavors is a match made in heaven for all chocolate, barring white. Go for a late harvest red wine especially if it is dark chocolate pie. The extra tannin complements the bitter tannins in dark chocolate and yes, heavenly.

Mince Pie

With mince pie, serve Madeira or Sauternes. While the fortified Madeira is from Portugal carrying flavors of toffee, raisins, marmalade and caramel, Sauternes is French and sweet, made from botrytized grapes that result n sweet and acidic wines with apricot, honey peaches and nut flavor.

Cheesecake

Cheesecake can be a challenge as it comes with different toppings and sauces and the best choice is Sauvignon blanc, which is fruity yet balanced.   

Any berry dessert

Berry pies, tarts and crumbles are best paired with Brachetto d’Acqui, an effervescent and moderately sweet sparkling red wine with a wild berry flavor and a gentle fizz, blackberry pies and raspberry tarts and crumbles

Kourambiedes or Greek Christmas Cookies

This Greek dessert is light, crumbly, dry and buttery, sprinkled with powdered sugar. South African Fleur du Cap Bergkelder Selection Noble Late Harvest 2013.  Fruity, floral and fresh, this golden wine is sweet and matches the nutty dryness of the cookies.

Panna Cotta

This sweet creamy Italian dessert, often  aromatized with rum, coffee, vanilla, or other flavorings pairs with Moscato or Muscat, made from Mediterranean grapes with citrus, rose and peach overtones. When aged in barrels, the wine can be quite dark. Best with custards and cream pies.

Pineapple gingerbread upside-down cake

This classic holiday dessert is a wonderful and pretty variation on the traditional cake. Cozy, simple and delicious. The gingerbread in place of the usual cake adds a spicy touch. Enjoy a Late Harvest Vignoles reminiscent of the aroma of caramel, pineapple, spice and vanilla.

Plum almond tart

A short-crust dessert with ground almond filling and layers of sweet-tart plums and frangipane. Almost looks too good to eat.  You want to complement it with a dry ice Riesling ice wine, well balanced and produced from Riesling grapes that bring with them the flavors of apricot and passion fruit.

Cinnamon Chocolate Mousse

Wine Lover's Desserts

The perfect end to a fabulous meal, nothing says holiday louder than cinnamon chocolate mousse. Velvety, with dark chocolate and the fragrance of cinnamon, this much-loved dessert asks for the Chateau Chantal Cerise with its pure tart cherry flavor.

Lemon Meringue Tart

This baked delight with its shortcrust pastry crust, lemon custard filling and fluffy meringue topping finds its partner in the French Sauvignon Blanc, a native of Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. This dry white wine has a unique flavor of herbs with hints of lime, green apple and passion fruit, and often jalapeno and green bell peppers. Ideal with lemon meringue tart and pie.

Fresh Berries and Whipped Cream

Nothing like biting into a fresh berry with the flavor bursting in your mouth. Think fresh blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries. With whipped cream. Pair with a sparkling Italian wine such as Prosecco to feel the flavor of green apple, pears and cream, adding that perfect touch to the dessert.

Berry Creme bruleeCreme Brûlée or Chocolate Mousse

Crème brûlée or burnt cream is a French classic holiday dessert made with a rich custard base with a layer of hard caramel, bringing a textural contrast.

Pair it with the subtly flavored Pinot Noir, adding a hint of berries, cherries and cranberries.  

Dark Chocolate Truffles or Double Chocolate Chip Cookies

Merlot originating from Bordeaux, this grape has a dark and intense color that gives off flavors of plum, blackberries and leafy greens.

Apple tarte tatin

This classic yet simple upside-down dessert is made of pastry dough, butter, apples and burnt sugar and pairs beautifully with the aromatic and highly acidic Riesling from Germany. Riesling essentially can be dry, semi sweet and sweet, depending on the region it originated from. The most common flavors are lemon, apricot, peach, apple and honey. Enjoy!

Sweet Potato Pie

This is an inherently sweet dessert with added sugar, cinnamon, spiiced with nutmeg and topped with whipped cream. Go for a full bodied wine to balance the sweetness with its tannins, such as a red blend with Cabernet Sauvignon or Tempranillo. Another option is an off dry white Riesling.

Peach Cobbler

Another favorite holiday dessert, the peach cobbler is a southern speciality where a golden brown crust lovingly covers a bed of peaches cooked in butter and brown sugar. Resolve to spend extra time at the gym while you explore Rieslings flavored with peach, apricot, honey and apple. A Sauternes or Sauvignon Blanc offer extra options.

Double Chocolate Brownies

A rather happy go-to, these need no introduction. Think cocoa, dark chocolate chunks of chocolate and nuts. Yes, it is a Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir and you’re ready to go.

Red Velvet Cheesecake

Cheesecake is a hot holiday favorite and with chocolate and cream cheese and lemon, butter and buttermilk waving at you, so it is obvious why it is loved. Since this is a very sweet dessert, you want to pair it with a light fruity red wine like Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Syrah or Zinfandel Rose. And enjoy.

What if you have cheese board for dessert? We’ve got you covered. Enjoy it with Pinot Gris, especially with lighter cheese such as mozzarella, gouda, and brie. For crackers, go for a light water cracker to retain the wine’s flavors. Another good choice for an assorted cheese platter is port, a sweet red wine from Portugal flavored with berries, chocolate, caramel and nuts.  

To sum up, here is a quick tip sheet

  • Pumpkin pie – red and white wines including Riesling, ice wine, White Bordeaux, Zinfandel and Port, Sherry, Vinsanto, Moscato
  • Apple Pie – a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, or ice wine, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Sauternes  
  • Pecan Pie – Portugal’s Tawny Port
  • Chocolate Pie – Ruby Port
  • Mince PieMadeira or Sauternes
  • Cheesecake – Sauvignon blanc  
  • Any berry dessert – Sweet red Italian wine like Brachetto d’Acqui
  • Panna Cotta – Moscato or Muscat   
  • Pineapple gingerbread upside-down cake – Late Harvest Vignoles  
  • Plum almond tart – A dry ice Riesling ice wine
  • Cinnamon Chocolate Mousse – Chateau Chantal Cerise  
  • Lemon Meringue Tart – French Sauvignon Blanc
  • Fresh Berries and Whipped Cream – Prosecco.
  • Creme Brûlée or Chocolate Mousse – Pinot Noir  
  • Dark Chocolate Truffles or Double Chocolate Chip Cookies – Merlot from Bordeaux
  • Apple tarte tatin – Riesling from Germany.  
  • Sweet Potato Pie – A red blend with Cabernet Sauvignon or Tempranillo, an off dry white Riesling.
  • Peach Cobbler – Rieslings, Sauternes or Sauvignon Blanc   
  • Double Chocolate Brownies – Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir  
  • Red Velvet Cheesecake – Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Syrah or Zinfandel Rose.  
  • Cheese board –  Pinot Gris or Port, a sweet red wine from Portugal

As you can see, there’s a fine wine waiting to be enjoyed with every dessert preference – adding the perfect finishing touch to your meal! So don’t hesitate to bring home your favorite wines in your trusty wine suitcase! Happy Holidays!

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