What to Drink with Dessert

Food & Wine: Double-Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie
Double-Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie © Rob Howard
By Ray Isle Posted September 25, 2013

It’s quite something to take a brisk walk on a cool September morning through Soho in New York City and come across a line of at least 150 people waiting patiently for the opportunity to buy a cronut. For me at least, the sight of all these cronut-loons raises a number of questions. One is, “Really? That’s how you’re going to spend your morning?” Another is, “Wow—is civilization doomed?” Then there’s the crucially important, “Gosh, I wonder what wine would go with a cronut?”

As I am never going to have a cronut—because the hour I’d spend in line to get one would be an hour I would never get back, which I could have spent doing something more exciting, like watching water drip—that last question will remain hypothetical. But it does bring up the question of dessert wines in general.

There are a couple of useful things to know when pairing wine with desserts. First, generally speaking it’s best if the wine is a little sweeter than the dessert; sweet foods tend to make wines taste less sweet, which is why pairing dry Champagne with cake is actually a fairly awful combo—the sweet frosting will make the Champagne taste aggressively tart and thin. If you’ve got a super-sweet dessert (double-chocolate peanut butter pie, let’s say), you’ll want a very sweet wine, but one with enough acidity to keep the flavors fresh. Otherwise, the combo will be cloying (this is why Malmsey Madeiras are so terrific with chocolate). The other thing to know is that acidity fools your tongue—if you have two wines with the same amount of residual sugar, the one with higher acidity will taste less sweet. Here are some pairing suggestions based on the sweetness level of the dessert you’re serving:

Lightly Sweet Desserts (fresh fruit, for instance)
Moscato d’Asti
Demi-sec Champagne
Brachetto d’Acqui

Medium-Sweet Desserts (fruit tarts, pound cake, panna cotta, biscotti, gingerbread, apple pie)
Auslese Riesling
Vin santo
Oloroso sherry

Very Sweet (sticky toffee pudding, pecan pie, molten chocolate cake, fudgy brownies)
PX sherry
Late-harvest Zinfandel

Who knows?

Related: Wine Pairings for Desserts
Ultimate Guide to Wine Pairings
Dessert Recipes

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