Dessert wines - Many people just pour them over high-quality vanilla bean ice cream with fresh berries or shaved dark chocolate atop. But a quality dessert wine is so much more than just a sweet pick-me-up or a syrup for frozen milch. During the holidays you should have a few bottles on hand. Don't be shy about using them as after-dinner digestifs enjoyed in a tiny glass, as the basis for meat marinades and vinaigrettes, to splash into Spanish cava or champagne for a festive flair, and to accompany holiday desserts. At the end of a meal, a complex, layered dessert wine is both dessert and digestif, particularly if you serve it with some crisp fruit and mellow cheeses. Some dessert wines, particularly whites, are mellow enough to be served with roasted quail and other savory treats. During the holidays, a good dessert wine makes an instant course for a quickly pulled together dinner, and can even be used as part of the preparation.
Some easy pairings for late harvest and port-style reds:
- Dates stuffed with cream cheese and topped with a raspberry
- Small puff pastry circlets topped with cream fraiche, berries, and shaved chocolate
- Sesame glazed walnuts
- Slices of pear and apple
- Savory cheeses—Gorgonzola, Stilton, Manchego
Quick pairings for white late harvest and dessert wines:
- White chocolate brownies
- Puff pastry cups with fresh peaches, crème fraiche and toasted almonds
- Fruit and cheese quiche
- Tapioca or pudding topped with fruit and crème fraiche
While most people instinctively pair a sweet with a sweet, the oils and sugar in chocolate and dessert dishes coat the palate and subdue the layered flavors of a great dessert wine. When I want the wine to star, I serve nuts, cheese, and savory bites.
Try basting a quail with a dessert white or red while roasting, and prepare a long-grain rice stuffing with fruits that have been steeped in a cup of the wine—dark fruits for a red dessert wine, white fruits like apricots and blood oranges in white dessert wine. The savory elements of the fowl and rice are a great marriage with dessert wines. Look for dessert wines that are not too rich and pruney—they should have lifted acidity and clearly definable varietal flavors.