The key principle to matching sweet wines with desserts is to make sure the wine is at least as sweet as the pudding; otherwise, it tastes weak and thin.
Christmas Pudding, Cake & Mince Pies
For the classic sweet treats of the festive season, the wine can be quite sweet and as rich as you might want, such as a Chambers Rutherglen Liqueur Muscat (as mentioned in my previous post on cheese), or a rich Pedro Ximénez such as Lustau’s San Emilio from Spain – these two will be splendidly hedonistic with the richness of the pudding, mince pies, also Christmas cake.
Meringues and Fruity Desserts
Then you have sweet but more delicate puddings such as meringue and fruit pies which would be swamped by these sort of dessert wines. Here, a more refined sweet wine such as Sauternes or Tokaji Aszú from Hungary works just as well. Likewise, these same wines also team up with caramelised desserts (classically Tarte Tatin).
A “Crowd Pleaser” is Andrew Quady Essencia Orange Muscat California USA, with a lovely easy drinking style. Made by Californian dessert wine specialist Andrew Quady, this is a very fruity citrus dessert wine which is not too sweet (so avoid with Christmas Pudding and mince pies for example) but which will work with many fruit-based puddings.
Next up are two suggestions which should work perfectly with any caramelised desserts traditionally tarte tatin style, but also meringue-based puddings and lighter cakes and pastries. Sweeter than the Quady, both have notes of stone fruit (especially the Sauternes) and citrus (especially the Cordon Cut) but also great refreshment and vitality. There are nice notes of honey and citrus peel too.
A classic from Bordeaux made predominantly from desiccated Sémillon grapes and oak aged.
Mount Horrock’s Cordon Cut Riesling Calre Valley South Australia – A “Try Something Different” wine – remarkably elegant and made from desiccated Riesling grapes in Clare Valley South Australia.
The biggest challenge comes with chocolate dishes. Chocolate (especially high cocoa content) really challenges a lot of sweet wines. The wines need to be sweet but also savoury, and even caramelised themselves in nature. An aged Tawny Port is a good partner for example (as mentioned in my previous post on cheese) – but I have highlighted my first choice below for any chocolate dish you may be planning.
Apart from Late Bottled and Vintage Ports, all sweet wines should be enjoyed well chilled – this is very important to maintain balance and to keep them from tasting heavy. And the good news is sweet wines go a long way – they can be sipped, savoured, and stoppered and returned to the fridge where they can last happily for up to a week, or longer in some cases. A little goes a long way! They can therefore be deceptively good value for money.
The next wine, for me, is perfect with anything chocolate and not as “heady” as Tawny Port. It has the sweetness, but also creaminess and savoury element which matches incredibly well with fine cocoa base desserts – or just chocolate on its own:
A speciality red dessert Roussillon wine style from France’s deep south and made mainly from late harvested Grenache grapes. The wine is lightly fortified and not too sweet and very moreish. Great for after dinner too.
Treat Yourself and Try Something Different
And finally, there is the legendary luxurious late harvest, barrel fermented and aged Muscat from Klein Constantia in South Africa and the very traditional, vinous liquid caramel, dried grape belter from Domaine Argyros on the Greek island of Santorini.
Vin de Constance Klein Constantia, Constantia South Africa
The Vin de Constance would work well with all caramelised sugar (tatin) desserts and meringue, whilst the Vin Santó Argyros is a lovely substitute indeed to go with your Christmas pudding – less “heady” than the Liqueur Muscat.
And finally – enjoy!
I hope this guide is useful – and covers as many options as possible for your plans and preferences over the coming holiday season. It is only a guide and eventually you must enjoy the sort of wines which appeal to you personally and – very importantly – within your budget.
Above all, it is about sharing time and experiences and I think wine is part of that pleasure at this time of the year. And wine makes for a lovely Christmas present – Wine Trust have a fine selection of wines in presentation and wooden gift boxes in their portfolio: