What’s better than dessert? The answer is simple: dessert wine. That syrupy ambrosia, that delightful nectar! How it tickles the tongue, placates the belly, and soothes the mind. The holidays are here, and it’s a wonderful time to double fist at dessert, with a spoon in one hand and a cordial glass in the other. Here are five merry pairings with desserts to make any season joyful.
This pairing is great for those with a sweet tooth but also looking for something light. Kourambiedes (a.k.a. Greek Christmas cookies) are crumbly, and at once dry and buttery. Sprinkled with powdered sugar, they make a beautiful display when layered in a pyramid. These Kourambiedes were from Artopolis, a New York classic Greek pastry shop, and were paired with South African wine Fleur du Cap Bergkelder Selection Noble Late Harvest 2013. While it seemed more obvious to pair a Greek dessert with a Greek wine, in our contemporary life, cultures are constantly mixing, fusing together cuisines for a delectable result. And since South Africa has a large Greek population, it seemed natural to mix the flavors of the two cultures together.
The Fleur Du Cap Late Harvest’s Chenin Blanc grape comes from the Stellenbosch area, giving the wine a fruity, floral, and fresh taste. The brilliantly golden drink is sweet without being syrupy, and balances the nutty, dry texture of kourambiedes. The body of the wine has a very interesting effect on the consistency of the kourambiedes, unifying the flakiness and dissolving the powdered sugar.
Aptly named “Decadence,” the Flourless Chocolate Cake from Trader Joe’s is made of chocolate, egg, and butter. It is indeed decadently divine. Paired with a slightly bubbly Moscato that cuts the heaviness perfectly, the two together make a truly gluttonous couple. The Moscato chosen was the Abbazia di Novacella Moscato Rosa Praepositus, which boasts a regal red hue. The richness of this wine and dessert is on par, but the touch of acidity in the wine refreshes the palate. The pairing was so perfect, the Moscato could (almost) be poured on top like a syrup.
The Camporeale Kaid Late Harvest hits like cupid’s arrow: one touch, and the imbiber falls hopelessly in love. The Sicilian dessert wine has a very earthy, soft, sweet-but-not-too-sweet taste with notes of wild cherry, tobacco, and black pepper. An American fall holiday classic, pumpkin pie bears a similar hearty warmth. These mini-pies came from pastry chef Diana Valenzuela at élan restaurant, who makes hers with a five-spice and amaro crust, topped with lavender pecans. The pairing is a crowd pleaser, as the more savory of American desserts balances delightfully with this very sweet wine. The earthy notes of both the pumpkin and the wine came out together, giving a very grounded, comforting effect.
Similar to the more famous panettone, a Veneziana is a northern Italian dessert more akin to a sweet bread than a cake. The panettone-style pastries date back to the Roman times, with panettone being an Italian Christmas staple, while the Veneziane are served on New Year’s Day. These mini-Veneziane come from the renowned Sant Ambreous bakery, a Milanese pastry shop dating back to 1936 and with a location that opened (comparatively) recently in New York. Tasting the Veneziane is like taking a gustatory step back in history, so they were suitably paired with an old-fashioned dessert wine, La Quintinye Vermouth. Served over ice, La Quintinye Vermouth has a medicinal taste that is for the eclectic palate. Named after Jean-Baptiste de la Quintinye, botanist to Louis IV, Quintinye Vermouth Royal is made from 28 plants and spices, and a blend of red and white wines from Pineau des Charentes. The Quintinye intensely unique flavor and other-era taste match perfectly with the candied orange rind of the Veneziana.
Opposites attract in this ying and yang pairing. At first, it seems like an incongruous couple, but then the similarities of the two blend together and the differences complement each other. The average pecan pie tends to be succulent and syrupy, but leave it to a barbecue place to make the most succulent and syrupy of pecan pies. The dessert was from Virgil’s Real BBQ, and was a pleasant punch to the belly. The González Byass ‘Leonor’ Palo Cortado Sherry was also a punch, this time to the palate. It resembles whisky in its flavor, with an acidity and a smokiness that seem insurmountable. And yet, together, the syrupy molasses and forest nuttiness of the pie provides the perfect balance to the chimney smokiness of the sherry. Where the sherry is serious, lean and stiff, the pecan is frivolous, corpulent, and merry.
Madina Papadopoulos is a New York-based freelance writer, author and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her food adventures on Instagram and Twitter.