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Living the Sweet Life

There is something magical about this time of the year, with family gatherings and desserts galore. This is when I break out the special dessert recipes and dream up wine pairings to share with those that I love. The key with pairing wine with dessert is to make sure that the wine is sweeter than the dessert and that it is served chilled. Best yet, pick one that has a bit of a story to go along with it. A few of my favorites to pair with the desserts of the season are ice wines for fruit-based desserts, madeira for pumpkin and pecan pies, and banyuls for chocolate desserts.


The mythology around icewine (or Eiswein in German) is that it started in what is now Germany and a frost struck before harvest; a winemaker persevered with making the wine by using the frozen grapes. The wines are rich with expansive viscosity on the palate, along with expressive stone fruit, citrus, and honey mingled with bracing acidity. It lends itself to pairing beautifully with fruit-based desserts that also mirror that sweetness with acidity. A specialty of Germany and Austria, producers to look for are Dönhoff and Egon Müller from Germany and Alois Kracher and Schloss Gobelsberg from Austria. Our Canadian neighbors up north, in Ontario and British Columbia, also excel in icewine; they uphold stringent standards such as grapes must be frozen on the vine, harvest happens when the grapes are below 8 degrees Celsius, and the wine can only be made from an approved list of grapes. Inniskillen is the classic producer, making icewine from Riesling, Cabernet Franc, and Vidal most commonly.


Madeira. I love to share Madeira with people and tell how the founders of our very country drank this whilst signing the Declaration of Independence. Great story, but better yet – it’s delicious and pairs perfectly with pumpkin pie. . .and pecan pie. . .and declaring independence? The wine itself is a fortified wine from Madeira, Portugal (although it is closer geographically to Africa). Fortified wines are wines where fermentation is halted with the addition of brandy. Then, Madeira is heated up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit for months, years, or even decades. The really good stuff is heated in hot attics to bake. Even after all that, there is more aging (in casks for some). Madeira can be bracingly dry to very rich. The richer Malmsey (or Malvasia) style displays the toffee, maple syrup, spice, orange peel, and nuttiness that lends itself well to the complexity of pumpkin and nut-based desserts. Look to the Rare Wine Company’s New York Malmsey, Broadbent, Barbeito, and D’Oliveira for wonderful examples. If you want to splurge, you can find bottles in the market that are over a hundred years old - you can indeed drink history.


Where are my chocolate fans? A wonderful wine to pair with a rich chocolate dessert is banyuls. Made from grenache in Roussillon, France, this fortified wine has been produced since the 13th century. There are various styles made, but for pairing with chocolate desserts, the rouge banyuls showcases complementary notes of ripe, red fruit such as strawberries and raspberries with spice, herbs, and chocolate. Producers to look for are Chapoutier, Domaine La Tour Vieille, and Gerard Bertrand. Personally, this will be what I pair with my yearly bûche de noël that features dark chocolate.


Treat yourself to some fine liquid delectables to finish a beautiful meal, to cheers another year, and to celebrate being with family and friends again. Please reach out to Mariano about any of the wines noted above.




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