Pour Some Sugar on Me — Dessert Wine Pairing

By Alycia Angle


glass-of-wine-hi-1If you don’t know already, I have quite the sweet tooth. Basically, my desire is to experience a Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory scenario at some point in my life. Although good ol’ Mr. Wonka knew a thing or two about perfecting the chocolate bar or creating the latest confection craze, he didn’t know much about pairing beverages with these sweet concoctions. Mixing sweet treats with sweet drinks can get pretty gross very quickly or it can be every sugar addicts dream come true. There is a whole world of wines that pair with dessert foods, and there are wines that can be drunk as the dessert itself.

In the U.S., dessert is typically accompanied by coffee or tea at the end of the meal. In France, Italy and other winemaking countries, the final course is an occasion to linger and sip on vino while consuming sweets. It’s time we learn from our winemaking friends how to have our cake and drink wine, too.


Tips for Drinking Dessert Wine

  1. The wine should be at least as sweet or sweeter than the dessert.
  2. As the colors of the dessert get darker, the wine should get darker, too.
  3. Seek out wines with acidity. This mouthwatering component keeps flavors and sugar from feeling too dense.
  4. It doesn’t take much of these dessert wines to get the job done, and luckily, the higher sugar and alcohol content helps preserve the wine. You can keep an opened bottled in your refrigerator for several days or even weeks if it’s properly sealed.
  5. A safe selection for any dessert is to accompany it with a Port wine.

Pairing Wine with Dessert

Let’s focus on the three main categories of dessert when selecting wine:

  1. Fruit, berries and spice

Flavors in the wine and the dessert: apples, strawberries, other fruits and cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Suggested wine: sweet whites like Sauternes, Moscato, Gewürztraminer

Choose a wine based on the dominant flavor of the fruit itself.

2.Vanilla, custard, ice cream, crème brulee

Flavors in wine and dessert: mild, light and buttery.

Suggested wine: Sauternes, Riesling, Asti Spumanti, demi-sec Champagne.

Choose thick styles like Sherry, Marsala or Australian liqueur Muscat.


  1. Chocolate, caramel and coffee

Flavors in wine and dessert: dark, buttery, caramelized and rich.

Suggested wine: Port, Grappa, Muscat, and red wine such as Pinot Noir or Grenache.

Milk chocolate is served best with Moscato d’Asti, while dark chocolate is paired best with a Recioto or Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) Port.


Skip the sweet course all together and go straight for the dessert wine. These wines are produced with extra sweet grapes. The fermentation is stopped before the yeast turns the natural grape sugar into alcohol. Two methods to stop fermentation include supercooling or adding brandy to the wine. This beverage is served in a small glass and should be sipped like Scotch. Although there are hundreds of different bottles, dessert wines fall under five main categories:


The high acidity and tingling bubbles cause sparkling wines taste less sweet than they truly are. Once you try different varieties, you will probably notice the grape varieties smell sweeter than others. When seeking a bubbly wine, look for words like Demi-sec, Amabile, Semi-seco, Dolce/Dulce, Doux and Moelleux.

Lightly Sweet

Lightly sweet wines are perfect for a hot day and are refreshingly sweet. This genre is comprised of fruit flavors and is best suited for fruit and vanilla based desserts. Wines like Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc and Voigner are fruity and sweet drinks typical of this group.

 Richly Sweet

Made with the highest quality grapes in an unfortified style, richly sweet wines can age for over 50 years. The sweetness and acidity preserve their fresh flavor. Richly sweet wines are produced in several different ways, which further categorize them –– late harvest, noble rot, straw mat and ice wine. Ice wine is rare and expensive because this occurs when the grapes freeze (a bizarre vineyard occurrence) but are still harvested and pressed while the grapes are frozen.

 Sweet Red

This genre is on the decline but there are a few well-produced sweet reds typically from Italy. A few sweet reds worth sampling include Lambrusco, Brachetto d’Acqui, Schiava, Freisa, Recioto della Valpolicella, late harvest red wines.


Fortified wines are created when brandy is added to the wine, which makes it either dry or sweet. Most have a higher alcohol content and have a longer shelf life after they’re opened. Fortified wines include Port, Sherry, Madeira and Vin Doux Naturel.

Now that spring is in full swing, try a bottle of dessert wine or pair a sweet wine with your favorite final course treat.