Sweets for my Sweet

Matching dessert wine with food

Christmas would not be Christmas without pudding wine, and with over 60 stickies on offer, from the mountain wine of Málaga to the Greek island of Samos and from Alsace to Australia, Janet Wynne Evans feels impelled to supply a compass.

We tend to think of pudding wines collectively, according to whether they are born sweet (muscat, for example), achieve sweetness (through noble rot, perhaps) or have sweetness thrust upon them by the addition of brandy (as do liqueur wines). A better way to choose the right one, and to make it work as hard as you over the festive season, is to consider the grapes involved, and their affinity with various foods.

Matching dessert wine with food

Matching dessert wine with food

Matching Grape to Dish

Riesling

Riesling, eggs and cream, for instance, are a fine combination: a wobbly crème brûlée and delicious sweet German bottle would make for an extravagant, but sublime mouthful on Christmas Eve.

> Dessert rieslings

Semillon & sauvignon blanc

Sauternes and Barsac and their country-cousins, Monbazillac and Sainte Croix du Mont are the sweet face of waxy, blossomy semillon and tangy sauvignon blanc, underpinned by the orange-marmalade character of noble rot. Their perfect balance of sweetness and acidity is wonderful with foie gras and blue cheese. It's also widely available in practical half bottles. Do try Sauternes with savoury dishes as well and with Roquefort cheese for a glorious end to the meal.

> Browse for dessert wines made from semillon and sauvignon blanc

Gewurztraminer

Gewurztraminer is heavenly with roast goose and a few extra degrees of sweetness merely reinforce its good humour in the face of a smelly Munster cheese. This is the spicy grape par excellence, and the first port of call for any dessert which contains ginger or cinnamon, and exotic fruits like pineapple and lychees. The rose-water allure of Vendange Tardive gewurztraminer suggests after-dinner Turkish Delight.

> Browse for dessert wines made from gewurztraminer

Chenin blanc

After days of complex feasting there is much to be said for a baked apple, especially with a sweet chenin blanc which combines a taste of honey with the sort of brisk acidity needed to match a trenchant Bramley. The most famous of them, Vouvray and its junior partner Montlouis, are often labelled moelleux which can range from just sweet to luscious. Further down the Loire in Anjou, the Coteaux du Layon, Quarts de Chaume and tiny Bonnezeaux also produce exquisite dessert wines from nobly-rotted chenin blanc. Choose sweeter styles for tarte aux pommes or rich liver pâtés.

The slightly drier Vouvrays are wonderful with a strong goat's milk cheese such as Saint Maure and also work brilliantly with curries made from the last of the turkey.

> Read our feature on matching Vouvray with food with recipes to try

Muscat

Just as its dry version evokes ripe grapes and fresh flowers, a dessert muscat brings a heady element to the table. Try light, gently effervescent Piedmont Moscato with tropical fruit salads, a punchier Beaumes de Venise or unctuous Anthemis from Samos with baked figs, and the strongest of them all, Rutherglen Liqueur Muscat with its solid equivalent, The Society's own Plum Pudding.

> Browse for dessert wines made from muscat

Petit-manseng

Among the lesser-known grapes, the lively acidity and exotic fruit flavours of the petit-manseng make a dessert Jurançon a good match for the cocoa-buttery sweetness of a white chocolate Bûche Noël, France's answer to the Yule Log, or that quintessential British dessert, trifle.

> Search for dessert wine made from petit-manseng

Furmint

The citrus-peel character of Hungarian furmint in partnership with the spicy, aromatic hárslevelű make Tokaji sing with lighter Christmas cakes, mince pies, or a boozy dried fruit salad with nuts and orange-zest, a low-GI (!) alternative to the traditional plum pudding (see recipe below). I recently tasted late-harvest Tokaji with sticky toffee pudding too - a marriage made in heaven.

Grenache

Batting for the red varieties, grenache, the chunky, alcoholic red which makes Châteauneuf-du-Pape such a winter comfort, becomes dense and powerful in the liqueur wines of Banyuls can handle the darkest, richest bitter chocolate concoction imaginable. The Malmsey-like Maury Solera would also be sublime with chocolate or even coffee-infused desserts.

> Search for dessert wine made from grenache

> Read more about dessert wines of Roussillon

Tannat

And, for all those chocoholics out there, what about sweet fortified tannat from Madiran in south-west France? Château d'Aydie's Maydie Tannat is a must with 'may die' by chocolate(!) (though avoid white).

Frances Bissell's White Chocolate Mousse

White Chocolate Mousse White Chocolate Mousse

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 200g fine white chocolate
  • 2 tbsp double cream
  • 60g butter
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 100g bitter chocolate
  • splash of crème de cacao or other chocolate liqueur

Method

In a bowl over gently simmering water, melt 200g fine white chocolate with 2 tbsp double cream.

Add 60g softened butter and beat in quickly. Cool slightly.

Separate 3 medium eggs. Add the yolks to the chocolate mixture. Whisk the whites to soft peaks and fold in with a metal spoon.

Divide between 4-6 ramekins and chill thoroughly.

Melt 75g bitter chocolate with a splash of crème de cacao or other chocolate liqueur to achieve a piping consistency. Fill a forcing bag or icing syringe with the mixture and, using a fine nozzle, top each mousse with some creative piping swirls, zigzags, or, if it's a special New Year's Eve dessert, why not "2013"?

Return to the fridge and chill until the topping becomes hard and crisp.

Breaking through it with a spoon to get at the underlying mousse is a moment of indescribable pleasure. Serve with a glass of dessert Jurançon.

This gorgeous recipe originally appeared in 'A Cook's Calendar' by Frances Bissell, and is passed on by kind permission of the author.

Not Christmas Pudding

Not Christmas Pudding Not Christmas Pudding

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

Make ahead Method

Make a pot of Lapsang, jasmine or spiced China tea of your choice, and strain into a measuring jug.

Make up to 500ml with cold water and pour over 500g of dried fruit salad and a good handful of muscatel raisins. Soak overnight.

Drain over a pan, to catch the soaking liquid, to which add a heaped tablespoon of muscovado sugar, 2 cinnamon sticks, a star anise and a pinch each of nutmeg and ginger. Heat gently to dissolve the sugar, then add the reconstituted fruit and simmer just long enough to concentrate the liquor.

Add a generous glassful of Liqueur d'Oranges à la Fine Champagne, or Doorly's XO Barbados Rum, cover and leave to infuse for a day or so.

Sprinkle with halved walnuts and pecans and serve with cream and a glass of Tokaji or fortified muscat.

Do not attempt to drive or operate heavy machinery!

Read more about how to buy sweet wines and the temperatures to serve them at here.

Browse our selection of dessert wines here and filter the selection by grape variety to help you find the flavours you're looking for. Alternatively, consult The Society's Food and Wine Matcher for the perfect accompaniment to a particular dish.

Article originally published in Societynews October 2005. Updated November 2016.

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