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dessert wines


Sweet and Sensual Valentine’s Day Couplings … for EVERYONE!

Did you know that history’s most famous ladies’ man, Casanova himself, made a habit of consuming chocolate before his romantic trysts? Or that the great Aztec emperor, Montezuma, gulped a goblet of liquid chocolate before visiting his harem?

No? Well, you’ve likely stumbled upon many recent articles about the health benefits of dark chocolate – bursting with powerful antioxidants and flavonoids to help to lower risk of cardiovascular disease, protect against sun damage, increase cognitive functions, improve mood, etc. Similarly, countless modern studies have also documented health benefits of wine (Yes, white wine as well). Many doctors agree that it’s possible that antioxidants, such as flavonoids or a substance called resveratrol, provide profound anti-aging and heart-healthy benefits.

Chocolate and wine share other fun similarities beyond these oh-so-welcomed health and beauty revelations. Perhaps surprisingly, they are described using a very similar vocabulary of taste characteristics such as “tannic, acidic, sweet, floral, fruity, spicy, earthy, etc.” And they both have earned an association – together or alone – with romance, sensuality and epicurean sumptuousness. Dessert wines, in particular, have been paired with chocolate by chocolatiers and sommeliers alike in delightful feats of palate alchemy.

So this Valentine’s Day, don’t just give chocolate – step it up and bring along a bottle of elixir d’amore! (Don’t know much about dessert wine at all?  Check out my recent post, Sweeten Up Your Wine Repertoire for a quick primer.)

A few things to keep in mind when pairing chocolate with wine:

  • Choose a wine at least as sweet as or sweeter than the chocolate; otherwise, the taste may quickly veer towards sour.
  • The darker the chocolate (usually less sweet), the more full-bodied the wine should be. For example, a dark chocolate tends to pair well with an intense fruit driven red, such as a late harvest California Zinfandel or jammy Syrah.
  • Wines may provide either matching or complementary characteristics. A wine with fruity and floral notes, for example, could work well with either a fruit-infused truffle OR a dry, earthy chocolate block.
  • As with any food and wine pairing, your personal palate is the your most trusted guide, so be creative and have fun. Santé!

TASTE n PAIR pocket guide:

Chocolate and wine


Sweeten up your wine repertoire – Basics for appreciating dessert wines

“Sweet wines are for amateurs.” This is obviously a misconception, but many people immediately shun sweet wines due to either unfamiliarity or, perhaps, an unfortunate White Zin experience. In truth, crafting serious sweet wines requires rigor, patience and care. It’s an artful interplay between achieving desired levels of sweetness (residual sugar) and alcohol, while also celebrating the full range of the grapes’ flavor and aromatic characteristics.

By way of comparison, dry wines are products of full fermentation, wherein yeast converts all sugar in the pressed grape juice until no residual sugar remains. Sweet wines, on the other hand, are produced to ensure a desired amount of residual sugar remains in the final product. This end result can be achieved through a few different variations in the wine-making process:

  • Adding a sweet component, such as unfermented grape juice, to sweeten the wine (This is often considered a less sophisticated approach.)
  • Interrupting the fermentation process by removing the yeasts with filter, or killing the yeasts using sulfur dioxide or by adding alcohol. Fortification (adding alcohol), where the grape juice is stopped short of full fermentation, is used to produce Port and Madeira.
  • Concentrating the sugar level in the grapes, themselves, before they are crushed

Of the above three, concentration methods are often considered the most artful and are employed to make some of the world’s most exceptional dessert wines. They include the following intricate techniques:

1. Late harvest:  Leaving the grapes on the vine longer than usual for harvesting at extreme ripeness boosts sugar level.

  • Grapes destined for late harvest are not only sweet but are often naturally high in acidity, which keeps the wine from being cloying.
  • The result could be a refreshing compliment to light desserts.

2. “Raisin” the grapes:  Drying the grapes causes them to shrivel. This could occur on the vine in warm climates or by laying the grapes out in well-ventilated, dry conditions that encourage evaporation.

  • This method adds a distinct oxidized character to the the final product.
  • This process gives uniquely condensed flavors of cooked and candied fruits, honey and spices.

3. Ice the grapes:  In cold climates, healthy grapes are sometimes left to freeze on the vine for winter harvesting. Crushing the grapes while still frozen allows the ice crystals to be removed, leaving an intensely concentrated grape syrup that is used to make sweet Eiswein or icewine.

  • Because these are made with intensely concentrated juice from healthy grapes, the wines have very pure, pronounced, varietal flavors, high acidity, full body and syrupy sweetness.

4. Botrytis (aka Noble Rot):  Botrytis is a “welcomed” fungus that sometimes develops on healthy, ripe grapes. It weakens the skin and speeds up the evaporation of water. This technique is vital to the production of certain highly prized dessert wines, such as Sauternes and Tokaji. These wines usually command a much higher price because:

  • Nobility is not guaranteed. If the conditions are not right, the rot could turn into a normal grey rot, which is a guaranteed crop destroyer.
  • Handpicking is essential as Botrytis rarely affects all the grapes evenly. Several passes may have to be made through the vineyard to pick all the grapes at the perfect stage of rottenness – a laborious selection process that makes production very expensive.
  • They age well, and Botrytis adds its own unique flavors with expressions of honey, stone fruits lemon.
  • The product is a lush, unctuous sweet wines, with complex flavors of honeysuckle, spice and exotic fruits.

Serving and tasting:

  • Dessert wines are best served well chilled at 6-8oC or 43-45oF.
  • Dessert wine glasses should be smaller with a bowl that’s curved to emphasize the fruit aroma and direct the wine to the back of the mouth so the sweetness doesn’t overwhelm.
  • As the name implies, dessert wines can provide a perfect standalone conclusion to a meal
  • For pairing with desserts, keep in mind that, in general, the wine should be at least as sweet or sweeter than the dessert.

  TASTE n PAIR pocket guide:


I invite you to trust your instincts and enjoy a luscious journey of sweetness and sensations. Santé!

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