Dessert and alcohol pairings can be tricky, but with some general guidelines, you can easily find the right drink to complement your sweet treat. The key factors to consider are the dessert’s ingredients, textures, and flavors. Lighter, fruit-based desserts pair well with bubbly wines or sweet wines. Rich chocolate or caramel desserts need a bolder red or sweet wine that can stand up to the intensity. Tart citrus desserts require a contrasting sweet wine. And creative desserts like savory cheeses need contrast from a potent spirit. Read on for tips on pairing categories of desserts with the ideal types of alcohol.
Light and Fruity Desserts
Fruit-based desserts like fruit tarts, panna cotta, or fruit crisps have a delicate, fresh flavor that calls for an equally light, fruit-forward alcohol pairing. Here are good options:
Effervescent bubbles and bright acidity cleanse the palate between bites of fruity desserts. For example:
|Dessert||Sparkling Wine Pairing|
|Mixed berry cobbler||Sparkling rosé|
|Peach panna cotta||Moscato d’Asti|
Sweet White Wines
The residual sugar in dessert wines matches the natural sweetness of fruit desserts. Examples include:
|Dessert||Sweet White Wine Pairing|
|Strawberry shortcake||Late harvest Riesling|
|Baked apples||Ice wine|
For the simplest pairing, match the fruit in the dessert with a like-flavored liqueur. Such as:
|Dessert||Fruit Liqueur Pairing|
|Blackberry pie||Blackberry liqueur|
|Banana pudding||Banana liqueur|
|Cherry cobbler||Cherry liqueur|
Rich and Intense Desserts
Dense chocolate, caramel, or nuts call for an alcohol with enough bold flavor to balance the dessert’s intensity. Consider these options:
The sweetness and concentrated fruit flavor of port wine is perfect for intense chocolate or nut-based desserts like:
|Chocolate torte||Ruby port|
|Chocolate-dipped strawberries||Tawny port|
The nutty, caramelized flavor of oloroso or cream sherry complements caramel or nut desserts such as:
|Pecan pie||Oloroso sherry|
|Caramel flan||Cream sherry|
|Turtle brownies||Pedro Ximenez sherry|
Sweet Red Wine
The concentrated berry flavors and residual sugar in dessert wines like Brachetto d’Acqui or sweet Lambrusco balance chocolate intensity:
|Dessert||Sweet Red Wine Pairing|
|Chocolate lava cake||Lambrusco|
|Chocolate-covered strawberries||Brachetto d’Acqui|
Citrus or Tart Desserts
The brightness of citrus or the tartness of cheesecake, lemon tart, or cranberry cobbler needs a sweet contrast. Opt for these pairings:
Sweet Sparkling Wines
The effervescence and sweetness balances tart citrus flavors in:
|Dessert||Sparkling Wine Pairing|
|Lemon meringue pie||Moscato d’Asti|
|Key lime pie||Brachetto d’Acqui|
|Cranberry apple crisp||Sweet sparkling rosé|
The intense sweetness of Sauternes, Tokaji, or ice wines provides the perfect contrast to tart desserts:
|Dessert||Dessert Wine Pairing|
|Lemon tart||Tokaji Aszu|
|Rhubarb pie||Canadian ice wine|
The sweetness of orange liqueurs complements citrus desserts like:
|Dessert||Orange Liqueur Pairing|
|Lemon pound cake||Triple sec|
|Orange creamsicle pie||Grand Marnier|
|Key lime pie||Cointreau|
Sometimes desserts take a savory turn with ingredients like cheese, nuts, or herbs. These unique desserts require spirits that can provide contrast. Consider pairing:
Creamy Cheese Desserts
|Creamy goat cheese pie||Cognac|
Nutty or Herbal Desserts
|Basil panna cotta||Gin|
|Lavender crème brûlée||Vodka|
|Pumpkin pie||Dark rum|
|Cinnamon churros||Irish whiskey|
Tips for Pairing Desserts and Alcohol
Use these tips for foolproof dessert and alcohol pairings:
- Match light desserts with light, fruity alcohols. Pair intense desserts with bolder, sweeter alcohols.
- Complement tart desserts with a sweet contrasting alcohol.
- Look for complementary flavors between the dessert ingredients and alcohol.
- Consider the dessert’s textures and match silky desserts with creamy liqueurs or spirits.
- Be open to contrasting flavor pairings for fun and surprising combinations.
With the right dessert and alcohol pairing, you can enhance the flavors of both and create a perfect end to a meal. Taste different options and discover your favorite combinations.
Pairing alcohol with dessert may seem difficult, but simple guidelines help you easily identify complementary flavors and textures. Match light desserts with sparkling wines, sweet wines, or fruit liqueurs. Pair richer chocolate or caramel desserts with bold options like port, sherry, or sweet red wines. Tart citrus desserts need sweet contrast from wines like Sauternes or fruit liqueurs. And creative savory desserts require spirits that provide an interesting contrast. With the tips above, you can confidently select the perfect drink to accompany any dessert.