Food & Wine

Cupid takes aim: Pairing wine with dessert

Courtesy of CHristine Moore
Looking to impress your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day? Pair a Yalumba Antique Tawny Museum Reserve Dessert Wine with truffles.

When I imagine Cupid stringing his bow and taking aim at a soon-to-be-in-love couple, I envision a platter of some sweet concoction and a goblet of dessert wine beside him. Both seem to be the most fitting fuel for the winged master of amore as he goes about his happy business of sparking love.

Of course, I also imagine that pairing wine with dessert comes easily for Cupid, who knows a thing or two about passionate pairings. For us mere mortals, however, deciding on which wine to drink with dessert can be a bit more hit and miss. To get your aim right this Valentine’s Day, I’m offering some thoughts on dessert and wine pairing.

Pairing basics

When selecting a wine to serve with dessert, I first consider “mouthfeel” – the physical and chemical interaction of the pairing in your mouth. Dark chocolate, for instance, has a creamy, slow-melting mouthfeel with hints of roasted nuts and dark-cherry flavors. It pairs perfectly with a late-harvest Zinfandel.

Apart from mouthfeel, the basic guidance for dessert and wine pairing is to make sure the sweetness of the dessert matches the sweetness of the wine. In other words, you don’t want your dessert to be much sweeter than what you are drinking. If the dessert is too sweet, it will “dry out” the wine.

With these two guiding principles in mind, it’s easier to select a wine that complements your Valentine’s dessert of choice. Whether your date is a fan of fruity pastries, creamy puddings or blocks of chocolate, the following hints will guarantee a sweet ending to your Valentine’s Day.

Fruit desserts

A truly classic pairing is a French Sauternes with a fruit tart. Sauternes, the glorious, golden-colored, botrytis-lush dessert wine from Bordeaux, is amazingly tasty with a pear torte, apricot sorbet or lemon tart. Botrytis is also known as “noble rot,” because the fungus gives the grapes a raisinlike quality that concentrates the sugars and flavor.

American producers are crafting some extraordinary botrytis-affected white dessert wines. Wines from the Napa Valley-based Far Niente Winery are available at various local stores. The winery produces some really special dessert wines that wonderfully complement fruit-based desserts.

Ice wine is another style of dessert wine that pairs well with lighter desserts. With ice wines, botrytis is not what concentrates the sugars. Instead, the grapes used in these wines are harvested while frozen. The sugars in the grapes don’t freeze, but the water content does. When the grapes are pressed, it produces a smaller amount of juice and a very concentrated flavor.

Expert recommendations

I asked Stacy Ahrweiler, wine department manager at Draeger’s Market in Los Altos, to scan her wine aisles and the store’s bakery department for Valentine’s pairing recommendations.

Ahrweiler encourages romantics to stop by the store for a couple of individual Apple Almond Tartlets ($4.50 each) and a bottle of Neige Apple Ice Wine ($29.99). The Canadian wine producer makes this sweet wine by harvesting apples in the fall and pressing them in the winter. The juices are left outside in freezing temperatures so that the sugars naturally separate from the water in the juice. Ahrweiler said the outcome is glorious, crisp, fresh and “apple-licious.”

Another of Ahrweiler’s suggestions is pairing Draeger’s Lemon Cake with Lemon Curd filling ($15.95) with a bottle of Inniskillin Icewine ($49.99). The traditional ice wine is made with Vidal grapes, a varietal with thick skins that make it ideal for late harvest. Ahrweiler said the wine also pairs well with veined and Brie cheeses.

On the lighter side, try the French Macaroons (95 cents each) at Draeger’s paired with a semisweet yet light Moscato d’Asti from Italy, Romano Dogliotti’s La Caudrina ($16.99).

For an affordable and all-American Valentine’s pairing, serve warm, baked apples topped with vanilla ice cream and a glass of Frost Bitten 2013 Ice Riesling from Yakima Valley ($13 at Beltramo’s Wine and Spirits in Menlo Park).

Creamy desserts

If your sweetheart is a crème brûlée fanatic, you’ll wow with a glass of slightly chilled Yalumba Antique Tawny Museum Reserve Dessert Wine ($28 at various local stores) served beside the rich brûlée.

This nonvintage port is rich but not syrupy, with plenty of nutty and caramelized sugar attributes. If taking on a crème brûlée isn’t something time permits, a plate of white-chocolate truffles would pair well with the port.

Dining out on Italian food this year? Book a table at Aldo Los Altos. The downtown Italian eatery is a cozy spot to enjoy a meal together. When it’s time for dessert at Aldo, order two glasses of Prosecco to sip beside the restaurant’s Mango Panna Cotta.

Chocolate rules

If you’re unsure about your date’s sweet-tooth preference, chocolate is generally a safe bet. Dark chocolate paired with a late-harvest Zinfandel or port is the ideal way to extend the evening’s fun.

Perhaps a quirky and unexpected pairing would be appreciated. If that’s the case, make a trip to Gourmet Works in downtown Los Altos. They have the most amazing peanut butter cups. If you offer a plate of their incredible salty, sweet chocolates alongside a glass of Amontillado Sherry, you’re sure to stoke the flames of love. Beltramo’s carries the wonderful NV Emilio Lustau Los Arcos Solera Reserva Amontillado Sherry ($14.99).

Christine Moore is a Mountain View resident. To read her blog, The Sheepish Sommelier, visit

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