Industry experts offer suggestions regarding their favorite wine and dessert pairings for an at-home Valentine’s Day celebration.
Valentine’s Day comes but once a year—a perfect evening to spend with a friend or loved one. It’s also an opportunity to marry two very ideal things together: wine and dessert. While it may seem daunting to execute a restaurant-quality wine and dessert pairing at home, we’ve tapped some top food and beverage experts to share their trade secrets on how to make a memorable tasting experience happen in the comfort of your own home.
Keep it Simple
Keep it simple should serve as the mantra. Remember the goal is to enjoy and have fun. “Simply think ‘complementary versus congruent’,” said Dino Altomare, Export/Sales Manager for the Americas for Nyetimber. “If you’ve got a super sweet dessert, try to find a wine that matches the intensity of that food, both in profile and in sweetness, so that no one element overpowers the other,” he added.
A sommelier’s dirty little secret is that pairing chocolate and wine together is actually quite tough. To make it an easier fete, try pairing two ideas at once like sweetness and bubbles, preferably of the red variety, suggested Altomare.
“Brachetto d’Acqui is a great choice for this. This slightly sweet wine from Piedmont will match the sweetness of the chocolate while the bubbles help cleanse the palate. Meanwhile, the more tannic structure lent by the red grapes that make this wine will hold up nicely to the bite of more bitter dark chocolate,” said Altomare.
Additional Recommendations from Dino: “I am generally drawn towards cookies more than cakes, so a classic pairing like a good crunchy biscotto with Italian dessert wine is my go-to. If you’re in Tuscany, the hazelnut and caramel flavors in Vin Santo just marry beautifully with cantucci traditionally made with almonds or hazelnuts. It’s also fun to find some lesser known dessert wines like Late Harvest Moscadello also from Tuscany, or a Recioto di Soave or (della) Valpolicella from the Veneto, paired with the regional biscotti called Sbreghe.”
Ursula XVII sala-Illa, Co-Owner of The Harvest Inn and Owner of Disset Chocolate, has rolled out a Valentine’s Day box of chocolate bon bons with avant-garde flavor combinations. Each chocolate can be paired with a different wine, or you can pair the entire box with a nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, suggests sala-Illa. Each chocolate in the box set has a distinct flavor—salted caramel heart, raspberry rose, coconut, strawberry black pepper, white chocolate and flowers and sparkling rose pate de fruit made from Sparkling Pointe cuvée.
Sarah Tracey, Sommelier and Founder of The Lush Life, suggests finding a wine that is sweeter than the chocolate itself, otherwise the wine can enhance the bitterness of the chocolate, leaving a metallic or sour taste. “I love Ruby Port because it’s bold enough to balance a rich chocolate dish but it’s sweet enough to always be complementary,” she explained.
If doughnuts are more appealing than chocolate, Sannino Vineyards based in the North Fork of Long Island teams up with local North Fork Doughnut Company to do in-house tastings with custom made doughnuts to pair specifically with their wines. But for those celebrating at home this year, Marisa Sannino, Director of Operations for Sannino Vineyard, offers a few of her favorites to try.
“Our all-time favorite wine and chocolate pairing is our Bianca Dolce Rosé of Merlot paired with white chocolate. Another delicious one is our Petit Verdot with Chili dark chocolate. Pairing wine and chocolate is like a balancing act; you don’t want one flavor profile to outshine another,” she said.
Another great rule of thumb to follow when pairing is: “if it grows with it, it goes with it,” said Deanna D’Alfonso Altomare, Italian Wine Specialist. “It’s always great to complete your wine adventures by incorporating the traditional sweet or savory item from that area/region. I’m a huge fan of Marsala from Sicily which can be paired with both sweet or savory items. If you want to drink your dessert: port, sherry, Madeira, and Marsala are also great options,” she added.
Additional Recommendations from Deanna:
“Why not try a flight? You can go on a fortified wine adventure to different regions (Portugal, Spain and Sicily could be fun) and learn about what you like and don’t like for your next pairing.”
Kimberly Cavoores, owner of One Kourt Studio, believes port maybe be a particularly good choice for Valentine’s Day as it embodies romance, especially when sharing a glass with a loved one by the fireplace. “Recently, I have started exploring a lot of vintage port. There is great value to be found in the market currently,” she said.
Additional Recommendations from Kimberly:
“My sister makes this incredible Baklava. Pairing that with a Margaine Le Demi Sec is divine. The sweetness combined with the fine bubbles of the Champagne, compliment the flaky pastry of the Baklava nicely.
Currently I am loving Niepoort Colheita 07, Bera Moscato d’Asti, G.D. Vajra Barolo Chinato, and Vouvray: Pinon ‘Trois Argiles’ Vouvray, France 2018 (Demi-sec). Another personal, but very simple favorite, is biscotti and Vin Santo, the passito-style dessert wine of Tuscany, Italy. Try Fèlsina Vin Santo, Chianti, Italy 2008. You could even swap out the biscotti for almond cookies. Vin Santo has a savory nutty character is a treat with crumbly desserts like cookies and biscotti.”
Pop Some Bubbles
Champagne or sparkling wine is an obvious choice to include in your Valentine’s Day wine lineup. Tracey suggests sparkling wine paired with fruit-forward desserts.
“There’s something about the effervescent bubbles and freshness that complement fruit so nicely,” she said. “I’d pair a Blanc de Blancs with a lemon tart, and a classic Brut or Blanc de Noirs with strawberry or cherry-topped cheesecake. For me, Demi-Sec or sweeter styles can work with chocolate, but I’d probably prefer them with creme brulee.”
Altomare seconds including a Demi-Sec in the pairing lineup. “The very classic dessert of Eton Mess with a glass of Demi-Sec English sparkling wine is heavenly. Eton Mess, simply put is merengue, whipped cream, and fruit, generally in layers, but often winds up a mess,” he said.
Savory, Not Sweet
Not into sugary dessert? Cheese is another classic dessert option that goes well with wine.
“My main rule for pairing them with wine is to match the intensity so neither overpowers the other. Light and creamy goat cheese pairs with light, delicate wines. Hearty and intense aged cow’s or sheep’s milk cheese pair with big, full-bodied reds,” said Tracey. “A classic pairing that’s always a home run is a blue cheese with Sauternes or another sweet and fortified white dessert wine. That savory and sweet contrast is always satisfying.”
Additional Recommendations from Tracy: “With doughnuts, I think Sparkling Rosé is a fun, flirtatious pairing. For the salty/sweet crowd, you can pair desserts based on peanut butter or salted caramel with a juicy, jammy red. I also love the idea of a dessert cocktail: the chocolate martini is definitely making a comeback especially if you choose a high-quality artisan chocolate liqueur. Any sweet liqueur can also be drizzled over a scoop of vanilla ice cream for a light finale!”