A crash course in pairing wines with holiday sweets

Sara Schneider,  – October 3, 2007

Here’s our quickie guide to the three main dessert wines ( late-harvest, sweet sparklers, and port-style) and how they pair with holiday sweets.

Rule of thumb: The wine should be at least as sweet as the dessert, with enough acidity for balance.


Made from grapes left on the vine past normal picking times to build sugar levels.

Tastes like

Whites: nectarlike stone fruit, candied citrus, and baked apple flavors. If the grapes had botrytis, or “noble rot,” expect honey.

Red (namely late-harvest Zinfandel): full of dried cherries and chocolate.

Great with

Cheesecake with berries, fruit tarts, apple pie, and carrot cake; late-harvest Zin is yummy with chocolate.

Wine picks

Northwest Totem Cellars Elerding Vineyard Late Harvest Viognier 2006 (Columbia Valley; $28, 375 ml.). Rich, honeyed apricot nectar, with a very long finish.

Airfield Estates Riesling Ice Wine 2006 (Yakima Valley; $28, 375 ml.). Made from grapes that have been picked and pressed while frozen, ice wine ( eiswein, the Germans call it) is intense ― this one with floral aromas and minerally peach nectar flavors.

Covey Run Reserve Semillon Ice Wine 2005 (Yakima Valley; $22, 375 ml.). Concentrated peach, apricot, and pineapple flavors wrapped in aromatic honeysuckle.

Dry Creek Vineyard Late Harvest Zinfandel 2005 (Dry Creek Valley; $30, 375 ml.). The only red in our late-harvest lineup offers berries, minty herbs, and chocolate.

Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Late Harvest White Riesling 2006 (Mendocino Ridge; $25, 375 ml.). Honeyed evidence of botrytis, with great acidity holding the sweet apricot and melon flavors in balance.

Heaven’s Cave Cellars Destiny Ridge Estate Vineyard “Make the Dash Count” “Icicles” Riesling Ice Wine 2005 (Horse Heaven Hills; $39, 375 ml.). Rich and honeyed but lively nectar of peaches, apricots, and tropicals balanced with a beautiful herbal minerality.

St. Supéry Moscato 2006 (California; $21, 750 ml.). A lovely light, refreshing wine, with juicy peaches and litchi fruit and touches of pineapple and orange zest.


Called “extra dry,” “sec,” “demi-sec,” or “doux,” depending on the sweetness of the dosage (a blend of sugar and wine added just before corking).

Tastes like

Apple, pear, creamy citrus, berry, and yeast flavors.

Great with

Cheesecake, custard-fruit tarts, apple pie, buttery-crusted desserts, pumpkin pie, and English toffee.

Wine picks

Mumm Napa “Cuvée M” nonvintage (Napa Valley; $19, 750 ml.). Toasty yeast and spicy apples followed by vanilla-laced peaches and pears.

Domaine Ste. Michelle Extra Dry nonvintage (Columbia Valley; $12, 750 ml.). A pleasant bargain ― yeasty pear aromas and toasty apple flavors.

Schramsberg Crémant Demi-Sec 2004 (Napa, Mendocino, and Sonoma Counties; $38, 750 ml.). This is your pumpkin pie wine ― hints of warm spices mix with apricots, ripe peaches, and honeysuckle blossoms.


Sweet wines from Portuguese grape varieties, Zin, or Syrah, fortified with brandy.Tastes like

Dark cherry and berry flavors, with chocolate, coffee, and licorice.

Great with

All things chocolate, pecan pie, and mocha.

Wine picks

Eos Zinfandel Port 2003 (Paso Robles; $30, 375 ml.). Plush, textured palate of chocolate, coffee, licorice, and blackberries.

Robert Hall Vintage Port 2003 (Paso Robles; $34, 750 ml.). Made from traditional port grapes, with an interesting mix of anise, herbs, dried cherries, and chocolate.

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