Joy Magazine

Holiday Pairings

The best wines to go with elegant desserts

When it comes to choosing a wine to serve with dessert, a sparkling wine or a port may have crossed your mind. But they're not the only choices.

A key phrase to remember is "late harvest" — as in, Late Harvest Viognier, Gewürztraminer or even Sauvignon Blanc. Grapes left on the vine later than normal often achieve greater sweetness, usually as a result of frost. They are used to produce rich dessert wines. Several Southern Oregon wineries make these wines. Most come in half-size bottles, 375 ml instead of the standard 750 ml.

How do you decide what wine to serve with which dessert? Donnal Mixon, co-owner of Madrone Mountain, an Applegate Valley winery that specializes in dessert wines, offers this advice:

1. The wine must be sweeter than the dessert; 2. Fresh fruit can be used as a garnish but not the main deal, since acids are too variable from fruit to fruit and hard to match. Poached fruit is a no-fail solution; and 3. When using fortified wines, go with those relatively low in alcohol (under 19.5 percent) and residual sugar 9 percent or under. That makes them much more food-friendly.

Some wines to consider:

  • RoxyAnn 2006 Late Harvest Viognier ($20) from Medford earns a recommendation from Andy Phillips, manager of the wine bar at Ashland's Winchester Inn. He'd pair it with honey marscapone cheesecake, zabaglione or brulée banana.

  • Valley View Winery 2006 Anna Maria Late Harvest Viognier from Ruch ($28) has just been released. Winery president Mark Wisnovsky would serve it with crème brulée or mango cheesecake.

  • Madrone Mountain 2005 Special Select Late Harvest Gewürztraminer ($26) won a gold medal at the prestigious 2007 Dallas Morning News Wine Competition. Mixon would serve it with a cheese plate, especially goat cheeses, or with figs.

  • Vin d'Or 2005 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc ($24.95) from Rickreall (near Salem) earns a "yes" from Larry Richie, wine executive with Gold River Distributing in Medford. He'd serve it with crème brulée, strawberry shortcake or shortbread cookies.

  • Planning an elegant cheese plate? Go with traditional port, suggests Chris Martin, co-owner of Troon Vineyard in the Applegate Valley. His winery's 2004 Insomnia Port ($23), so named because of what the winemaker went through to create it, would also pair well with cheeses and salted walnuts, he says. Wisnovsky would go with Valley View's 2006 Anna Maria Port ($28).

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