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Off The Vine

December 6, 2005

Dessert wine a great way to end meals

I just had a wonderful talk with a young man who just finished a two-year course at a dessert and pastry school just outside of Lyon, France. His visit couldn&

t have happened at a better time with the holidays screaming toward us so quickly.

We put our heads together and I thought I&

d write to you about what we felt the best wine pairings would be for each dessert. Naturally, there are so many types and complexities that go into fine desserts, I thought it would be best to generalize a bit and shoot for the less complex but very delicious offerings for after dinner. Here we go!

The No. — contender for most folks is anything with chocolate; I include in this any fudges, brownies and devil cakes you may decide to scare up for the holidays. Chocolate is a real joy to cook with and always seems to please a large variety of palates. White chocolate, which doesn&

t have quite the impact or palate weight as its milk chocolate or darker cousins, can also be used in this wine selection guide.

The number one choice for chocolate, historically, is red Port. There are a few different types of Port, but in the long run, they are fairly enough close together in general tastes that most of them will go hand in hand with chocolate of any type. I prefer the Ports from the homeland of Port, Portugal.

The top Ports are the expensive Vintage Ports which are &

declared&

vintages in great growing years. There are also Late Bottled Ports, Tawny Ports and Ruby Ports among an array of other lovely Ports. Ports are very generally characterized by a wonderful warmth on the palate, high alcohol and a dark cherry or plum spectrum of flavors which go on for miles on the finish.

Good Port will last a few weeks after being opened, which is a good thing because one cannot (or should not) drink much of this lovely nectar in one sitting.

California makes some lovely Ports, as well, as does Australia, which is really banging the door down for rich and complex ports in all price ranges and qualities. Still, for the money, the holidays beg for the grand and enchanting Portuguese Ports. The prices range from about $20 upward.

Holiday cookies: My pastry chef visitor told me quite a bit about the preparation and diverse consistency of different sugars. There are brown sugars, refined sugars, raw sugars and honey-based sweets, some of which are caramelized, others which are added after cooking.

The delicate holiday cookies are a natural with the Italian Vin Santo of Tuscany. These amber goddesses are powerful, rich and autumnal in their tastes, providing the taster an entire spectrum of everything from old spices to nutty and dried fruit qualities including fig and date.

I think Vin Santo is the most exotic of the dessert wines, leaving the taster with multiple lovely taste sensations. My second choice is the lovely late harvest, sweeter Gewuerztraminer. You can find many of these sweeter Gewuerztraminer from the Golden State. Powered by rich Asian spices and hints of honey and melon, these wines are terrific with any holiday cookie imaginable.

The other great wine is the majestic Sauterne from Bordeaux, France. These rich and powerfully sweet Semillon are just the thing for sugar based, lighter cookies.

Pies: Fruit pies and Moscato are the marriage made in Vino Heaven! The Muscat grape is so beautifully fresh and vibrant that it enhances any fruit-based dessert. Known for its light and ticklish flavors, the Moscato from California and Northern Italy are gems for after-dinner lightness after a big meal. For an extra kick, try the sparkling Asti Spumante or the Moscato d&

Alba.

Cheeses: Traditionally we look at Port with blue cheese and cheddar. If we add pear or apple with the cheese a great Riesling is just what we want. In fact, if you prefer cheese and fruit with Port, go for it, but try the lighter, crispness of a sweeter Riesling and I think you will love the change. Good Riesling have a thirst-quenching quality that can be great with heavy cheeses if you include fruit with the cheese.

Some Beerenauslese have the sweetness of a Port but the lightness and crispness in the finish to take what would be a heavy finish to a large meal to a lighter and easier (very delicious) finish which is a real joy to experience.

Well, there are some choices we came up with together for the dessert fans. Give them a try &

I know you will like them! See you next time.