Pair Red Wine with Dessert

How to Pair Red Wine with Dessert

Pairing red wine with dessert might seem like a daunting task, but with a little knowledge and creativity, you can find the perfect combination to satisfy your taste buds. Learn more about pairing wine with food.

This article will help you understand the basics of red wine, explore classic and unexpected pairings, and offer tips for finding your own perfect match. Ready to dive into the world of red wine and dessert? Let’s get dive in.

Understanding the Basics of Red Wine

Characteristics of Red Wine

Red wines are known for their rich, bold flavors and deep colors, often ranging from ruby red to dark purple.

They are made from dark-colored grape varieties and typically have higher tannin levels, which can make them taste dry and slightly bitter.

Some common flavors you might find in red wines include dark fruits, such as berries, plums, and cherries, as well as earthy, spicy, and oaky notes.

Types of Red Wine

There are many different types of red wine, each with its own unique flavor profile. Some popular examples include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Shiraz.

Lighter-bodied red wines, like Pinot Noir, tend to have brighter fruit flavors and lower tannin levels, making them more versatile when it comes to pairing with desserts.

Fuller-bodied red wines, like Cabernet Sauvignon, are more robust and have a stronger tannin presence, which can make them trickier to pair with sweets.

Factors to Consider When Pairing Red Wine with Desserts

Pairing red wine with desserts is a delightful culinary experience that can elevate your dining moments to new heights. To master this art, it’s important to understand the nuances of both the wine and the dessert.

This will help you create harmonious, balanced combinations that enhance the flavors of each element. Here are some key aspects to consider when pairing red wine with desserts:

  1. Flavor profiles: Pay attention to the flavor profiles of both the red wine and the dessert. The wine should have complementary flavors that work well with the dessert’s ingredients. For instance, a red wine with cherry or berry notes will pair nicely with a chocolate or fruit-based dessert, while a red wine with spicy or earthy undertones can complement a spiced or nutty dessert.
  2. Sweetness levels: Balancing the sweetness levels of the wine and the dessert is crucial for a successful pairing. The wine should be slightly less sweet than the dessert to avoid overwhelming the palate. If the wine is too sweet, it can make the dessert taste dull or bland, while if it’s too dry, it can create a bitter or astringent sensation.
  3. Acidity and tannins: The acidity and tannin levels of the red wine can also impact the pairing. Wines with higher acidity can cut through the richness of creamy or buttery desserts, providing a refreshing contrast. On the other hand, wines with higher tannin levels can work well with rich, chocolate-based desserts, as the bitterness of the tannins can help balance the sweetness of the dessert.
  4. Texture and mouthfeel: Consider the texture and mouthfeel of both the wine and the dessert. A rich, full-bodied red wine might pair well with a dense, velvety dessert, while a lighter-bodied red wine could be more suitable for a light, airy dessert. The goal is to create a harmonious pairing where the textures and mouthfeel of the wine and dessert complement each other.
  5. Temperature: Serving red wine at the appropriate temperature can significantly enhance the pairing experience. Red wines should be served slightly cooler than room temperature, around 60-65°F (16-18°C), to bring out their flavors and make them more enjoyable when paired with dessert.
  6. Experimentation: Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and try unconventional pairings. Sometimes, unexpected combinations can lead to delightful discoveries. For example, you might find that a bold, spicy red wine pairs surprisingly well with a caramel dessert, or that a fruity, light-bodied red wine enhances the flavors of a cheese-based dessert.

Remember, the art of pairing red wine with desserts is a personal and subjective experience. What might be a perfect combination for one person may not be the same for another.

The key is to explore, experiment, and discover what works best for your taste buds, while keeping these guiding principles in mind.

Classic Red Wine and Dessert Combinations

Classic red wine and dessert combinations are tried-and-true pairings that have delighted palates for generations.

These combinations typically highlight the complementary flavors and textures of both the wine and the dessert, creating a harmonious and enjoyable experience.

Here are some suggestions for classic red wine and dessert pairings:

Chocolate Desserts

  • Cabernet Sauvignon and dark chocolate truffles: The full-bodied, rich flavors of a Cabernet Sauvignon pair perfectly with the bitterness and intensity of dark chocolate truffles. The tannins in the wine help balance the richness of the chocolate, creating a heavenly combination.
  • Zinfandel and chocolate lava cake: A fruity, robust Zinfandel can cut through the gooey, rich texture of a chocolate lava cake, highlighting the chocolate’s depth while offering a refreshing contrast.

Fruit-based Desserts

  • Pinot Noir and cherry pie: The bright, cherry flavors of a Pinot Noir can enhance the fruitiness of a cherry pie, while the wine’s acidity balances the dessert’s sweetness.
  • Beaujolais and mixed berry tart: A fruity Beaujolais with low tannins and high acidity can complement the vibrant flavors of a mixed berry tart, adding a refreshing element to the pairing.

Cheese-based Desserts

  • Merlot and blue cheese cheesecake: The earthy, fruity flavors of a Merlot can complement the tangy, savory notes of a blue cheese cheesecake, creating a unique and delectable pairing.
  • Syrah and baked brie with figs: A bold Syrah with spicy, earthy undertones can enhance the rich, creamy flavors of baked brie, while the figs offer a sweet contrast to the wine’s complexity.

Creamy Desserts

  • Sangiovese and tiramisu: The bright acidity and cherry notes of a Sangiovese can cut through the creamy, coffee-infused flavors of a tiramisu, offering a delightful contrast that elevates both the wine and the dessert.
  • Tempranillo and panna cotta: The subtle oak and vanilla flavors of a Tempranillo can complement the silky, creamy texture of a panna cotta, adding a layer of complexity to the pairing.

Pastry Desserts

  • Grenache and cinnamon rolls: The spicy, fruity flavors of a Grenache can enhance the warm, cinnamon-infused flavors of cinnamon rolls, creating a comforting and satisfying combination.
  • Barbera and apple strudel: The bright acidity and red fruit notes of a Barbera can provide a refreshing contrast to the sweet, spiced flavors of an apple strudel, creating a balanced and harmonious pairing.

Unexpected Red Wine and Dessert Pairings

Unexpected red wine and dessert pairings may not be as traditional, but they can provide delightful and surprising flavor experiences.

These unconventional combinations can open up new possibilities and encourage you to think outside the box when it comes to pairing red wine with desserts. Here are some suggestions for unexpected red wine and dessert pairings:

Red Wine and Ice Cream:

  • Shiraz and raspberry sorbet: The rich, fruity flavors of a Shiraz can complement the bright, tart notes of a raspberry sorbet, creating an unexpected yet delicious pairing.
  • Cabernet Franc and chocolate chip ice cream: The herbal, earthy notes of a Cabernet Franc can add an interesting dimension to the classic combination of chocolate and vanilla in a chocolate chip ice cream.

Red Wine and Custard Desserts:

  • Malbec and crème caramel: The bold, dark fruit flavors of a Malbec can contrast with the delicate, caramelized flavors of a crème caramel, offering a unique and satisfying pairing.
  • Dolcetto and bread pudding: The light, fruity notes of a Dolcetto can add a refreshing contrast to the rich, dense texture of a bread pudding, creating a delightful balance.

Red Wine and Nutty Desserts:

  • Nebbiolo and hazelnut torte: The high tannins and earthy notes of a Nebbiolo can complement the rich, nutty flavors of a hazelnut torte, creating a complex and indulgent pairing.
  • Montepulciano and peanut butter cookies: The robust, fruity flavors of a Montepulciano can add depth and interest to the sweet, salty combination of peanut butter cookies.

Red Wine and Tropical Desserts

  • Carménère and coconut macaroons: The herbal, spicy notes of a Carménère can provide an interesting contrast to the sweet, tropical flavors of coconut macaroons, resulting in a unique and surprising pairing.
  • Primitivo and pineapple upside-down cake: The bold, jammy flavors of a Primitivo can enhance the tangy, caramelized pineapple flavors in a pineapple upside-down cake, creating a vibrant and delicious combination.

Red Wine and Savory Desserts:

  • Pinotage and cheese-stuffed figs: The smoky, earthy flavors of a Pinotage can complement the sweet, savory combination of cheese-stuffed figs, offering an unusual yet satisfying pairing.
  • Agiorgitiko and bacon-wrapped dates: The juicy, fruity notes of an Agiorgitiko can add a refreshing contrast to the salty, sweet flavors of bacon-wrapped dates, creating a balanced and intriguing pairing.

Final Word

Pairing red wine with dessert is an exciting and rewarding experience that can elevate your dining experience to new heights.

By understanding the basics of red wine, experimenting with classic and unexpected pairings, and following a few simple tips, you can discover the perfect match for any dessert.

So go ahead, uncork that bottle of red, and indulge in the delightful world of wine and dessert pairings.


What red wine should I serve with a dessert that is not too sweet?

For a dessert that is not overly sweet, consider a red wine with lower tannin levels and brighter fruit flavors, such as a Pinot Noir or a Beaujolais.

How do I know if a red wine is too dry for a dessert?

Taste the wine and consider its sweetness level compared to the dessert. If the wine tastes too dry or bitter compared to the dessert, it might not be the best pairing. A wine that is slightly less sweet than the dessert will usually provide a good balance.

Can I pair red wine with a white chocolate dessert?

Yes, you can pair red wine with a white chocolate dessert. Look for red wines with fruity, berry notes, like a fruity Zinfandel or a light-bodied Pinot Noir, to complement the creaminess and sweetness of the white chocolate.

Is it okay to serve more than one type of red wine with dessert?

Serving more than one type of red wine with dessert can be a fun way to explore different pairings and discover new flavor combinations. Just be mindful of the order in which you serve the wines, moving from lighter-bodied to fuller-bodied, to avoid overwhelming your taste buds.

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