How to Pair Wines With Sweets

Get our guide to which wines are appropriate for your dessert soiree.
By: Rupa Bhattacharya
Christmas homemade cookies with punch and spices


Christmas homemade cookies with punch and spices

Photo by: Adam Korzeniewski

Adam Korzeniewski

The holiday season affords many opportunities for drinking — from seasonal cocktails and mulled cider to spiked cocoa and, of course, wine. With so many sweets-focused events, like cookie swaps and  apps-and-dessert cocktail parties, it's equally as important to pair wines correctly with dessert as it is with your Christmas ham.

First off: The rule of thumb when you're pairing wine with sweets is that the wine should be sweeter than the food. (Ever been to a wedding where the Champagne was perfectly delicious until the cake was served? Now you know why.)

So that begs the questions: How sweet are we talking? Which wines are appropriate for your dessert soiree?

For milder desserts (like petits fours, cookies or anything with a lemon glaze), go with just-this-side-of-sweet white wines like Riesling and Gewurztraminer. (Dry and off-dry bottlings of Riesling and Gewurz will say Kabinett or QbA on the label).

Once you move into sweeter dessert territory (crème brulee, bread pudding, salted caramel anything) you'll need to look for the words "late harvest" on the label (if it's a German wine it might say spätlese or auslese; in French it might say vendange tardive), which means the wine is made with super-ripe (and thus sweeter) grapes.

Cooking Channel Kelsey Nixon Pear Crumble

Cooking Channel Kelsey Nixon Pear Crumble

Photo by: Marshall Troy Photography ©2012, Cooking Channel, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Marshall Troy Photography, 2012, Cooking Channel, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Fruit desserts (pies, tarts, crumbles, pavlovas) do really well with anything that has a hint of honey in it. When a wine tastes like honey, that's often indicative of botrytis (a special kind of mold that makes delicious wine). If it's from America or Australia, the label might say botrytis or "noble rot"; or, look for Sauternes (from France), Trockenbeerenauslese (also called TBA, from Germany and Austria) or Tokaji Aszú (from Hungary).

And if there's chocolate on the menu, go red: Almost-bitter dark chocolate can hold its own with ripe, fruity Merlots and Cabernets; if it's any sweeter than that, think about Port, or late-harvest Shiraz or Zinfandel.

And if you're not serving dessert at all, dessert wine (Port, Sauternes, Tokaji, ice wine, or TBA) is dessert in a glass, and a fantastic pair for after-dinner cheeses. Port's a natural with blue cheese; the honeyed wines are great with anything washed-rind and funky; and ice wine does really well with semi-hard and aged cheeses.

Looking for a great wine to get started? Meet entwine, Food Network’s line of wines that are perfect on their own or paired with food.

Next Up

Essentials: Wine Guide

With a basic understanding of wine, including where to buy, what to buy and how to pair it with food, you'll never fear the wine aisle again.

Thirsty Thursday: Candy Cane Martini

Cooking Channel's Candy Cane Martini is a sweet and refreshing mixture of vodka, fresh ginger and mint leaves.

Holiday Stress Tips

Make sure you're able to actually enjoy your Christmas party by planning in advance and doing a little bit of smart prep work.

Cocktail Party Ideas

We show you how easy it can be to throw a cocktail party, from planning your menu to making sure you have enough food and drink for guests.

How to Host a Potluck Dinner Party

Follow these tips to ensure your collaborative dinner party goes smoothly

Brunch Party Game Plan

Host a fabulous midmorning fete with these brunch dish and beverage recipes (plus a plan for getting them ready without skimping on shuteye).

Spread Holiday Cheer with These Cheesy Appetizers

Get cheesy holiday appetizers for fried mozzarella, fresh ricotta, cheese plates and more Christmas app ideas on Cooking Channel.

So Much Pretty Food Here