Oh dear. It's all about elegant dinner parties these days. Wine accompanied by cheese and crackers. Wine and food. Wine and desserts. Unfortunately it's not as simple as simply simultaneously throwing open the bar and buffet. From the looks of it, the whole process demands an intimidating level of expertise in wine and food. And while there's plenty of information on pairing wine with food, drinking and serving it with desserts is relatively unexplored territory in India.
I'm afraid I can't be of much help here. My idea of cunningly blending food and alcohol involves pouring copious amounts of tequila into chocolate icing before slathering it on a cake. (Works like a charm, by the way.) However, I did manage to find you two people who can guide you through the intricacies of chocolate and chardonnay.
Meet Chef Nalin Fonseka currently pairing wine with desserts at On The Rocks, The Sheraton Park Hotel and Towers in Chennai. And the hotel's resident sommelier Kathiravan Govindraj.
In an attempt to encourage people to experiment with wine to end a meal, instead of coffee, they have been working on a menu that brings together contemporary desserts and sweet wines from all over the world. How do you pick what works best? Follow their lead.
“Take compounds from the food, the smokiness, the level of sweetness, the fruitiness, the crunch of caramel...” says Govindraj. “How sweet is the dessert? Pair it with wine that is slightly sweeter, so they complement each other. If the dessert is rich, balance it with a rich wine.” Don't try contrasts, even though they were de rigueur a decade ago. “If you drink a dry wine with a dessert, you'll just blow away the taste,” says Chef Fonseka.
So his Bailey's Irish Cream crème brulee, subtly laced with vanilla and torched on top for that essential smoky caramel, works best with a wine like the Hungarian 2005 Oremus Tokaji. “The sweetness and spice in the wine works with the creamy texture of the dessert,” says Govindraj. Other popular pairings include the 2005 Deinhard Beernauslese, a late harvest German Reisling with notes of bitter orange teamed with a walnut praline soufflé with white wine scented candied orange compote. Or the 2005 Tornech “The Bothie,” with its clean flavours and floral notes paired with flaky pastry containing wild berries and vanilla bean sauce.
Influential foodie website Serious Eats, which focuses on sharing food enthusiasm through blogs and online communities, breaks it down further in an article discussing how people are now more likely to end their meals with wine instead of tea or coffee. Their main guideline is “In general, as the colours of the dessert get darker, the wine gets darker.”
To pick the right wine, Serious Eats suggest you consider three factors. Acidity, intensity and flavour. An acidic wine will work well with a fruit dish, which has natural acidity. Imagine an old fashioned pineapple upside down pudding, for instance. An intense dessert needs an intense wine, or the drink will just get upstaged, and of course, the sweeter a dessert, the sweeter the wine.
To make intelligent matches, you must understand not just the wine, but also the dessert. Chef Fonseka gave Govindraj every recipe so he could figure out all the nuances of the dish. Then, look at tasting notes — the Internet makes that easy. Vanilla rich desserts with wines that have vanilla notes. Smoke with smoke. Berries with berries. Not so hard now, is it?
And thank goodness, one rule holds true. Champagne goes with everything.