As the chilly winter temperatures take hold, all thoughts of New Year diets go out of the window. Our bodies crave hot and hearty comfort food and steaming, sweet puddings. Sadly, salads and fat-free yoghurts no longer seem to hit the spot.
Big, full-bodied red wines tend to make the perfect accompaniment for the warming main courses; but what should we drink with our hot and sticky sweet puddings? Sticky and sweet are the key words here – a glass of sticky, sweet white wine will most certainly help the pudding go down.
Most of our favourite winter puddings hark back to our childhood days. Many of us will have fond memories of tucking into our Mum’s or Grandma’s tasty apple crumble or bread-and-butter pudding, not to mention the sticky toffee pudding. By partnering these childhood puddings with a glass of sweet white wine we can turn them into wonderful grown up comfort food.
Any form of dessert with cooked apples in it – whether it’s crumble, pie or tart – is easy to match with a sweet white wine. Sweet wines made from white wine grapes such as Riesling, Semillon, Chenin Blanc and Muscat all work well provided they are reasonably acidic. A German Riesling Beerenauslese makes a match made in heaven with a Bramley apple pie and tastes great with the other apple puddings. Botrytized Rieslings from California are also very good. If you would prefer to drink a slightly less sweet white wine with the apple dessert add some lemon zest. The German Riesling Beerenauslese is still an excellent match but slightly less sweet Rieslings also work well as does Italian Asti.
Crumbles and pies can be made from many varieties of cooked winter fruits. Making the dessert from a blackberry-and-apple mixture seems to make little difference to the wine match – German Riesling Beerenauslese is still the star partner. It is also a good pairing for plum crumble and pie and the slightly less sweet Auslese is also a good match but the star accompaniment for a plum dessert is a South African or Australian botrytized Riesling. Gooseberry crumble or pie has too much acidity to make a perfect match with a sweet white wine but a German Riesling Auslese is enjoyable, particularly if you go easy on the sugar when baking the dessert. Italian Asti is the best partner for desserts made from blackcurrants and from rhubarb.
Bread-and-butter pudding is a great nursery favourite and always goes down well in the winter. This dessert needs a sweet white wine without too much acidity and a German Scheurebe Trockenbeerenauslese fits the bill perfectly. Other reasonable matches include Californian and Australian botrytized Rieslings and Recioto di Soave. Similarly rice pudding tastes best with a low acidity sweet white wine. Recioto di Soave is a good match as are fortified French Muscats.
Another great British winter favourite is sticky toffee pudding. This traditional dessert is so sweet it can overwhelm most sweet white wines so it might even be worth trying a sweet fortified white wine such as Sherry or Madeira. A cream or sweet oloroso sherry makes a delicious partner as long as you can cope with the combined sweetness. The same goes for an Australian liqueur Muscat – gorgeous but maybe too much? A slightly less overwhelmingly sweet suggesting is an Italian Vin Santo.
Treacle tart is another popular winter dessert. Once again its overwhelming sweetness makes it difficult to find a perfect white-wine match but an Italian Asti makes a good pairing as its high acidity cuts through the sweetness. The same is true of botrytized Rieslings from California, Australia and New Zealand.
You may have some Christmas pudding or mince pies left over after Christmas. Don’t abandon them just because Christmas is over – they still make a tasty and warming dessert. Asti is once again a star match with Christmas pudding – its sweetness complements the dried fruits and its acidity prevents the pudding from becoming too stodgy. Fortified Muscats are great too especially Australian Rutherglen Liqueur Muscat and Moscatel de Valencia. Australian botrytized Semillon is the perfect match for mince pies although Asti comes into its own if the mincemeat isn’t too sweet.
Finally, a note about custard.
Most winter puddings are traditionally served with custard, which can cause problems for sweet white-wine pairings. Egg custard is hard to match with sweet white wines – particularly those high in acid. No wine is going to be perfect, so with home-made pouring custard it is best to try to match the acidity of the accompanying pudding or pie. The safest bets are a Muscat or sweet Riesling. Similarly nothing is a perfect match with baked egg custard but very gentle Muscats such as Asti, Moscato d’Asti or Muscat de St-Jean-de-Minervois just about pass muster.
Image by Jasja Dekker.