Can She Pair a Pumpkin Pie?

After the Thanksgiving meal is served…and served, and served, and served…you swear you’ll never eat again.  But, after an hour or so of watching football, washing dishes, or snoozing on the couch, you’re ready for some pumpkin pie.

The typical accompaniment for T-day dessert in my experience has been the dregs of whatever wine was served with the meal.  Nothing wrong with that, but Thanksgiving is a special day, so why not offer up a specially chosen Pumpkin Pie Pairing to cap off the day?

If you’ve read The Bubbly Professor’s “Real Rules of Food and Wine Pairing” you know that the most important factor in most food-and-wine meetups is to “pair to taste, not to flavor.”  This makes a pumpkin pie pairing really simple:  you need a sweet wine, lest the food dull out the wine.  Now, it doesn’t have to be uber-sweet, just a hint of sweetness will do, but this is also one of those pairings where super-sweet wine works. 

Here are a few of my favorites –  enjoy!

Sauternes:  Sauternes, with its luscious sweetness is a match made in heaven for pumpkin pie.  The wine is a good “big and rich meets big and rich and they live happily ever after” type of match in terms of texture, and the subtle dried apricot-vanilla-nutmeg-dried leaves kind of aromas and flavors of Sauternes make this a Fall Fest in a glass.  Sauternes can be expensive…my personal favorite, Chateau Guiraud, is a cool one hundred bucks, however, there are many inexpensive (around $20.00 a bottle) versions on the market these days, and they are worth a try as well.  

Tawny Port: For years now, I’ve spent my Thanksgiving in the best possible way…surrounded by an awesome group of friends and family at the lovely home of (hi Janelle and Kyle!!) Janelle and Kyle. My contribution to the feast has often been a selection of dessert wines…with all of my suggestions listed here of course…and every year, the first bottle to be emptied is the Tawny Port.  So there.  First emptied = great match.  Not a scientific experiment, but a darn good one.  My go-to Tawny Port is Taylor-Fladgate 10-Year-Old Age Indicated Tawny Porto, which runs about $20.00 a bottle. 

Moscato d’Asti:  Moscato d’Asti, besides being just plain hands-down delicious, is a great match for pumpkin pie. It’s light, fizzy and sweet, but not too sweet, and with the pumpkin pie pairing, the wine will transform and taste just slightly off dry.  It’s a cool trick to play with people who claim to be too sophisticated for sweet wine.  Moscato’s popularity of late has spawned a host of cheap imitations, but you can’t go wrong with a true Italian; Saracco makes one of my favorites, and it’s a winner at around $14.00

Vin Santo:  Tuscany’s famous  “Wine of the Saints” is another great match for pumpkin pie.  The wine’s just-barely-there sweetness will allow it to pair with the pumpkin pie well; after a bite of pie, you won’t taste the wine’s sweet side anymore, but it will still taste rich, woodsy, spicy, and delightful.  If you try, if might even find a scent of pumpkin pie spice lingering in your glass.  Just about any Vin Santo will delight you, but my personal favorite is from Borgo Scopeto.

Brandy:  If you enjoy a long evening of conversation, Brandy is a great choice to serve with your pumpkin pie.  I personally don’t buy into the “spirits dull the palate” argument and think that Brandy with its warmth and calm makes a perfect pie pairing partner.  The anh (adorable new husband) and I fell in love with Torres Brandy on our honeymoon in Spain, but I am equally enamoured with Christian Brothers Brandy from the San Joaquin Valley in California.  The Christian Brothers Wineries and Distillery played an impressive role in the history of California Wine, as any visitor to Napa knows…perhaps that’s a story for a future blog post!

Coffee:  If you are in need of a wake-up (or sober-up) session before continuing on to the rest of your day, nothing beats a good cup of coffee with your pumpkin pie.  Coffee and pumpkin pie also makes a great day-after-Thanksgiving breakfast…just don’t tell  your fitness trainer.

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

Winter’s Gift to Wine Lovers

Winter’s Gift to Wine Lovers…Here’s a riddle:  What is hot and cold and new and old?  The answer is:  Ice Wine!  It’s hot because it is newly popular, and it’s cold because it requires freezing temperatures to produce.  Ice Wine is a new product for many North American Wineries, yet it has been made in Germany since 1794!

 Ice Wine, known as “Eiswein” in the old country, is an enchanting desert wine first made in Germany and Austria.  In the new world, while many regions are attempting to make Ice Wine, it seems that the best and most consistent are coming from New York State, Washington State, and Canada. 

 Ice wine is a very sweet dessert wine – the versions I have tried lately have a residual sugar content of anywhere from 18% to 24%.  When you think that vanilla ice cream, if melted, would have a sugar content of about 10%, you can see that these wines are sweet indeed – most likely among the sweetest wines you will ever taste.

The “secret” to a true Ice Wine is that the wine is made from grapes that are frozen solid when harvested.  The grapes for Ice Wine are allowed to remain in the vineyard well into the winter season, and if they freeze on the vine, they are harvested while frozen – often in the dead of night, and always literally in the “freezing cold.”  The frozen grapes are then rushed to the winery and pressed while still frozen.

Pressing the grapes while they are still in the frozen state causes much of the water in the grape to be driven out as shards of ice, which are then discarded.  This leaves a highly concentrated grape juice, very high in acids, sugars, and aromatics.  This grape nectar is then fermented rather slowly for several months.  At anywhere from about 13% to 24% residual sugar, the finished Ice Wine is intensely sweet and flavorful.  As with all sweet wines, the true measure of a quality Ice Wine is its balancing acidity, which gives the sweet wine a clean, crisp finish. 

Ice Wine shows best when it is served chilled and with dessert! While many people may balk at the idea of serving a sweet wine with a sweet dessert, it’s an ideal pairing.  Believe it or not, the sweetness in the food diminishes the perception of the sweetness of the wine.  Ice Wine made from white grapes such as Riesling, Semillon, or Vidal pairs very well with poached pears, nut tarts, apricot or peach desserts, custard desserts, vanilla ice cream, or shortbread.  Give it a try!