Christine Austin draws up the perfect wine wish list for the dessert lovers heading to your Christmas dinner table.
There is a dangerous moment on Christmas Day, after the turkey, stuffing, sprouts and roast potatoes have all been polished off, and you feel that you couldn’t eat another morsel – the Christmas pud is carried to the table. As the brandy is splashed on top of the dark, fruity dome and set alight, setting off the smoke alarm in the process, your stomach suddenly realises that you might just manage a spoonful or two, maybe with brandy butter, or my favourite, a sauce made with such a generous amount of rum that it is the colour of custard.
This is the real danger point because now you realise that you need a sweet wine to go with that dark sticky pudding and finding the right one is a task you should have done long before Christmas Day.
Dessert wines come in all weights from a gentle kiss of sweetness to a big, robust fortified wine that rolls around the digestive system emitting warmth and a healthy glow. The main point to remember is that sweetness in wine never, never, never comes from a spoonful of Tate & Lyle. All the taste comes from natural grape sugar. Even port is a sweet red wine that has been fortified and aged to bring it to the right point of maturity. All sweet wines can be enjoyed on their own, but they really come into their own when matched with food, ranging from a flavourful Christmas pud to a light fruit meringue or even a piece of Wensleydale cheese.
The other great point about sweet wines is that you really need only a small glassful. Even a half bottle will stretch around six people and if there is any left over you can put the cork back in the bottle and keep it in the fridge. It will last for at least a week providing a sugar rush for anyone looking for an evening snack.
If you are wondering which wine to match with the Christmas pud, or any other dessert, here are my suggestions.
• Christmas pudding
The sheer weight of flavours needs a rich wine to go with it. Try Blandy’s Single Harvest Malmsey, 2004, Madeira (£18.49, Waitrose) for its rich, smooth, Christmas-in-a-glass flavours. Lighter in style and packed with orange blossom and sweet apricot flavours Andrew Quady’s Essencia 2012, California, (£9.99, Majestic) is a great match with the pud on the day.
• Chocolate puddings
Chocolate is often deemed too difficult to match with wine, but you just need to think about the weight of flavours in the dessert. A heavy rich pudding needs a different wine from a light, creamy chocolate éclair or profiterole. For one of those rich molten chocolate fondant puddings, head for the rounded, nutty, raisin flavours of Quinta do Noval 10 year old Tawny Port (down from £24.99 to £20.99 until December 30, Waitrose). This is a really elegant style of port and if you are going to have a bottle at hand to see you through brisk winter walks, the afternoon movie and chocolate pudding, this is the one.
A light chocolate mousse needs a wine with round, plummy fruit and a rich but not overwhelming sweetness. Try Seriously Plummy from Waitrose, Grande Reserve Maury (£10.99 for 37.5cl) and serve it lightly chilled to match the temperature of the dessert. For desserts with just a touch of chocolate, such as chocolate éclairs or profiteroles, try Duc de Termes Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh 2011 (£5.99 for 37.5cl, Tesco) for its smooth barley sugar and apricot flavours.
• Sticky toffee pudding
This dessert is always a favourite, especially with children. Taste the Difference 12 Year old Pedro Ximénez (£8 for 50cl, Sainsbury’s) is best poured over the pud, preferably with a spoonful of ice-cream. Alternatively try the sweet, sticky toffee flavours in De Bortoli Show Liqueur Muscat, Australia (£13.99, Tesco).
This is my alternative dessert for those who don’t like a heavy steamed fruit pudding. Even if only a small slice is eaten at the main event on Christmas Day, the whole pavlova seems to disappear from the fridge by evening. Team it with the spectacularly good L’Or du Ciron Sauternes 2011(£12 for 37.5cl, Marks & Spencer), with its intense, crystallised grapefruit and honeyed flavours. Alternatively check out Waitrose Sauternes 2007, sourced from Ch. Suduiraut (£16.99 for 37.5cl) for its intense floral and aromatic style. A real bargain wine is Sainsbury’s House Dessert Wine, NV (£4 for 37.5cl) which is a blend of declassified Eiswein and Rieslings from Germany.
• Apple tart
Simple and always popular, a good apple tart can be the star of the show. Try it with the most adventurous sweet wine on the shelves – Trius Showcase Canadian Icewine 2013, Niagara Peninsula (£24.99 for 37.5cl. Aldi) which comes in a gold presentation package and is almost too good-looking to open. But the flavours are sensational with vibrant, lively freshness backed by gorgeous, sweet, honeyed fruit. If you like your apple tart with a touch of caramel then head for Waitrose and Crociani 2008 Vin Santo di Montepulciano, Italy (£19.49 for 37.5cl). There are ginger, walnut and toasty caramel notes in this wine.
• Crème brûlée
Easy to prepare in advance, but take care with the blowtorch when making the caramel topping. I like to put raspberries in the custard, which adds a sharp note, and Paul Cluver’s Noble Late Harvest Riesling 2013 (£14.99 for 37.5cl, Marks & Spencer) has delicious knife-edge acidity balancing gorgeous sweetness. Also well worth a try is Ch. Raymond-Lafon 2008, Sauternes (£12.99 for 37.5cl, Majestic) for its complex, minerally, tangerine and honeyed notes.
A bowl of (out-of-season) strawberries
Even if they do cost the earth at this time of year, strawberries make a spectacular centrepiece on a buffet. Team them with the light, refreshing, fruit-filled flavours of Stormhoek Sparkling Moscato Rosé, South Africa (£5.99, Morrisons) or the frothy, honeysuckle and orange notes in Gibò Asti Dolce NV (£9, Marks & Spencer).