It is always nice to complete a special meal with a glass of dessert wine, but sometimes the sweetness of the wine can compete with a rich dessert and make for an overly sweet ending. Instead, try a dessert wine paired with cheese—the sweet and salty combination will please the palate and make for a satisfying finish to your dinner.
Whether you enjoy a glass of port, sherry, or sweet white wine, there are plenty of cheese selections to choose from.
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Port is a fortified wine (meaning fermentation is stopped to leave residual sugar) from Portugal. Generally speaking, less expensive ports have flavors of sweet, ripe dark berries while vintage and aged ports lean toward flavors of dried fruits with hints of caramelized nuts.
Port and the blue cheese Stilton are a traditional pairing, but port also matches well with other blue cheeses. To bring out the nuttiness of the wine even more, garnish the blue cheese with walnuts or pecans, either raw or candied.
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Sherry, a fortified wine from Spain, is produced in a variety of styles and levels of sweetness. Varieties include Amontillado, Oloroso, Cream Sherry, and Pedro Ximénez, which range from slightly to very sweet. No matter which you choose, all pair well with cheese.
Sherries often have a nutty flavor with a hint of dried figs and complement nicely with salty Spanish cheeses, such as Manchego, Cabrales, Mahon, and Serra de Estrella.
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The island of Madeira off the coast of North Africa, which is considered part of Portugal, is the namesake of this dessert wine that ages for decades. Look for a Malmsey Madeira, which is richer and sweeter but still balanced, as it has more acidity than port wine.
With a slight flavor of toasted nuts, Madeira pairs well with cheeses that also have a nutty character, such as Gruyère, Petite Basque, and Zamorano. Madeira pairs well with blue cheeses as well.
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All Rieslings—dry, off-dry, and sweet—are especially cheese-friendly wines. If you're serving cheese as a dessert course, look for Rieslings with Spatlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, or Late Harvest on the label, as these words all indicate the Riesling will be on the sweeter side.
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Gewürztraminer, with its aromatic flavors of rose petals, baking spices, apricots, lychee, and citrus, is a white wine that ranges from dry to sweet in style.
Both styles pair well with full-flavored cheeses—try Hirtenkase or Appenzeller, and Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk, Greenfields by Saxon Creamery, or a Muenster.
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