Bakers Journal

Sweet wines, sweet goods

July 5, 2012
By Michelle Brisebois

In retailing terms, wine loves to hang out with food. Beloved by
themselves but a power couple together, wine and food are the Brangelina
of the culinary world.

In retailing terms, wine loves to hang out with food. Beloved by themselves but a power couple together, wine and food are the Brangelina of the culinary world. Research confirms the financial upside of promoting food and wine together. A 2006 Cornell study confirmed that for wines paired with menu items, promotions generated an increase in sales for the target wines by 44.5 per cent and increased total wine purchases by 7.6 per cent. Furthermore, total restaurant sales increased by 21 per cent. Walk into any wine store and shelf talkers will wax poetic about the delicious foods that will make those wines shine. It’s standard operating procedure for wine retailers. Why doesn’t the door swing both ways? Why don’t more food retailers align themselves with wines to increase their sales too? You don’t need a liquor licence to do this, merely the suggestion in promotion.

White icewines pair wonderfully with crème brûlée and apple pie. 


There are two strategies when pairing food and wine: the contrast and the complement. If you’re complementing the dish, you try to take the flavours from the food and continue that sensation through the wine. If contrast is desired, you perhaps choose a wine that amplifies the flavour of the food using a different note. Sweet wines pair beautifully with sweet goods because the sweetness of both wine and food meld together on your tongue. They also pair beautifully with savoury dishes and spicy foods like salsa because the sweetness tempers the heat of the salsa. Salty cheeses like blue cheese sing when paired with sweet wine because salt is a flavour enhancer; so a salty food with dessert wine will bring out the sweetness.


There’s often confusion regarding the difference between dessert wine (Late Harvest wine) and icewine. Kristina Inman, estate sommelier, Trius Winery at Hillebrand, explains. “Late Harvest can be done two ways . . . one [and the best way] is for the winemaker to leave the grapes on the vine past harvest but not long enough so they actually freeze at the level of icewine. They just dehydrate on the vine and concentrate sugars. A second method of making Late Harvest [which many call Select Late Harvest] is actually just a second pressing of icewine grapes. The first pressing goes into Icewine, then they let the grapes thaw a bit, and do a second pressing, which is more diluted. Botrytis is a “noble rot” that encapsulates the grape and breaks it down, yet the juice inside is incredibly sweet. This is very common in Europe [think Tokaj from Hungary or Sauternes in France].” 

Icewines can be dessert wines but not all dessert wines are icewines. White icewines and Late Harvest wines are often made from Riesling or Vidal and have wonderful notes of apricot, honey and orange marmalade. They pair beautifully with crème brûlée, peach tarts, apple pie and tiramisu and toffee. Red icewine is a specialty of Ontario wineries and is often made from Cabernet Franc – one of the Bordeaux grapes. These wines often boast beautiful notes of strawberry, rhubarb and pair perfectly with chocolate, cherry trifle and raspberry pie. Shelf talkers that recommend a dessert and wine pairing would add some romance and sizzle to the merchandising story. When pairing a dessert wine with a sweet good, the wine should always be sweeter than the dessert or else the wine might appear to taste acidic. Serve very sweet desserts with coffee or tea so as not to overload the diner with a sugar rush.

Icewine is rare and difficult to make; therefore more precious. It takes 10 times the amount of frozen grapes to make enough juice to make just one bottle of icewine. Because icewine has so much consumer cachet, using and promoting it as an ingredient can allow you to charge a premium and get it. Icewine can be used in preserves, compotes, icings, ganache or as an ingredient in the bake good itself. The fruit can be infused with icewine as a topping for cheesecake and icewine really shines as an ingredient in chocolate truffles. If baking a cake or cupcakes, replace some of the liquid in the recipe with a kiss of icewine or use it in the frosting. A little goes a long way so having a few small bottles of icewine on hand could be a cost-effective way to add a touch to your recipes. This precious nature of icewine means you can charge a premium for your menu item. A good rule of thumb suggests that approximately a 15 to 30 per cent premium can be charged for anything containing icewine.The term “Icewine,” as opposed to icewine, is a legally protected term held by VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) to refer specifically to Canadian Icewine. VQA defines Icewine as follows: “Icewine production is regulated in Ontario under the VQA Act and regulations. Strict standards are in place and production is monitored by VQA inspectors from the vineyard to the bottle. Rules cover grape varieties, harvest procedures, winemaking, and testing before the wine is released. No wine may use the term “Icewine” on its label unless it is certified by VQA Ontario. Violators can be charged in Provincial court and subject to fines up to $100,000.” These standards protect the exclusiveness of Icewine. It’s a rare and special treat indeed.

Getting a customer to anticipate the joy of tasting one of your desserts helps pave the way to a sale. Why entice with just one set of flavours when you can leverage both food and wine? Introduce some exciting dessert wine pairing recommendations or try the wines as ingredients.  Either way you’ll discover that leveraging beautiful wine alongside your creations is truly a piece of cake.

Promote the perfect pairing with these tips

  • If you’re complementing the dish, continue the flavour sensation from the food to the wine. Keep sweet wines with sweet goods to meld the flavours together.
  • In contrast, a sweet wine pairs well with a spicy food because it will increase the intensity of the food’s flavour.
  • White icewines often have notes of apricot, honey and orange, and pair well with peach tarts or apple pie.
  • Red icewines work well with rich, bold flavours like chocolate, cherry or raspberry.
  • Add a splash of icewine to the batter or frosting in your cakes and cupcakes for a signature touch.

Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical, financial services and wine industries. She specializes in retail brand strategies.

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