4 Great Tips for Wine & Dessert Pairing…

Back when I was in San Jose, I was treated to a wonderful Wine & Dessert pairing course at The Village Bistro of Santana Row. Our Host for the class was Manager, Tommi Renshaw & I was blown away at how much knowledge one can learn about wine & food pairing; even down to sipping a glass & knowing the region it is from. Knowing I would not live up to telling you all that I learned over the course of delicious desserts & 2 fabulous wines, Tommi so nicely agreed to an interview & you’ll find our Q&A below. Enjoy! xo

Mary: I was so surprised at how different the Wrath tasted before & then after, trying the Panna Cotta, what causes the wine to taste so different before & after taking a bite of something?

Tommi: It’s a fascinating thing, isn’t it? The way that flavors as well as the basic “tastes” (sweet, sour, bitter, salty, umami) interact between the wine and food highlights different aspects of each. For example, the crisp acidity of the Noble Wrath Sauvignon Blanc counters the silky creaminess of the panna cotta and vice versa. When these elements interact, different flavors are brought to the fore that may have been hidden. Imagine lemonade without sweetener; it’s tooth-strippingly acidic. Add the sweetener and not only has the balance of he drink changed, but the whole flavor profile seems completely different!

Noble Wrath Sauvingon Blanc '10 with Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta
Noble Wrath Sauvingon Blanc ’10 with Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta


Is there a rule of thumb for dessert & wine pairing? What are some easy tips you’d recommend?

With food and wine pairing in general, you first want to match the weight of the wine with the weight of the food. If you have a light dish, you want a light wine, and a rich wine best compliments heavier food. Then, you want to look at how the wine can balance the food, such as our creamy panna cotta and acidic Sauvingon Blanc. Spicy food likes sweet wine, and protein & fat like tannic red wine. Lastly, look for complimentary or contrasting flavors. Floral honeyed notes paired with vanilla bean and cream for the first pairing and rich berry notes paired with decadent rich chocolate in the second. Wine and food pairing is a great way to be creative with flavor combinations.

Noble Wrath Sauvingon Blanc '10. Love their unique bottle!
Noble Wrath Sauvingon Blanc ’10. Love their unique bottle!

What are some wines you recommend with chocolate pairing? The chocolate cake with the Zinfandel was so perfect.

Chocolate has some great partners. Other than our Late Harvest Zin example, Tawny ports, which have a nutty/caramel dimension work well with rich chocolate. If the chocolate is not very sweet, you can pair it with dry red wines such as Malbec or Cabernet Franc, provided they are made in a ripe and fruit-forward style.
If you’re open to beer pairings, bourbon-barrel aged strong ales are fantastic with chocolate. We once did a flight of four barrel-aged beers with four truffles, each one customized to each beer… It was a hit!

As a huge cheese lover, I am always trying to find a great pair for, say, a Brie cheese or Gouda, what wines are good for that?

Some people find Brie tough to pair, since it is so creamy it can completely coat the palate and lessen the impact of the wine. That being said, the key is acidity in the wine (just like in the panna cotta pairing), since acid will cut through the creaminess and cleanse the palate as well as present a contrast to the richness of the cheese. With Brie, I drink Champagne or another sparkling wine. The bubbles create an incredible contrast of texture, and the wine has the acidity and flavorful character to match the cheese.

With Gouda, I like something fruity and crisp, like a German Riesling, an Albariño from Spain or Portugal, or a Pinot Grigio.
Flourless Chocolate Cake & Vanilla Ice Cream paired with Bella Late Harvest Zinfandel '12
Flourless Chocolate Cake & Vanilla Ice Cream paired with Bella Late Harvest Zinfandel ’12


I hope you find some of these tips & advice as helpful as I did! Make sure to check out The Village California Bistro HERE. xo

(Disclosure: I was a part of the FAM Media Tour to San Jose & treated to this afternoon. All opinions, as always, are my own.)


  1. Susan Cooper

    September 3, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    Aw, two of my favorite things – dessert and wine. Pairing them is great fun and always offers fun tasty surprises.

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