Although many, many desserts are tempting at holiday time, my absolute favorites are cookies. They can be sugar cookies with sprinkles, gingerbread, wedding cookies, peanut butter and especially anything with chocolate, it doesn’t matter. I like them all.
When it comes to my chosen beverage with these cookies, I have to admit that it’s not milk, unless the milk is in my coffee. But because it’s holiday time, cookies deserve a more festive accompaniment. So why not pair them with wine? There’s nothing weird about that. In fact, many tasty sweet wines complement the sugar, spice, chocolate and nut flavors found in these seasonal treats.
While some dessert wines can be expensive, a large selection of inexpensive wines would work. A few examples include moscato and sweeter riesling and if you prefer richer fortified wines, port and some styles of sherry.
For my cookie tasting I decided to try two very different types of wine: the 2012 Chateau Ste. Michelle Harvest Select Sweet Riesling from Washington State’s Columbia Valley, which was on sale last month at Schnucks Brentwood for $7.99, and the Quarles Harris 10 Year Old Tawny Porto from Portugal for $15.99 at Trader Joe’s.
I chose these wines because they are good with different kinds of cookies. The honey and peach flavors of riesling are delicious with gingerbread or lemon flavoring. And the crispness of riesling works well with rich shortbread cookies. However, if you’re a chocolate and nut fan, tawny port is a fantastic pairing.
Although I tend to prefer drier-style rieslings when I’m sipping the wine as an aperitif or with an entrée, desserts call for something sweeter. Some wineries, including Chateau Ste. Michelle, include a scale on the back label of their rieslings showing the level of sweetness ranging from dry to sweet. In the case of the Harvest Select Sweet Riesling, the bar graph shows that the wine is medium sweet but very close to heading into the sweet category.
Chateau Ste. Michelle is Washington’s oldest winery and the world’s largest single producer of riesling. The Harvest Select Sweet Riesling, which has a 10.5 percent alcohol level, is slightly sweeter than its very popular Columbia Valley Riesling. The Harvest Select Sweet Riesling, which got 90 points as a “Best Buy” from Wine Enthusiast, tastes of ripe sweet peaches and honey. Its crisp acidity is a great balance for buttery cookies.
In contrast, the Quarles Harris Tawny Porto is a rich, more powerful wine that has been aged in oak casks for 10 years. Port refers to a category of sweet, fortified wine that can be made anywhere, including Missouri. But to be called Porto, the fortified wine must come from a specific region in Portugal’s Douro Valley. To make Porto, a neutral grape alcohol is added to the wine during the fermentation process, which boosts the resulting wine’s alcohol level. For example, this 10-year-old Tawny has an alcohol level of 20 percent.
This is a delicious soft, mellow Porto that tastes of caramel, walnuts and dried fruit laced with bakery spices. Quarles Harris, one of the oldest Porto houses, established in 1680, also makes an entry-level Porto that sells for $9.99 at Trader Joe’s. However, the aged Tawny is definitely worth the extra $6 because it has much more depth and flavor.