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TarteTatinXmas2010Many of you have been in touch via grapetoglass@majestic.co.uk to ask what to drink with dessert, or to find out which foods go best with sweet wines. It’s a broad topic that takes in Sherry and Port, starters and puddings. We’ve turned to Regional Manager Mark Ashmore for his expert view…

It’s a simple fact of all food and wine pairing that personal preference plays a part. You may love the tongue-tickling combination of Stilton with Sauternes; your best friend may relish the explosion of flavours you get by pairing the cheese with late-bottled Vintage Port. So forget hard and fast rules. Think of this more as a guide to set you off in the right direction. And remember: experimentation is half the fun.

The goal of pairing any wine with dessert or cheese is harmony. For each to bring the best out of the other, both should have a similar intensity, while the wine should always be slightly sweeter than the food. This is by no means an easy balance to strike, so if you are trying something new at a dinner party, why not buy two different styles, open both and let your guests decide for themselves.

Dessert wines

There are as many styles of dessert wine as there are techniques used to make them. Among the most common are late-harvest wines, from grapes left long on the vine and naturally dehydrated to the point of becoming raisins. Then there are ultra-sweet botrytised wines, like Sauternes and Barsac in Bordeaux, named after the mould that causes grapes to shed their water. These techniques have made their way around the world, producing an almost endless array of styles to experiment with and enjoy.

Tarte Tatin

Trimbach Gewürztraminer Vendage Tardive 2002, Half Bottle
£14.99*
One whiff of this Alsace blockbuster bombards you with an aromatic, savoury spice, backed up by honey and zingy minerality. The harmony with apple or peach Tarte Tatin is in the cinnamon spice and balanced acidity.

Torta di Zabaglione

Noble One Botrytis Semillon 2007, De Bortoli, New South Wales
£18.74 £14.99* Special Offer!
Australia’s premier dessert wine is as intense as they come. Bush honey and kumquat mingle with marmalade and exquisite sweet vanilla oak in a complex, luscious wine that yearns for the simplicity of Zabaglione and meringue cake.

Pâté de Campagne

PateXmas2010Castelnau de Suduiraut 2003, Sauternes, Half Bottle
£11.99 £10.99* Special Offer!
A classic match for Sauternes is Pâté de Campagne the lush, sweet lemon, dried apricot and honey flavours of the wine acts as a perfect counterpoint to the texture and unctuous flavour. To complete this match, cornichons and cocktail silverskin onions and finest quality sourdough will have you begging for more.

Eton mess

Clos d’Yvigne Saussignac 2005
£19.99*
Peaches, mangos, honey and cream leap from the glass, leading to a palate of toffee and ripe tropical fruit. The long, lingering, ripe finish provides a stunning counterpoint to the cream, meringue and red berries of an Eton mess.

Sherry

In its native Spain, Sherry is the traditional partner to tapas. And dry Finos and Manzanillas are undoubtedly great with everything from green olives and Serrano ham to garlic prawns and smoked fish. But sweeter Sherries can work at the end of a meal too.
ToastXmas2010

Tostas con Queso

Tio Pepe Fino, Gonzalez Byass
£9.99 £8.49* Special Offer!
Tostas are a quick and easy tapas to make and even easier to eat with a chilled glass of this Fino. This fancy Spanish version of cheese on toast with a splash of balsamic syrup and a toasted walnut will have your taste buds in meltdown. The balance of both acidity and minerality will cause a mouth watering explosion, hints of almonds and green olives and that all important flor character. As a palate cleanser this first course rocks.

Smoked salmon blinis

SmokedSalmonBlinisXmas2010Hidalgo Manzanilla La Gitana
£8.49 £7.99* Special Offer!
Smoked fish can be a tricky match for any wine. But this Manzanilla doesn’t just tackle it – it even brings out the wood used to smoke it, while tangy yeast flavours cut through the oily salmon to expose sweet back notes. The herb and hazelnut finish is a final treat.

Rum and raisin ice cream

Pedro Ximenez Triana, Hidalgo
£12.99 £11.99* Special Offer!
Prepare for an unforgettable dessert by steeping raisins in decent rum for a few days in advance. Then select the finest vanilla ice cream known to mankind, let it melt very slightly, stir in these flavour bombs and refreeze. Drizzle with PX and serve with tiny spoons, plus a small glass of a wine so sweet, you’ll need to warn your guests to exercise moderation.

Port

Port has many different styles to match the whole menu. Whether it’s a tempting Tawny with dessert or a versatile Vintage Port for your cheese board. And all of this variety thanks to 17th century British traders who, cut off from supplies of Bordeaux by frequent wars with France, took a liking to Portugal’s full-flavoured wines, fortified with brandy against the rigours of an Atlantic voyage.

Chocolate beetroot brownies

ChocolateBrowniesXmas2010Taylor’s First Estate NV
£9.99 £7.99* Special Offer!
It may sound odd, but beetroot’s earthy notes do amazing things to the bitter and sweet characters of chocolate. Even better with classically styled Port that combines blackcurrants, sweet molasses and a pinch of leather through to a soft, warming finish.

Stilton

PortCheeseXmas2010Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage 2003/04
£12.99 £9.99* Special Offer!
There is no better match for farmhouse Stilton than this dark, glossy LBV, with its glorious dark-fruit nose, smoky Black Forest berries, liquorice and spice. To get the best out of it, open the bottle before you serve your starter to give it plenty of time to breathe.

Date and walnut pudding

Taylor’s 10-year-old Tawny Port
£19.99 £17.99* Special Offer!
This old-school stalwart still deserves to be enjoyed at least once a term. Lumpy custard is optional; this beautifully coloured Tawny, packed with toffee, caramel, chocolate, nuts and raisins, is not. A true dinner party essential.

*Prices are valid from 02 November 2010 to 31 January 2011.