Sommelier Roundtable: Pairings for Fall Desserts

Seven somms from Restaurant Award winners share beverage picks fit for the sweets of the season

Sommelier Roundtable: Pairings for Fall Desserts
Take your pick: Cider, wine and spirits are among the pie-suited pairings recommended by these expert sommeliers, just in time for Thanksgiving. (Liliboas/Getty Images)
Nov 19, 2021

We’re entering the thick of fall, and that means baking season is in full swing. Nothing beats the sweet scents of cinnamon and baking pastry filling the kitchen on a brisk day—except for the moment you match that freshly made dessert with the perfect beverage. When choosing wines for desserts, there are a few general guidelines to follow: The wine should be sweeter than the food so it doesn’t end up seeming sour or bitter in comparison; a rich wine should be balanced by vibrant acidity so the pairing doesn’t come across as cloyingly sweet, and choose a wine with fruit, spice or nut aromas and flavors that echo or complement those in the dish.

Seven sommeliers from Wine Spectator Restaurant Award winners are here to help, with numerous beverage selections to enjoy alongside these fall staples. See their picks for peak cozy season, from an aged German wine to smoky spirits and more.


Wine Spectator: What’s your favorite wine or beverage to pair with pumpkin pie, apple pie or other fall desserts?


Astrid Young, wine director at Award of Excellence winner Merrill House in Picton, Ontario, Canada

Vin Santo is my top recommendation for pumpkin pie. The prices for Vin Santo are all over the map, but if you keep your eyes open, you can sometimes pick one up for under $20. If you can’t find one, Oloroso Sherry is a decent alternative. And speaking of Sherry, if you’re a fan of mince pie, there’s nothing better than Pedro Ximénez. Add some vanilla-bean gelato and you’re in heaven!

Pairing dessert drinks with apple pie is easy (as pie!) if you’re in Canada. I recommend County Cider Company Barrel Aged Ice Cider. It’s perfectly balanced and you almost don’t need the pie at all because it has notes of cardamom, cinnamon, pie spice and vanilla—like apple pie in a glass! If you can’t get your hands on some of that, go for a good-quality Calvados, a French brandy distilled from Normandy cider.


Johan Henrik Kirketerp-Møller, wine director, co-owner and general manager at Restaurant Palægade in Copenhagen, Denmark

To pair with fall desserts, I almost always choose Madeira for its notes of caramel, high acidity and a beautiful note of stewed stone fruit. I personally prefer Madeira from the grapes Boal [Bual] or Terrantez, a medium-sweet style, but the plantings are small and the more generic colheita of the Tinta Negra Mole grape is also at a very high quality. Vinhos Justino Henriques’s 1999 colheita Madeira is drinking very well at the moment.


Martien Marcelissen, wine director at Best of Award of Excellence winner Oonivoo in Uden, Netherlands

I would probably recommend aged Auslese Riesling wines from Germany’s Mosel region. They do have some equal aromas [to those fall desserts] but have the freshness and tension which make dessert and sweet wines so fascinating. We once served a type of wine like this at Oonivoo with a dessert made of apricot, pumpkin and fresh goat cheese. It was a beautiful combination.


Zachary Kameron, beverage director at Best of Award of Excellence winner Peak in New York, N.Y.

Bourbon, aged Armagnac [from southwest France] and Calvados for spirits. For wine, depending on the shell of the pie—graham versus dough—I would say a nice passito or Vin Santo from Italy. Something a bit reductive that showcases orchard fruits but also a ton of baking spices. I’m also a huge mulled cider fan; I make my own every fall with different spices and orange peels.


Ali Yakich, wine director at Grand Award winner Flagstaff House Restaurant in Boulder, Colo.

A great Scotch, like Highland Park, goes great with pumpkin. It is spicy and smoky, which complements the sweetness of the pumpkin. I also love an Oregon Pinot Noir, specifically one that’s a little more spicy and smoky for a great pairing. My favorite few producers are Belle Pente, Beaux Frères and Antica Terra.


John Miller, wine director at Best of Award of Excellence winner Harbor House Inn in Elk, Calif.

I love pairing Madeira with fall desserts. You have such a range of flavors, brightness and sweetness. Boal go so well with the apple pie and fruit desserts, while I’d recommend the Malvasia for the sweeter and more textured desserts.


Marcello Cancelli, wine director at Boka Restaurant Group in Chicago, which includes Best of Award of Excellence winner Swift & Sons

I’m not a fan of ciders, so I’m definitely inclined toward an LBV (Late-Bottled Vintage) Port or Madeira, where baking spices combine to add luxury to earthy fall desserts.


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