Hospo pairings – sweet things

Strawberry panna cotta

See this guide to all the articles we have published on hospitality professionals' suggested food and wine matches, and make sure you come back on Monday to discover who wins the prize for the best.

Dotted throughout the nine hospos’ food and wine pairing articles we’ve published (or are yet to publish) is a sprinkling of delectations for the sweet of tooth. Some were so specific to a particular national cuisine that they had to go into Around the world. Others were great sherry pairings, some could be categorised as desperate measures for desperate times, and some were, quite simply, about chocolate.

But I held others back that may have fitted into cultural cuisine, sherry or chocolate because, as American humorist Erma Bombeck grimly reminded us: ‘Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart.’

The themes of our hospos’ dessert pairings were – as you should now expect – varied and occasionally worthy of an arched eyebrow. Some were simple (‘pudding with Moscatel de Setúbal’ – Athila Dias from Rio de Janeiro) and others were incredibly complex. Some focused on the wine, others on the food.

But if you can read through these without ending up rummaging through the fridge and cupboard for some sweet-treat ingredients, then you are made of sterner stuff than I.

I’m going to start with greens – perhaps not the first ingredient you’d reach for when thinking about dessert. But it has its place, perhaps in the most unexpected ways.

Greens, herbs and veg

Sorrel ice cream and horseradish granita is a dish that could only have come from The Catbird Seat, Nashville, and in true Catbird style it’s paired with an off-beat late-harvest Romorantin from the Loire: Philippe Tessier’s Cuvée Roger Tessier 2015 Cour-Cheverny. Loving your thinking, Linda Milagros Violago.

Sticking with the grassy notes, is Sonal Clare (from Wilderness in Birmingham, UK) with ‘rhubarb and ginger panna cotta and Moscato d’Asti, Vignaioli di Santo Stefano, Piedmont, Italy 2018’. More herbs and Moscati d’Asti, seductively, from Adrian Marquez of Hana, Toronto, who suggests Moscato d’Asti with vanilla ice cream and rosemary’. Simple but intriguing.

Carrots round up our brief ‘veg-based’ desserts, and what I love is how much more creative people are when they make veg the focus of their dishes, savoury or sweet.

Madeira’, writes Sarah Stott of Sankeys, UK, ‘with Tommy Banks' carrot tiramisu at the York restaurant Roots York.’ Subtle. Genius. Yes. Please.

Ottolenghi's carrot & walnut cake (‘I modified this recipe slightly by adding Meyer lemon zest to the icing’) with 1996 Casa Manoel Boullosa Quinta dos Pesos Carcavelos, comes from Hayley Hastings of HoldFast in Portland, Oregon. Our second vote of the day for the obscure Carcavelos!

Raw fruit

Fruit, nature’s brightest gift to the taste buds, featured high on the charts. We’ll kick off with the most naked of fruit offerings, and wend (wobble?) our way to the most adorned.

You can’t get more naked than a peeled kiwi fruit. Luís Pedro Cambra from Casa da Calçada Relais & Châteaux in Amarante, Portugal, tells us that the best pairing for a kiwi is a citrusy Arinto sparkling wine. Hannah Svanberg of The Bull & Last restaurant in north London is brief and to the point: ‘German Riesling (trocken) and dates!’ Puzzling choice, given that dates are so very high in sugar. But I’ll give it a go.

Marcus Tesar, chef at The Village Cafe, Oxfordshire, also keeps the food exquisitely simple, even if the wine is anything but: ‘a warm, tree-ripened peach and a cannelé, Ch d’Yquem 1989’. Another peach pairing came from someone who was disqualified (for not being an unemployed hospo…). But I so loved his pairing that I kept it in my list. Mark Rose, winemaker at Pegasus Bay in New Zealand, emailed in with ‘pickled Black Boy peach with Comté cheese, quince paste, walnuts and honeycomb matched with Pegasus Bay Virtuoso Chardonnay’. Fragrant, sweet, tangy, salty, toasty – a symphony on a plate to go with a long, complex wine that Julia describes as toasty and clementine-like. Just once in my life I want to try that combination.

I also love the deliciously summery suggestion from Martijn Herselman of The Cat Jazz & Cigar Bar in The Netherlands of ‘Tokaj with a sweet, chilled melon soup for dessert’.

Red berries

Because those of us in the northern hemisphere are in late spring, I’m starting with red berries. This morning I picked the first of the tiny, sherbet-dab-sharp alpine strawberries that now grow riotously through the gravel just outside my back door. I planted two of them five years ago and there are enough of them to take on the Amazon forest now. Our baby cherry trees are sinking under the weight of (still-green) cherries, and The War With The Birds has begun. Red berries are here.

‘As far as I can remember, one of my favorite pairings that I've tasted is a very simple preparation of a dessert that consists in three main elements: The base, brioche bread slightly toasted with a touch of butter, then on the top some Fourme d'Ambert cheese to add creaminess and texture, and to finish it a pair of dark Amarena cherries with some of its own sweet syrup. That's it. The wine: Vintage Port: Quinta Noval, Silval 2001, really delicious, lots of dark cherries, still fresh but at the same time opulent and rich.’ This scrumptious pairing, that we might all be able to recreate with one substitution or another, comes from Mario Valdez of The Wine Bar by Grand Cru, San Pedro Garza, Mexico.

Valimaki Viinikellari from Oy in Helsinki is brief. Strawberries and Moscato d'Asti. You can’t go wrong with that. In fact, I’d go so far as to say #lockdownbreakfast. Then I’ll duck and wait for the alcohol police to cuff me.

Antonino Ciaccio from Modern Times Hotel in Switzerland calls for ‘red-berries cake, meringue, confit rhubarb, rose sorbet to pair with Black Muscat Elysium’, California, 2017. A very visually pretty pairing, which makes me wonder if Elysium might also pair with Red Velvet Cake…?


The apple pairings mostly featured a simple, homey pie/tart of some sort.  

Apple strudel cropped up more than once. Rita Takaro from Café Schwarz Kaffeehaus in Micheldorf, Austria, wants it with the famous botrytised sweet Ruster Ausbruch from Burgenland. Rumyana Tishevishka from Zurich wants it with the Rossidi orange wine from Bulgaria. [We'll be publishing a collection of current Bulgarian tasting notes very soon – JR]

Victor Amaro of London Bridge Hotel writes about a wine that he is totally passionate about.

Villa Oeiras, Carcavelos DOC from Portugal. More than a distinct wine, it is a taste of history. Medium Sweet NV, intense aromas of apricot, honey, raisins, peach, hazelnuts, roast almonds, orange peel and lemon, with caramel and spice notes of nutmeg, cacao, toffee, ginger, butterscotch and coffee bean. On the palate it is medium sweet, contrasted by a light saltiness followed by the rich fruit, involved with spices and the rustiness in a firm refreshing acidity that brings the finesse and elegance to a delicious and very intense long finish; an authentic symphony of aromas and tastes. The versatility of Carcavelos wine in gastronomy sees it pairing with foie gras, liver pâtés or charcuterie, with chutneys, spicy sushi, light curries, roast chicken with mushroom gravy, goat cheese or other cheeses, crème brûlée, apple pie, strudel, fruit cake, roast chestnuts, Christmas pudding or enjoy it on its own in good company for memorable moments.’

Tarte Tatin gets its moment in the limelight, paired with Hugel’s Pinot Gris Sélection de Grains Nobles 2007 by Louis Papper, butler at Magdalen College, Oxford, and with Ch de Jau, Chez Jau 2007 Rivesaltes Ambré by Stephen Nisbet of Galvin La Chapelle, City of London.

Peter Kovacs from the Continental Hotel Group in Budapest raises the game considerably with apple crumble tarte, caramel ice cream and passion-fruit coulis, pairing it with Balassa Édes Szamorodni Bomboly 2017 from Tokaj, a lighter style of Tokaj than Aszú, which doesn’t mean it isn’t complex.


Lemon tart proved popular, with Salvador Jimenez from New York opting for something rather different in his choice of a dry, skin-contact Garnacha Blanca. Robert Pold from NOA Chef’s Hall in Estonia has his tangy lemon tart with Peter Lehmann, Botrytis Semillon 2011.

Lemon and passion fruit tart paired with Pieropan, Le Colombare Recioto di Soave DOCG. This barrel-aged botrytis Soave is prefect with more subtle citrus and fruit-based desserts. Its acidity will hold against the fruit. Almond notes will really complement the pastry. The sweetness of this wine is delicate but present and won't overpower the dish.’ This elegantly unwrapped pairing comes from Jason Cole at The Sipster in Belfast.

He’s not the only Jason to pair lemon with Recioto di Soave! Jason Chovanec of the Nocturne Jazz and Supper Club in Denver is serving lemon cake with apricot preserve and La Cappuccina, Arzimo 2011 Recioto di Soave.

Jacqueline Bolton of The Study in Oklahoma goes for zip and intensity: key-lime pie and blood-orange sorbet with sparkling rosé.

Blood orange makes a second appearance in a list of ingredients that read like an alarming combination, so I have assumed it makes up some sort of Michelin-starred chef’s dessert: ‘Blood orange, juniper, white chocolate, goat’s cheese with Reinhold Haart, Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Auslese, Mosel, 2014.’ Martien Marcelissen is from Oonivoo in Uden in the Netherlands, which explains it all.

Cooked oranges are next on the list. ‘Brioche with marmalade, served with Rockford Cane Cut Semillon’, writes in Primo Clutterbok from The Melbourne Supper Club. ‘The wine has enough sweetness without being overbearing. Also I think people don't drink enough sweet wine or eat enough marmalade in Australia.’ Chris Dougan from Bar Vini in Glasgow pairs vanilla panna cotta with burnt-orange caramel and Goya Moscatel dessert wine – a wine that would add complexity and layers of coffee and raisins, liquorice and toast to the creamier base of cream and vanilla. Good call.

Then we move into the realm of orange flavour accents rather than the main thing. Mike Turner, Ferme, London, with his tongue (I hope) shoved in his cheek, offers up ‘Sauternes and Jaffa Cakes’. I’ll take his word for it. I sense no particular urgency to test that one out. [For the uninitiated, Jaffa Cakes are a mass-market biscuit/cookie involving chocolate and orange jelly – JR]

Ana Castellano Marin from Carbon Negro in Madrid wrote in with a busy melange of eggy fried brioche with orange honey and mint, chocolate and raspberry ice cream (or at least, I hope that’s what it was – I used Google Translate to work out her Spanish!). She matched it with Tissot Crémant du Jura Indigène. Creative and a little bit daring.

Less specific is Tiffany Bulow’s suggestion of orange-blossom beignets with Jurançon moelleux! Beignets, for me, are New Orleans – with a cup of strong black coffee to mitigate the cocktails of the night before – but Tiffany is from Otium, Los Angeles.

Orange zest is the piquancy in Danielle Greaves’ (London's Dorchester) pairing of Stanton & Killeen NV Rutherglen Muscat with bread and butter pudding made with raisins and condensed milk, nutmeg, orange zest and served with a drizzle of maple syrup (instead of custard).


Apricots are, according to the nutritionists, one of the lowest-sugar fruits. I can, without hesitation, vouch for the fact that in 26 years living in the UK I have never eaten a good apricot here. France, yes, but UK, emphatically no. Here, one resorts to French apricot conserve and apricots poached in some kind of alcoholic syrup at some screamingly ridiculous price that you are only stupid enough to pay at Christmas. Which is precisely when you do not need the additional calories of apricots in syrup (which you will eat with a massive dollop of Jersey clotted cream).

Bethany Jeffries from The Farm at Cape Kidnappers Restaurant in New Zealand has this fabulously complex dessert that is creamy and sharp, rounded and spiky, fragrant and comforting, which she matches with a 1995 Ch Climens Sauternes: apricot mousse, pistachio sponge, saffron and passion-fruit caramel and orange-blossom ice cream… ‘Recently enjoyed by guests before, and will definitely be enjoyed again!’ Excuse me while I try to pull myself out of a puddle of imagination.


Moving into the tropics, mango seems to be joined at the hip with coconut – whether that changes the wines mango goes with would be an interesting question. A friend dropped round a tin of Alphonso mango a couple of days ago, telling me to freeze it and serve semifreddo with Greek yogurt. I’d given him a (sample bottle) of Alsace Grand Cru Gewurz and when he Whatsapped me he was in some kind of transcendental bliss at the combination. Unfortunately I gave away my off-dry Alsace samples so I can’t now test-drive pure mango with sweet wine. But here goes with the coconut pairs…

Baked meringue, mango, coconut sorbet paired with Xanadu Cane Cut Viognier.’ Thank you, Naomi Marie, Le Coutre, Cumulus Up in Melbourne. That sounds like a pretty explosive pair (which might put you into a sugar coma – but what a way to go).

But the most creative, and unlikely, mango pairing comes from Clara South of Nepenthe Restaurant in California:

‘My absolute favorite is a coconut rice pudding (which is my specialty) made with a touch of cinnamon, coconut milk, cream, sea salt brown sugar, walnuts on top, and mango cubes with toasted coconut flakes and a roasted citrus peel expression, not too sweet, an almost savory, lush dessert complimented by a Ridge 2017 Adelaida Vineyards Grenache Blanc. It goes through a full malo, it has a much rounder feel than most central coast Rhône varietals. This farm has old walnut orchards that come through in the wine and complement the citrus. American oak gives this a unique undertone that complements my rice pudding so well. This is also the first vintage (from what I understand) that Adelaida has sold fruit from this vineyard for outside production. We sold it by the glass at Nepenthe for a while and it sold out so fast!’

Clara, you had me in the palm of your hand, and I would give months of my life for a taste not only of the Ridge Adelaida (none of the JR.com team have tasted it!) but also of your rice pudding. May I come for dinner?


Bananas Foster is a New Orleans classic that is yet another reason why, as a greedy person, I would sooner live in NOLA than any other city in the US – hurricanes notwithstanding. (The other reasons are the Southern live oaks – Quercus virginiana – which lift the pavements and wrap themselves into the soul of the city; the cocktails, which, as a wine writer, I should not admit to; and the music, which rises up from the warm tarmac and curls its smoky tendrils around your bones. And then I have to mention the riotous rhododendrons and bougainvillea pouring through petticoat-lace wrought-iron balconies making me homesick for Africa and giddy with colour.)

But getting back to the point. Braithe Tidwell of Brennan's Restaurant in New Orleans says that Bananas Foster goes with PX sherry. Those are big flavours. I wouldn’t be that bold. I’d stick with madeira or tawny port. But then I haven’t tried Bananas Foster for many, many years…

Fikayo Ifaturoti of 67 Pall Mall in London suggests ‘caramelised banana mini-pancakes, with yuzu rinds and nutmeg (in the batter) and a dollop of mascarpone and shaved toasted walnuts on top’. He pairs it with Kopke 10-year-old white port, which is a brilliant pairing, pulling in the nuts and vanilla, the citrus and the spice. Fikayo, may I visit you at 67 PM when all this is over to try this?

Peter Gerard Kelly of Maeve Wine and Food Bar in Brisbane proposes ‘ripe persimmon, banana and pecan nuts (with a bit of ice cream) matched with Ch Rabaud-Promis Sauternes 1988'. The perfume and intensity of persimmon, a fruit we all, I think, overlook at our great loss, would elevate the banana and pecans to something quite special, and are worthy of the stunning wine suggested.

OK, then for something that had me spending way too much time on the internet. Cultural ignorance? Please, hands up, and make me feel like I am not the only ignorant person in the room, but what the heck is ‘Banana Chess Pie’?

Google told me that I wanted Banana Cheese Pie (which did not, quite frankly, sound any better). Then I found chess pie. And banana pie. Finally, finally, I found The World Famous Banana Chess Pie, complete with recipe. It does, according to Alexander Burch Bastion of Henrietta in Nashville, pair nicely with Malmsey Madeira. Someone else will have to vouch for that.

Nuts and caramel

All pretence of five-a-day abandoned, we’re now deep into sugar and caramel.

Sticky toffee pudding is first on the agenda. Scott Tiltman of Toronto pairs it with caramel and crème anglaise sauce and Blandy's 5-year-old Malmsey. Julia Buchalska of Hawksmoor, London, pairs it with cream sherry. And Karolina Nowosadzka from Butchery and Wine in Warsaw reminds us why we need sommeliers, even if it’s just to soak up their passion:

Sticky toffee pudding served with crème fraîche paired with Pedro Ximénez, Solera 1918 from Bodega Ximenez Spinola. The sweet caramel notes of the dessert will match the whole taste of the Pedro Ximénez with its rich in date and caramel taste. Gladly the acidity of this wine is very refreshing and the level of sweetness in this wine is not so high, so the crème fraîche is a perfect addition to the sweet cake. Both match each other perfectly well. As an alternative to the dessert I would suggest Mildara Benjamin Tawny Port from Victoria, Australia. 100% arabica coffee, best will be the small espresso.’

2012 Rockford Estate Cane Cut Semillon and Loukoumades’, which are basically these hedonistic Greek doughnuts made civilised and healthy by walnuts and honey so you can eat as many of them as you wish… Richard Harrison of Frederic in Melbourne, thank you for the important brain-food addition to this list of desserts. Everyone, loukoumades (and Cane Cut Semillon) need to be on your diet list.

Thinking along the lines of health, I feel duty bound to include honey (enzymes), pumpkin seeds (PUFAs) and pecans (polyphenols). Read the following with a pinch of salt. And a glass of wine.

‘One of my favorite pairings where I work is madeira with our Honey Toast. Toasted brioche, cashew praline, honey ice cream drizzled with honey and an oat tuile. Nutty on nutty.’ Amber Bischof of Uchi, Austin, TX. That’s our cholesterol-reducing oats and daily magnesium requirements taken care of.

Taylor Fladgate 10 Year Old tawny port is spectacular with a pecan torte. I know this isn't the most unique suggestion, but I tried it recently and it was really memorable.’ William Blessing, of Grand Canyon Restaurant in Colorado gives us a chance to dose up on plant-based protein and vitamin E.

Ania Smelskaya of Silo in London suggests a non-wine pairing (but we’ll forgive her) of ‘Ice cider Brannland with pumpkin-seeds ice cream, buttermilk dolce de leche and fig oil – there you play on balance of acidity and sweetness, there is also salinity of pumpkin seeds and umami of fig oil. Acidity of cider cuts through the texture of the pumpkin seeds and balances up the saltiness with a postponed sweetness. The flavours aren't overtaking but it is a constant flow and it complements each other and reaches the harmony.’ For anyone who is not familiar with pumpkin-seed oil, not only is it a powerhouse of magnesium, potassium, calcium, polyunsaturated fatty acids, antioxidants, sterols, squalene, and tocopherols (read healthy) but if you buy it from Austria or Slovenia, it is simply the most delicious oil you will ever taste. Don’t buy it from anywhere else. I haven’t tasted Ania’s dessert, but good pumpkin seed oil on vanilla-bean ice cream is stunning.

In Calgary, Janin Desmarais Francosud is drinking Kopke Colheita with pecan maple syrup squares. And in Montreal, Emily Hughes of Le Filet Bar has a plate piled with maple tartelette, whipped cream and pecans paired with Frescobaldi's Pomino Vin Santo. Miles Morley of The Little Nell in Aspen wants his pecans frozen: ‘Blue Bell buttered pecan ice cream with El Maestro Sierra, Pedro Ximenez.’

And if we’re really into caramel, it’s tawny port and caramel pie all the way, according to Jonny Shea of Botanist, Auckland.


You can’t do dessert without vanilla so we’ll kick off with a classic: ‘Demi-sec champagne and New-York style cheesecake’, says Anna Holčapková of Vinograf in the Czech Republic. ‘Cabernet Franc ice wine served with a vanilla crème brûlée’, writes in Leonardo Navarro of Herr Lindemann in Berlin.

Vanilla cake in the form of Serbian Krempita cake (matched with late-harvest Tamjanika from winery Budimir, by Anika Manojlovic of Iris New Balkan in Belgrade) and Italian pandoro cake matched with Toro Albala Gran Reserva Don PX 1990 by Chelsey Devenz of Tuk Tuk Canteen in Toronto, are both off-beat, interesting dessert options. ‘Pancakes and Serbian Vinjak, 10 years old’, says Anja Mihelic from Grotto Tavern Restaurant in Malta. OK, it’s brandy, not wine. But it’s made from grapes…

Chocolate, coffee, cinnamon

Lava cake and Cabernet Sauvignon from Dealu Mare, Romania, is the pairing from Melania Biro of B.EAT Bistro in Romania. I confess I had to look up lava cake. I think it’s this chocolate thing with a molten centre. You can probably tell I don’t do much in the way of baking, dessert or chocolate.

Dark chocolate cake (we used Amedei chocolate) served with fresh truffle shavings and extra virgin hazelnut oil, both from Piedmont. Combined with Barolo Chinato by Giulio Cocchi. The dessert is rather complex with high intensity and long-lasting flavours. The intensity of Barolo Chinato matched very well with chocolate due to little residual sugar inside and high intensity driven from the herbs and spices. The deeper nuances were driven from classic Nebbiolo grapes and used herbs, which created many layers of flavours in Barolo Chinato to match perfectly with the complexity of the dessert. The result was a total brainstorm – on one plate you had a match with forest undergrowth and mushrooms, with bitterness and sweetness, richness and intensity on a very sophisticated way.’

Kristjan Markii, sommelier from Estonia, has come up with a stupendous pairing, worthy of any Michelin-starred restaurant. Brainstorm indeed.

‘Corona virus cheer-up combo’, offers Gerry Weber, tasting-room hospitality staff member for College Cellars Walla Walla: ‘College Cellars Tawny (Barbera) port and dark chocolate from Bright's Candies in Walla Walla.’

‘Given it's Easter’, writes in Rich Lucas of an unnamed restaurant in Melbourne, ‘homemade hot cross buns and Saracco Moscato d'Asti'.

Foie gras

Really? Dessert? I know it’s usually paired with sweet wine, but as dessert? Yes. According to our crazy hospos…

‘Before the restaurant closure due to recent events, we had a wine dinner scheduled for April 16 (which is now postponed. Or cancelled?). The final stage of the meal was to be: 2009 Muffato della Sala (by Marchesi Antinori). Dessert wine, made with a blend of Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Sauvignon, Semillon and Grechetto, affected by botrytis. Paired with a foie gras gelato and mud crumbles.’ This from Brooklyn Bain of Emeril's Coastal Italian in Florida. Mud crumbles. Chocolate sprinkles?

Diogo Sanches from Pedro Lemos in Portugal offers up ‘Pear-layered pie caramelised with honey, foie gras ice cream and a 20 year old white port from Andresen Sommelier Porto.’ And then Teide Schepers from Ciel Bleu in the Netherlands pushes us past our final frontier: ‘Bombé of chocolate-airbrushed foie gras with a compote of quince and a tuile of all-spice. Wine pairing: Markus Molitor Riesling Spätlese Ürziger Würzgarten 2016’.

Top that.

And then


Yes, I can, and I am going to. The most beautiful dessert pairing of all came all the way from New Zealand. Elizabeth Buttimore of Arbour Restaurant in Blenheim wrote this lyrical, joyful message that prompted me to contact her and ask her for the picture below. Here you have her pairing in full:

'We have a gorgeous tea lady here in town with a huge whimsical garden, the sort you imagine arriving at the top of Enid Blyton's Magical Faraway tree. We wanted to showcase the beauty of her organic chamomile tea and so Bradley created a dessert named after her and using things you'd likely find in her garden.

'The White Wabbit's Garden:
Apricots, chamomile ice cream, spiced carrot cake, candied carrot ribbons, caramelised yoghurt.
Wine: Folium Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 2018: Jancis and team if you haven't tasted Takaki Okada's late harvest Sauvignon Blanc yet please, please get your hands on this limited release. I had been nervously calling it the best late harvest New Zealand ... then Ivan Sutherland [of Dog Point] left his table to shake Takaki's hand one night after trying it and said the same. Validation! It should have been part of his reserve Sauvignon Blanc but he got hit so hard with the vintage of 2018. He salvaged some that had formed perfect rot and made his first (and fingers crossed, only) late harvest. It is luscious, rich and sweet but finishes like the sweetest, freshest piece of stone fruit you could bite into. Perfect with the spice, delicacy and freshness of the chamomile ice cream, stone fruit and carrot. Takaki is a true gentleman and the nicest man in the wine industry and, given we are surrounded by exceptional humans, that is a big call. If you said that about Takaki to any other winemaker they would look thoughtful for a moment then nod their head and agree.'

White Wabbit's Garden from Arbour restaurant in Blenheim, New Zealand
White Wabbit's Garden from Arbour restaurant in Blenheim, New Zealand

Could there be a sweeter finish than that?