When you think about all the foods that fall into the dessert category — cakes, pies, mousses, truffles, custards, tarts — you begin to realize there’s a lot of territory to cover when looking for a wine to serve with these culinary treats.  

Luckily, by applying one basic rule of thumb, you can conquer the wine-and-dessert-pairing conundrum with ease: simply make sure the wine you serve is sweeter than the dessert. 

The reasoning behind this is just as simple; when a food is sweeter than a wine, it overpowers the wine’s sweetness and accentuates its other characteristics, namely acidity and alcohol. This often leaves the wine flavorless or bitter. 

Consider serving late-harvest wines, ice wines, Ports, and Port-style wines with your dessert. With their high residual sugar content and somewhat bold yet elegant flavor profile, they can stand up to desserts on practically any sweetness level. 

Northwest wineries offer plenty of dessert wine options. Sweeter fruit wines, many sourced from locally grown berries, are a great place to start. 

Take Whatcom County’s Samson Estates Winery, for one. Their Delilah fruit wines (raspberry, blackberry, and blueberry) are lower in sugar but still pair great with less-sweet desserts like cheesecake or buttery pound cake.  

Samson also produces higher sugar/higher alcohol dessert wines, including cassis black currant, blueberry, Framboise raspberry, and Oro, a rich, delicious fortified wine made from roasted hazelnuts. 

Lopez Island Vineyard & Winery offers a pair of dessert wines as well; their raspberry wine is both tart and sweet, and brimming with fresh fruit aromatics and flavors. Their Fireside Port, a combination of malbec and sangiovese topped off with San Juan Distillery brandy, makes for a jammy, slightly smoky libation that pairs well with anything chocolate. 

If you prefer an ice wine style, try the Pacific Rim & Company 2018 Vin De Glaciére. Crafted from 100% riesling, it’s packed with pear, golden raisin, and stone fruit flavors that explode into an ultra-long, honey-like finish. 

Finally, be sure to consider a pair of unique dessert wines from Bellingham’s Vartanyan Estate Winery. The two wines, a 2015 Dessert Wine and a 2013 Dessert Wine, consist of fortified riesling aged in oak barrels for three and five years, respectively. 

The results are stunning. Each wine carries a lovely, sherry-like quality. The grape’s natural acidity, along with the perfect level of sweetness, balance out the 20% alcohol content. The flavor profile includes dried apricot, fig, and toasted walnut, with a lengthy, lingering finish. 

An added bonus to these wines: because of their high alcohol and sugar contents, they keep well after opening. That means you can serve them now, cork them, and store them for more pairings over the course of several weeks.