The French love food. Their exquisite cuisine and refined techniques across all aspects of cooking illustrate this passion. The essential vitality of a meal is about so much more than mere sustenance, or even pleasing the palate (though that part is great). Meals are about community and bringing people together.
What could be more gratifying, more overflowing with goodwill than closing a meal with a luscious dessert alongside a petite and precious glass of perfectly paired wine? Wine is the note that resolves the chord of the course, balancing and enhancing the meal while inspiring conversation and bringing its own host of savory flavors and aromas to the table. Wine is also an excellent houseguest, arriving with a special something extra for the evening and not creating too many messy dishes.
There’s a perfect wine for any dessert, from hearty and comforting gateaus stuffed with freshly picked apples to lofty cakes covered in the finest imported chocolate. Choosing one comes down to personal taste, a handful of wine smarts, and approaching the process with joie de vivre.
Here are a few favorite French wines ideal for lingering over tempting indulgences and conversation late into the night.
Late Harvest Chenin Blanc
Chenin Blanc is a hard-working grape. Depending on the time of harvest and the way they’re handled after, these gold-green beauties can produce bright wines with high minerality and desert dryness or lusciously sugary libations packed with mouth-watering dried-fruit character.
Drinkers looking for a versatile, all-occasion wine can lean in to Chenin to support a wide variety of cuisine. From herb-forward main courses of poultry, pork, and fish through the cheese course and yes, on to dessert, Chenin Blanc goes all the way.
Late Harvest Chenin Blanc, like all late harvest wines, is prepared from grapes harvested later in the season. This allows the sugars to concentrate and more residual sugars to remain in the wine after its fermented. Mature citrus flavors and aromas develop along with ripe mango and toasted nuts.
This grape variety has a sweet fragrance as well as strong acidity, so at any sugar content, it pairs fabulously with foods that also include this duality of flavors. A Late Harvest Chenin Blanc shines next to fresh-picked strawberries tumbling over homemade shortcake or elegant lemon-meringue pie. Serve chilled, alongside a hot summer night and bees humming in the wildflowers, if available.
The grande dame of French dessert wines, this golden nectar is from an area not usually associated with white: Bordeaux. Tucked right in the middle of the region, these wines are made with a high proportion of Sémillon grapes along with Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. The Sémillon is desirable because its thin skins are easily affected by noble rot, a curious name for a hugely delicious process.
Noble rot is another name for a friendly grey fungus called Botrytis cinerea. Late in the harvest season, noble rot grows on grapes, punctures their skins, and dehydrates them. Dehydration concentrates the sugars and Botrytis imparts its own gifts in the form of ginger, honey, and saffron notes. Luscious.
Try out a bottle of Sauternes with dessert dishes featuring warm flavors and baking spices. Think apple compote over vanilla ice cream, spice cake, and sumptuous fresh custard. Serve chilled.
Maury is a vin doux naturel (VDN) or fortified wine produced in the south of France. Typically based on Grenache grapes, Maury is syrupy and full-bodied. Vintners add a fortifying spirit, usually brandy, in the middle of the fermentation process. This halts yeast activity, freezing the sugar content and raising the concentration of alcohol over 15 percent.
With so much residual sugar spared from being gobbled up by the yeast, Maury is deliciously full and velvety. Its medium-high tannin content and midline acidity give it a depth of flavor and complexity that prevent this port-like sipper from being cloying.
Maury is an ideal dance partner for deep dark chocolate desserts, caramel, and truffles. Serve at cellar temperature (slightly chilled) and decant half an hour before serving to let Maury become its best self.
There’s a reason Champagne is an evergreen crowd pleaser that gets invited to all the best parties. It’s delicious, it’s versatile, it comes in a range of styles, and nobody doesn’t like a grown-up fizzy drink.
The demi-sec or doux styles of Champagne pair great with desserts. Their flavors are appropriate in a wide variety of settings, too, making these perfect go-to bottles when the night is young and could go anywhere.
Ice wine, or vin du glace, is one of the rarest and most precious types of wine in the world. It is pressed exclusively from grapes that are kissed by autumn frost, meaning only vineyards in areas where it regularly drops below freezing in early winter are even eligible to participate. The tradition is arduous, with presses having famously broken against the strain of crushing frozen-solid grapes. Ice wine uses only a small amount of the super-concentrated juice from each grape.
The finished wine is incomparable. Delicate, sugary ice wine is an elegant dessert all by itself. Its candied flavors make this special wine a natural slow-sipper, stretching those after-dinner moments and casting a spell of its own. This wine is best enjoyed when not hand-picking frozen grapes with winter breathing down on the hillside, but being nonetheless grateful to the skilled vintner who did.
Indulging one of these French gems brings more than just an elevated flavor experience to the table. A good wine invites the drinker into that spirit of community and connection that is so loved in that country. Greet friends, family, even colleagues with good humor and good cheer. Be nourished with good food, sumptuous dessert, and a great glass of wine (or two). À votre santé!