The Wine Pairing Guide You Didn’t Know You Needed But Will Be Happy To Have This Holiday Season
Featured photo from Little Birdie Parties.
Christmas is here and I’m in the mood to cozy up by the fire with a glass of Cannonau. I’m also in the mood to get my holiday baking on! Holiday cookies were a big deal in the Dickerson household. Did your family bake a lot around the holidays, too? Lucky for me, my brothers, and all of our friends, my mom absolutely adores baking. Every year in December, the big glass jars with the hinged, snap top lids would come out. Smells of vanilla, chocolate, and caramelized sugar would fill the house. And soon our counter would be stacked with just about every holiday cookie and treat you can imagine.
Of course, we each had our favorite holiday cookies we had to have every year and mom was always happy to oblige us. My favorites were fudge (no nuts) and Russian tea cakes. Dad had to have his fudge with nuts and those cherry, coconut shortbread cookies. Jason, my oldest brother, loved the date and nut pinwheels. While Jonny, our middle brother, loved Koulourakia (Greek cookies) and fudge, too. And mom’s fudge was no rock-solid, break-your-teeth-on-it hunk of something. No, no, no. This fudge was velvety, luscious, and oh so creamy.
I’m Dreaming Of A Wine Christmas
Being in Italy for the second Christmas in a row, I’m feeling a bit nostalgic for mom’s holiday cookies. Plus, I am always looking for any excuse to explore new wines, create tasty pairings, and encourage you to do the same. So, for this holiday season I present to you my holiday cookies & wine pairing guide!
Now, you might be saying to yourself What in the – cookies and wine?! Is this girl crazy? I think all of that Mediterranean Sea island breeze has gone to her head. First of all, you’re not wrong. Second of all, chill. Holiday cookies present the perfect opportunity to explore dessert wines!
I’m guessing you either fall into one of three camps here.
- You love dessert wines and discovering the many styles of dessert wine the world has to offer.
- You’re a fan of port, sherry, or another style of dessert wine, but tend to only stick with what you love when it comes to this wine category.
- You’re thinking yuck, I hate sweet wines. I’m exiting out of this ridiculous blog post now because this shit is wack.
Again, chill. There is so much diversity and so many intriguing winemaking techniques amongst the dessert wine world. As a wine lover, you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not exploring the many styles of dessert wines available around the world. Plus, pairing a sweet wine alongside something equally sweet or sweeter allows the other characteristics of the sweet wine to shine. Oh, and by the way, not all dessert wines have to be sweet.
Holiday Cookie & Wine Pairing Guide
For this holiday cookie and wine pairing guide, I selected the cookies and holiday treats that I feel are most commonly found around the holiday season. If I missed one of your favorite holiday cookies and your curious to know what wine will pair best, please send me an email or comment below. We’ll get you set up for the holidays in no time! This is by no means a definitive guide to dessert wines, though that may come at a later date. This is by all means your golden ticket to pure indulgence this holiday season.
In the spirit of holiday giving, I even created a holiday cookie and wine pairing Pinterest board just for you! I’ve included my favorite cookie recipes and recommended producers for each wine pairing. I added pins for more info on each wine style in case you’re curious to learn more. Plus, some eye-catching cookie decorating pins for those sugar cookie lovers out there. I used Wine Folly to research some of the wine styles for this post and included pins to each article on the Pinterest board. Click below to check out the Pinterest board and follow me on Pinterest!
Sugar Cookies + Australian Botrytis Semillon
Is there a more classic holiday cookie than sugar cookies? I think not. When it comes to sugar cookies, the softer the better in my opinion. Thanks to this recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction, I discovered one trick to softer cookies is to roll out the dough a bit thick to around ¼ inch thickness. And with endless opportunities for creative freedom, sugar cookies are quite possibly the most fun holiday cookie to make.
Sugar cookies can be even more fun when paired alongside a bottle of Australian botrytis Semillon. For those who aren’t familiar, botrytis cinerea (a.k.a. noble rot) is a type of fungus that grows on grapes, as well as other fruits and cheeses. However, under the right conditions, noble rot on grapes is a good thing. The fungus punctures the skins of the grapes, drying out the berries and concentrating the sugars, intensifying the sweetness and sometimes the alcohol level of the finished wine. Botrytis is also thought to contribute honey and ginger flavors. Read more about noble rot and the ideal conditions for this gift from nature at the pins on my Pinterest board.
My Wine Pick – Nobel One, Botrytis Semillon, De Bortoli 2016
Concentrated flavors of citrus and honeyed stone fruits with flavors of vanilla from the 12 months spent in barrel. A sweet, viscous wine kept in balance by bright acidity with just a touch of spice. Truly a delightful wine.
While botrytis Semillon tends towards the sweeter side of the spectrum, sugar cookies require a wine to match their sweetness. ‘Sugar’ is in the name, after all. Not to mention the basis for the beautiful frosting is also based on sugar. The notes of honeyed stone fruits and citrus will be able to shine through in the wine when paired with sugar cookies. My favorite sugar cookies are made with vanilla. The vanilla notes in an Australian botrytis Semillon from barrel-aging will be the perfect complement to the same flavor in the cookies.
Peanut Butter Blossoms + Recioto della Valpolicella
While peanut butter blossoms were only made upon special request in my house growing up, these are classic holiday cookies. Who doesn’t love peanut butter and chocolate? A timeless combination that never gets old. Again, the softer the cookie the better. You can up your peanut butter chocolate game by using mini Reese’s peanut butter cups instead of Hershey’s Kisses. YUM!
Recioto della Valpolicella is made in the same style as Amarone in Verona, Italy. The grapes (Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, and Molinara) are laid out on straw mats to dry out after harvest, concentrating the flavors and sugars. Where Amarone is fermented dry, Recioto della Valpolicella is always a sweet red wine, as fermentation is stopped when the alcohol is at a minimum of 12%.
My Wine Pick – Giuseppe Quintarelli Recioto della Valpolicella Classico
Recioto is typically characterized by notes of vanilla, cinnamon and silky chocolate. You can expect to smell and taste notes of black cherry, blackberry, and cranberry as far as fruit goes.
The savory, nuttiness from the peanut butter will highlight the vanilla, cinnamon, and fruity notes of the Recioto. And that silky chocolate quality of Recioto can complement the chocolatey center of the Peanut Butter Blossoms.
Russian Tea Cakes + Moscatel de Setúbal
If you’ve never had a Russian tea cake, that needs to change immediately. These cookies are delicate, powdered-sugar covered cookie balls typically made with walnuts. Sweet, but not overly sweet. They are crumbly once bit into, but then melt in your mouth. Absolutely delicious!
Moscatel de Setúbal is a fortified sweet wine from the Setúbal peninsula in Southern Portugal made from the Muscat of Alexandria grape. Typically sold with 2-5 years of age, this is a rich, honeyed sweet dessert wine characterized by notes of orange marmalade, orange zest, apricots, grapes, and caramel. Aged Moscatel de Setúbal will have aromas of nuts and figs.
My Wine Pick – Bacalhôa J.P. Moscatel de Sebútal
This Moscatel de Setúbal is barrel-aged for a minimum of 3 years before bottling. Expect aromas of honey, apricots, and oranges and flavors of caramel and dried tropical fruits. This sells for around $9 a bottle, a total steal.
The Russian Tea Cakes have just enough sweetness to match the Moscatel de Setúbal while still allowing the exquisite aromas and flavors of this dessert wine to shine. The buttery and nutty flavors of the cookie would match the notes of an aged Moscatel de Setúbal quite nicely.
Santa’s Whiskers (Cherry Coconut Cookies) + Demi-Sec Sparkling Vouvray
These are Dad’s favorite crunchy shortbread style cookies with candied cherries and coconut flakes meant to represent Santa’s beard.
Vouvray is a region in the Loire Valley, France where still, sparkling, and sweet wines are made from Chenin Blanc grapes. For these holiday cookies, I’d opt for a bottle of demi-sec sparkling Vouvray. The demi-sec style is off dry (so semi-sweet) and not overtly sweet like the Moelleux Vouvray, which is partially made using botrytis grapes.
My Wine Pick – Vouvray Demi-Sec Excellence “De Chanceny”
Expect notes of candied ginger and pear with apricot and honeyed flavors. The fine bubbles also help elevate the fruitiness of the wine.
The notes of toasted almond, dried fruits, and ripe mango and apricot will complement the flavors of the toasted coconut and sweet cherries perfectly, as each have characteristics of tropical fruits. These cookies have just the right amount of sweetness to pair with a bottle demi-sec sparkling wine
Linzer Tarts + Moscato d’Asti
Linzer Tarts are another classic cookie baked around the holiday season. Sugar cookie dough, sometimes made with almond flour as well, is baked into crispy, crumbly cookies. Spread a fruity jam, jelly, or preserve between two cookies, sprinkle with a light dusting of powdered sugar, and you have yourself some Linzer Tarts.
Characterized by incredibly fruity aromatics that explode from the glass and flavors to match, Moscato d’Asti is the perfect wine to savor alongside Linzer Tarts. Moscato d’Asti is a frizzante sparkling wine, meaning only slightly sparking. The lighter bubbles and bright acidity allow the typical mandarin orange, honeysuckle, pear, and orange blossom aromatics to shine
My Wine Pick – Michele Chiarlo Moscato d’Asti D.O.C.G
Fresh and creamy with a fine, light bubble. Super aromatic, as can be expected, with white floral notes and aromas of peaches and apricots.
Moscato d’Asti is a slightly sweet wine whose sweetness is enhanced by the wines fruit flavors and aromas. This sweetness will be an ideal match for the sugar cookies of the Linzer Tarts while the fruity jam filling of the tarts will enhance the beautiful fruity aromas of the wine.
Snickerdoodles + Tokaji Aszu
Snickerdoodles are delightfully simple cookies that are always a crowd pleaser. The softer and fluffier, the better. Tokaji Aszu is one of the world’s first famous sweet wines typically made from Furmint along with six other varieties native to Hungary. These sweet wines are made with a blend of noble rot grapes and regular grape must.
My Wine Pick – Royal Tokaji 2007 Betsek Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos
This luscious wine exudes aromas of crème brûlée, vanilla, candied apples, and apricots.
Tokaji Aszu is characterized by notes of ginger and saffron along with apricot, tangerine, and honey. The spice aspects of Tokaji will pair nicely with the sugar cinnamon coating on the Snickerdoodles. However, Tokaji Aszu is heavily sweet, so a Snickerdoodle ice cream sandwich drizzled with caramel would also be delicious alongside a glass of Hungary’s famous sweet wine.
Gingerbread Houses, Cookies, Cakes, etc. + Gewürztraminer
I did not grow up making gingerbread houses. Nor am I a big fan of gingerbread in general. However, I do recognize gingerbread cookies, cakes, and houses are quite popular around this time of year. And I can see how making these homemade gingerbread houses would be fun! I also came across this fluffy, golden ginger cake on Alison Roman’s Instagram for NY Times cooking and feel this is a gingerbread I can get behind.
With all of that said, I am confident that the ideal wine for gingerbread anything is Gewürztraminer. If you’re not a fan of Gewürztraminer yet, what the hell have you been doing? An aromatic variety that seems inherently sweet due to its incredibly fruity aromas, Gewürztraminer is mainly grown in Alsace and the U.S. as well as Italy, Hungary, Australia, New Zealand, and Germany.
My Wine Pick – Gustave Lorentz Gewüztraminer Alsace Grand Cru AOC
This wine is showcases aromas of rose petals, lychee, fine spices, and nutmeg with honeyed flavors upon aging.
Gewürztraminer is characterized by fruity aromas of lychee, grapefruit, peach, apricot etc. and is also known for spicy aromatics like ginger, smoke, cinnamon, and allspice. These aromatics make it a perfect match for the sweet molasses and spicy ginger flavors of gingerbread desserts.
Date Nut Pinwheels + Vernaccia di Oristano
As previously mentioned, Date Nut Pinwheels were my brother’s favorite holiday cookie and I’ve seen them in other kitchens around the holidays, too. A cookie with just the right amount of natural sweetness from dates and a bit of crunch from walnuts.
Since this isn’t an overly sweet cookie, I think pairing a relatively young Vernaccia di Oristano would make anyone’s taste buds happy. Vernaccia di Oristano is a wine produced on the island of Sardinia and is not a sweet wine. Actually, Vernaccia is always fermented dry before barrel-aging. Made from the Vernaccia grape, Vernaccia di Oristano is produced in a similar method as sherry using the solera system. The wine is aged in barrels under a layer of flor, allowing for a slow and controlled oxidization. This contributes savory flavors with notes of hazelnuts, almonds, vanilla, and figs to the finished wine.
My Wine Pick – Contini Vernaccia di Oristano
Dry yet full-bodied, slightly smoky and savory with notes of almonds. Contini is one of the most well-known producers of Vernaccia. My other favorites include Silvio Carta and Famiglia Orro.
The nutty flavors of this Vernaccia di Oristano will be a perfect match for the slightly sweet dates and nuttiness of the Date Nut Pinwheels.
English Toffee (And Other Caramel Treats) + Bual Madiera
Caramelized, crunchy English Toffee is one of my all-time favorite treats and not just during the holiday season. I’ve lumped this together with Chocolate Turtle Cookies that are popular around the holidays (though I’m not sure why they are called turtle cookies) because they have similar caramel flavors. Any holiday caramel treat would also work for this pairing, but those with chocolate AND caramel will taste even better.
Madeira is a fortified wine only produced on the island of Madeira in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. With a unique winemaking process that involves heating and oxidation, Madeira is able to age for up to 100 years. Bual Madeira is a medium sweet wine with notes of burnt caramel, brown sugar, fig, and walnut.
My Wine Pick – Cossart Gordon 10 Year Old Bual Madeira
This Bual Madeira is full-bodied and balanced with aromas of candied fruits and caramel, along with notes of chocolate and spices.
Bual Madeira is a sweet, rich wine balanced by acidity, which allows the wine to be sweet without being cloying. The burnt caramel, brown sugar, nut, and fig flavors make this wine an ideal match for toffee and other caramel-like treats.
Fudge + Tawny Port
I have saved the best for last because fudge is my favorite holiday treat! But not just any fudge. For your holiday baking pleasure, I have the recipe for my mom’s fudge that is super creamy, velvety, and completely irresistible.
Mom’s Christmas Fudge
- 4 1/4 cups of sugar
- 2 tbsp butter
- 3 bars of German chocolate
- 12 oz. package of chocolate chips
- pinch of salt
- 1 can of evaporated milk (12 oz.)
- 1 pint marshmallow creme
- 2 cups of nuts (optional)
Boil sugar with the butter, salt, and evaporated milk for about 10 minutes. As soon as the mixture starts to boil, lower the temperature and boil slowly. The sugar mixture should be light brown when it’s done. Be sure to use a large pot because the mixture will become frothy and rise as its boiling. If you boil the sugar mixture too long, the fudge will be hard. Not long enough, and the fudge will be too soft. Combine the other remaining ingredients in a large bowl and pour the boiling mixture over when ready. Stir until the chocolate is melted. If using nuts, fold in the nuts after. Once combined, pour the mixture into two greased 8-inch pans.
My Wine Pick – Fonseca 20 Year Old Tawny Port, Duoro Valley, Portugal
Complex and powerful with notes of butterscotch, chocolate, plum, ripe fruits, toffee, mocha, and coffee. In my mind, the ideal expression of a Tawny Port.
Tawny Port is very sweet, making this wine an ideal pairing for rich, velvety fudge. If you love nuts in your fudge, the toffee and butterscotch notes of this Tawny Port complement them nicely.
Whether you’ve been naughty or nice this year, you’ll definitely be moved to the top of Santa’s nice list if you set one of these pairings out for him.
Happy pairing and happy holidays!