Pairing Wine and Dessert with a Sommelier and Wine Importer

Andrew von Teichman

This interview was published in a recent edition of my column in Homefront Maagzine. Andrew von Teichman, Toronto sommelier, winemaker and wine importer, talks about wines to pair with summer desserts.

You’re a sommelier by training, but now own a winery and wine agency. Why did you go into those fields?

My father was a co-founder of Pelee Island Winery in southwestern Ontario, so I had a chance to work in the vineyards and cellar during high school summers. I wasn’t forced to do this; I just decided to apply for a job there one summer and fell in love with the winery and the people. I went back almost every summer thereafter before starting full-time in the wine industry after graduating from university.

How does your sommelier training help?

Although I’m not working as a sommelier in a restaurant, I apply my sommelier training in tastings with customers, at Union Wines to assess the wines I’m making and to select the wines I import from around the world for my agency, Von Terra. The taste and smell of a wine is the most critical aspect to nail, so the training helps a lot.

What makes fruit-based desserts different from other desserts when it comes to pairing wine?

The sugars in the fruit play a huge role in the marriage of a good dessert wine pairing. Ideally, you want to serve a wine that is sweeter than the dessert, but fruits with high natural sugar can make that challenging at times. After considering sweetness, you also need to think about the acidity both in the fruit and the wine. For example, a dessert with a high-acid fruit like a granny smith apple would pair well with an icewine with its plentiful residual sugar, balancing the acid of the apple. Or you could match acid with acid and go with a good sparkling wine which will have complimentary acidity to the dessert.

What’s your favourite dessert and wine pairing?

Recently, a colleague and I were dining at The Springs restaurant in London, Ontario, and we tried a muscat-based Australian “sticky”: this is the Aussie abbreviation for their sweet wines. The chef brought out an incredible crème brulee, my favourite non-chocolate dessert. The pairing was truly awesome between the rich creaminess of the dessert and mature caramel toastiness from the wine. A slam-dunk match.

What’s the most unusual wine and dessert pairing you’ve tasted?

This is an odd one! We have a house in Thornbury, Ontario, well-regarded as apple country. My dad loves to make baked apples with ice cream, and his secret ingredient is Rumtopf, a traditional German dessert made of strawberries, raspberries, cherries, 100-proof dark rum and sugar. He pours this over the baked apple and it is the toughest dessert I have had to pair with wine. A sparkling vidal icewine is the closest I’ve come to nailing the pairing, but I still have work to do on this one.

What’s the most exotic dessert wine you’ve ever tasted?

In 2008, in the cellar of the Niagara winery Inniskillin with winemaker Bruce Nicholson, I tried his 2007 Cabernet Franc VQA Icewine. It remains the most memorable dessert wine I’ve ever tasted. Of course, being in the cellar with the winemaker helped, but it was so rich, ripe and screaming with strawberry and raspberry flavours. I just loved every last sip I could get my lips on. The unique angle was the use of red grapes rather the more traditional vidal or riesling white grapes.

Why do you think many people don’t serve dessert wine with a meal?

Price and the occasion factor. Good dessert wines are costly, but can be such a positive end to a great meal. A good pairing is worth every additional penny spent. However, like champagne or sparkling wine, it seems we need to have an occasion to drink dessert wines in Canada. There’s a perception we need a celebration to crack open a bottle. Truth is, we’re missing out on some of the best wines of the world in doing this. Canada is arguably the dessert wine mecca, and yet we drink a small fraction of all the icewine we produce.

Why are dessert wines so expensive?

They take time and patience to make with a great deal of risk in losing the crop all together if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate. That risk is compounded by insanely low yields from the vineyard, which leads to higher prices.

Do women drink more dessert wines than men?

As a sweeping generalization, women are more likely to indulge in a dessert wine. At home or in a restaurant, men tend to gravitate toward scotch at the end of a great meal, whereas, women lean toward something sweet. My wife is often pushing me to share a dessert with her, while hunting for a great wine to pair alongside. As a good husband, I’m happy to help her out!

What are your tips for serving dessert wines?

Dessert wines can be highly aromatic, so the cooler they are, the harder it is to appreciate the wines’ characteristics, whether it’s icewine, sauternes, port or sherry. As such, keep the wines a few degrees below room temperature, a range 5-12 degrees Celsius works, which translates to about twenty minutes in the fridge. Portions tend to be small, two to three ounces poured into a dessert wine glass if you have them. If you don’t, use a glass that narrows towards the top to concentrate the aromatics of the wine when smelling and tasting it.

Could you add a touch of class by serving dessert wine with berries after you’ve roasted a pig on an open fire?

100%! Pour half the bottle over the pig just before you take it off the fire. This will really enhance the taste of the pig when it hits your palate. Just before your food coma sets in after dinner, take the remaining liquid in the bottle which has been chilling in the snow or an ice bucket, and pull out the fresh, local berries. Instant hero status.

What’s your favourite Canadian icewine and why?

I tipped my hand above when I mentioned the Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Icewine. So I’ll choose another favourite: Pelee Island’s Vidal Icewine from an older vintage. They don’t make much on the island, but the winemakers are German, so they have an incredible touch in managing Old World and New World icewine-making technique. The balance of acidity, sweetness and the dried apricot flavours from the vidal grape make for a terrific taste experience.

What’s the oldest/rarest icewine you’ve tried and whose was it?

During the tasting with Bruce Nicholson, he pulled out some early 1980s Karl Kaiser Inniskillin Riesling Icewine. We’re talking really early days for Canadian icewine. Amazingly the wine holds up so nicely. It isn’t the fresh, vibrant fruity icewine you’d expect. It is mature and complicated, and the fruit comes off as dried and more concentrated.

Other than Canadian icewines, what are your favourites?

My sister-in-law and I love port. It can also be expensive, and contrary to what many think, it does have a shelf life of about one week once you open the bottle. I love it with a variety of cheeses or on its own beside a roaring fire. Port is the bottle of wine you can buy for your kids 21st birthday, vintage-dated to their birth year. There are so many styles of port that it would be impossible to choose a favourite—it really depends on the time of year, what you had for dinner and who is going to help you work through the bottle.

What are our icewine exports worth and why is it that we sell more icewine abroad than we do here in Canada?

According to Statistics Canada, our exports totaled in more than $12 million in 2010. Our #1 wine export is icewine, yet Canadians drink a small fraction of our total production. It’s such a Canadian reality that the product the world loves us for is hardly consumed domestically. In reality, the image of snow and ice is top of mind for most people when they think of Canada. That connection, and the desire for something deliciously unique, is what drives the world to enjoy our icewines.

Niagara is fruit country so do you tend to think of more wine pairings with fruit when everything’s fresh and local?

Whenever possible, go local with your produce, fruit and meat. There is truly nothing better than a locally grown apple or peach that you picked a few hundred metres from where it grew. Our season is short, but we achieve amazing quality and moving that quality onto the plate is what makes the latter half of the year a great time to eat local.

You’ve worked late and missed dinner with your wife. You grab a bottle of wine and her favourite dessert. What are you bringing and what happens next?

Lemon tart with candied pineapple, passionfruit parfait from chefs Herbert Barnsteiner and Michelle Barnsteiner at The Corner House Restaurant in Toronto paired with Château de Castelnau 2000 Brut Reserve Champagne. I’ll defer on the what-happens-next question!

Dessert is a perfect way to end a meal but my weight-watching friends just want fresh berries without the whipped cream. Is there such a thing as a low-calorie wine to pair?

Go the sparkling wine route: champagne, cava, prosecco or a local Ontario sparkling wine like Henry of Pelham’s Cuvee Catherine. Grapes for sparkling wine are picked very early, when the sugars in the grapes are low and the acids high. While this doesn’t make it a calorie-free wine, they’re not as a caloric as sweet wines yet they’re still a refreshing match for fruit and whipped cream.

When devouring a rich chocolate mousse or a fluffy soufflé with gluttonous gusto what should I pour?

One of my favourite matches is red wine and chocolate. Look for soft, fruit-forward reds that will not intimidate the chocolate too much. Think merlot, pinot noir, or an eccentric blend such as Union Noir VQA which is a 50/50 Pinot Noir Gamay Noir blend.

Clever cooks have come up with “wine desserts”- frosty rose granita, apricots poached in orange-muscat with ice cream or berry-port cake.  Is it overkill to serve these desserts with their name-sake wine?

Not at all, it’s a great way to accentuate the dessert with the wine. Muscat and port are both distinctive wines with significant presence in the glass. It would be hard to overcome their character with the dessert—if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

When you’re considering sweets at tea time or the end of a meal, do you always avoid dry wines like chardonnays and sauvignons in favour of choices that are slightly sweeter than the food?

While the rule of thumb suggests the wine be sweeter than the dessert, it’s only a suggestion. There are lots of examples of dry wines pairing with sweeter desserts, and half the fun is discovering what works and what doesn’t. Wine can be awfully intimidating, but if you forget about “the rules” and just enjoy what you like to eat and drink, and surround yourself with great company, the pairings will be dynamite.

Agency: Von Terra
Winery: Union Wines


2010 Union Wine Red, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Terrific value for this supple, medium- to full-bodied red with dark cherry-berry flavours and aromas. This blend of Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Merlot and Gamay Noir grapes would be a crowd pleaser at a party. Food matches: pork tenderloin and ham, mushroom risotto, cottage BBQ steak. Drink: 2012 – 2017 197152 13% D 750 ml $13.95 Score: 87/100




2010 Union Wine White, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Pretty floral and white peach notes on the nose of this refreshing, vibrant white wine. Makes a terrific aperitif as well as an accompaniment to many dishes. A lovely blend of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay grapes. Food matches: sushi, Asian dishes with some spice, butter chicken, seafood salad. Drink 2012 – 2016 197145 12.5% MD 750 ml $13.95 Score: 87/100




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Canoe Restaurant sommelier Will Predhomme 

Fairmont Royal York sommelier Jimson Bienstock

Eight Wine Bar sommelier Sheila Person

Video Chat: Scott Carney, Master Sommelier

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