Ice cream sweetly seduced by a provocative wine

ISACS is the founder and CEO of EnjoyGourmet, a leading gourmet digital (www.enjoygourmet.com.cn) and print media company in China. He has authored over a dozen wine and food books including the awarded ISACS Guides and other gourmet books and is a wine consultant to governments, wine regions and organizations. He also hosts wine events for leading organizations and companies throughout China. Contact John via jcolumn@enjoygourmet.com.

Ice cream is a cross cultural gourmet delight. In today’s iDeal section readers can feast on a well-researched article on one of the world’s favorite desserts, by Li Anlan. A lovely way to embellish one’s ice cream experience is to enjoy it with a suitable glass of wine. There are two simple rules to follow.

First, follow the general wine and food pairing rule that says when serving wine with desserts the wine should be as sweet or preferably sweeter than the dessert. Dry acidic whites and tannic reds just don’t work. In addition, make sure your ice cream isn’t too cold so the creamy texture and flavors are more pronounced. The palate compromising truth is that most ice creams are served too cold and most sweet wines too warm. After scooping the ice cream from the freezer, allow 5-10 minutes at room temperature before eating.

The world’s most popular ice cream flavor is vanilla. Part of this popularity is due to the versatility of vanilla and the fact that it matches well with a host of other ingredients including wines. But one wine stands out as the world’s best companion to vanilla ice cream. I’m referring to the hedonistically sweet and delicious Pedro Ximenex Sherry. Pedro Ximenex has a dark mahogany color and abundance of sweet raisin, stewed fruit and perfumed spices aromas and flavors that are perfect companions to vanilla ice cream. For a special treat, pour half a glass of the syrupy wine on the ice cream and drink the rest. A delightful way to add further texture and taste dimensions to this combination is to soak raisins in Pedro Ximenez wine for 24 hours then serve.

One of my favorite ice cream flavors is dark chocolate. High quality dark chocolate ice creams aren’t too sweet and feature naturally rich cocoa flavors. These qualities make them excellent partners to a full-bodied, slightly sweet red wine with soft tannins. My choice is a traditionally styled Amarone wine from Italy. These red wines are made from air-dried grapes and offer an abundance of ripe, slightly sweet dark fruit flavors with soft tannins that nicely augment both the flavors and smooth and creamy texture of the ice cream.

Sweeter versions of chocolate ice cream, not surprisingly, benefit from a sweeter red partner and my preferred solution is Recioto della Valpolicella. It is a unique style of sweet red wine where the fermentation process is stopped to preserve the sugar percentage necessary to allow for the sweet and structured style of this wine. On the palate Recioto offers abundant sweetness, wonderful fruit flavors with well-rounded tannins and a velvety texture, in other words a wonderful sweet red partner for chocolate ice cream. Ice wines are also lovely with fruit flavored ice creams and while Canada is now the world’s largest producer of ice wines, with ice cream I prefer German versions.

Germany makes some of the world’s greatest yet least understood wines. Excellent dry wines certainly are produced but the nation’s claim to wine fame is still based on low alcohol sweet wines made from the noble Riesling variety. Sweet wines in general are not as popular as they once were but they still represent some of the world’s greatest wines. Keep in mind that during the nascent years of the 20th century the most prized and expensive wines in the world were not the first growths of Bordeaux, they were sweet Rieslings from Germany.

Perhaps Germany’s most famous is ice wine, or Eiswein in German. These wines are extremely difficult to make and yields are low. In the 19th century there were only six documented ice wine harvests. New technologies and greater all-round expertise have led to more frequent ice wine vintages but making these wines is still risky business. Because the harvest date for grapes is so late, they may rot before freezing or be eaten or destroyed by foraging animals. There’s a very short time window when the grapes are first frozen and need to be harvested and pressed within several hours before they defrost.

There exists two other exceptional German dessert wines that are even sweeter than ice wines. The term Beerenauslese means “berry select harvest” and refers to a sweet style of German wines that are frequently, though not always, botrytis affected. We often refer to those as noble rot wines. These sweet, yet balanced wines have charming aromas and flavors of honey, caramel and tropical fruits with a fresh acidic backbone.

Even more difficult and costly to make are Trockenbeerenauslese wines. Linguistically challenged wine lovers often use the acronym TBA to refer to these wines. By any name they are one of the world’s greatest sweet wines and are sometimes called the king of German wines. In German, this lengthy name means “dried berry select harvest” and refers to the grapes that shrivel up like raisins due to noble rot. Just think Beerenauslese, but even sweeter. The extremely shriveled, almost dry grapes result in extremely sweet wines with honey qualities and a syrupy consistency that are still remarkably fresh.

It’s the balance between intense sweetness and good acidity that makes all styles of premium German sweet wines remarkably food-friendly. Whether you’re savoring your favorite style of ice cream, stinky cheese or goose liver, the sweet wines of Germany are excellent wine partners. Recommended German producers with sweet wines available here in Shanghai are: Schloss Vollrads, Schloss Johannisberg and Schloss Groenesteyn from the Rheingau region and Weigut Reinhard and Dr Loosen from Mosel.

Where to buy in Shanghai

Varieties: Riesling wines account for nearly 80 percent of Rheingau production followed by Pinot Noir with about 12 percent and a host of native German varieties comprising the rest.

Key term: Noble rot refers to the grapes or wines that are affected by the Botrytis Cinerea fungus that dries out the grapes and concentrates the sugars inside.