Dessert wine pairing – Campari pavlova, citrus and strawberry salad

What goes well with dessert wine?

As the name suggests: dessert wines go well with dessert.

Dessert wines are much sweeter than table wines. They’re not fortified like sherry or port. But while fortified wines are traditionally drunk before or after a meal, dessert wines are built to go with dessert.

Dessert wines get their sweetness from added sugars, fungal infections aka ‘noble rot’ or by sun-drying harvested grapes as with cane cut wines in Australia or straw wines in France and Spain.

Dessert wines have the following characteristics:

  • Dessert wines are sweeter (10-15% ABV) than table wines
  • Dessert wines often have vanilla, toffee and toasty aromas thanks to ageing in oak barrels
  • Dessert wines are often made with naturally sweet grapes like Muscat but can be made from any wine grape that’s reached ripeness or is sun-dried for extra sweetness
  • Most dessert wines are white since these varieties have more residual sugar given the ripeness, but there are red dessert wines made from grapes like Zinfandel, Malbec, Petite Sirah and the Italian Recioto red wine made from dried Corvina grapes.

The question of what goes well with dessert wine depends on both the style, the wine grape and the wine terroir.

Below we’ll deconstruct an exquisite dessert wine and food pairing based on an Australian cane cut wine made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes in Margaret River.

Dessert wine and food pairing

Here are three methods to pair wine with food:

  • Pair body and texture
  • Pair beneficial flavours
  • Pair aromatic compounds

We’ve had a Cordon Bleu trained create a perfect pairing for UMAMU Estate 2014 Cane Cut. Let’s run through each of the three methods.

Pair body and texture

UMAMU Estate 2014 Cane Cut spent four months in oak barrels to add complexity, depth and spiced or toasted aromas to the wine. This gives it a medium body which appreciates the match of a baked meringue.

Pair beneficial flavours

Two wine pairing rules go like this: the wine should be more acidic than the food pairing, and wine should be sweeter than the food pairing.

Sweetness reduces acidity so the sugar in the meringue and salad helps to keep the acidity down from the orange zest, oranges and strawberries. The cane cut’s acidity therefore can add a refreshing touch of acidity to the dish which stimulates the appetite.

Bitterness reduces sweetness so the Campari helps to keep the meringue and fruit salad less sweet than the wine. The cane cut therefore adds a sweet kick to keep the food and wine pairing palatable and moreish.

Pair aromatic compounds

Maltol is the main added ingredient in vaping liquids with meringue aromas. It’s a naturally occurring compound that smells of burnt sugar or caramel. It’s found in wine that has been oaked, and that’s the reason for UMAMU Estate 2014 Cane Cut’s toffee, vanilla and crème brûlée aromas.

This sets the stage for aromatic synergy between the cane cut and the meringue.

Acetate esters are responsible for citrus fragrance in orange – mercaptohexyl acetate is the flavouring added to products to add a scent of orange blossom. Ethyl acetate is the dominant aroma compound in strawberries.

These aromas pair with the sharp-edged lemon and orange citrus fruit aromas in the Cane Cut. They are naturally occurring in high levels in Sauvignon Blanc which are the wine grapes for UMAMU Estate 2014 Cane Cut.

P.S. – You can read our complete guide to understanding food & wine pairing here.

Cane Cut with Campari pavlova, citrus and strawberry salad


Meringue: (make your own or buy ready made meringue)

  • egg whites from 4 large eggs (approx 135-140g)
  • 260g caster sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Campari
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar or a pinch of salt


  • 600ml cream
  • 3 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 50ml UMAMU Estate Cane Cut
  • zest of 1 orange

Citrus and strawberry salad:

  • 4 large oranges - segmented (use an assortment of varieties if desired - navel, cara cara, blood orange)
  • 1 punnet strawberries - sliced
  • 2 tablespoons Campari
  • 1 tablespoon sugar


  1. Whisk egg whites with the cream of tartar / salt until it reaches a soft peak.
  2. Gradually add in caster sugar a tablespoon at a time, whisk until mixture is glossy white and holds a stiff peak. Sugar should be dissolved - should not feel grainy when rubbed between fingers. Fold in the Campari.
  3. Line 2 flat baking trays with grease proof paper, use a few dabs of meringue to stick the paper onto the trays.  Spoon meringue onto baking trays in 4-6 round piles allowing for 5cm between each pile as meringue will spread as it bakes. Use the back of a spoon to indent each pile. Bake for 60-70 mins in a 150C pre-heated oven. Meringues are ready when they sound hollow when tapped. Leave to cool in oven with the door slightly opened.
  4. Put cream, caster sugar, cane cut and zest into a mixing bowl and whisk to a soft peak consistency.
  5. Gently combine fruit and strawberry salad and leave for 15 mins to merge flavours.
  6. Assemble dessert by putting meringues on individual serving plates, top with cream filling, citrus and strawberries, drizzle over any remaining juices.

 P.S. – You can buy UMAMU Estate Cane Cut here.