Celebrations and Sweet Endings

Dessert is the highlight of any meal for many diners, and we put considerable effort and planning into the cakes, pies and ice creams we serve. But often overlooked are the celebratory wines to complement our sweet endings. Texas wineries offer a wide range of sweet-wine styles that pair perfectly with Grandma’s pecan pie or your favorite aunt’s secret fudge recipe.


Port-style wines were some of the first fortified wines produced in Texas. Messina Hof Winery found success in the early ’80s producing a port from Lenoir grapes that’s rich in flavors of blackberries and raspberries with hints of chocolate. “In the eighties, most Texans didn’t drink a lot of wine, and port was reserved for the cigar room,” says Paul Bonarrigo, owner of
Messina Hof. “Our ports were much more approachable—delicate and fruit-forward—and it opened up a whole new set of customers who like that style.”

Messina Hof’s Private Reserve Papa Paulo Port continues to be one of the most decorated Texas wines in competitions, and the winery now dedicates all 20 acres of their Bryan estate to producing their upper-tier ports. Pair them with rich chocolate desserts—the Bonarrigos enjoy theirs with an ice cream sundae topped with port-infused chocolate-fudge sauce. If you prefer something a little more savory, try pairing the wine with blue cheese.

A number of Texas wineries also produce port-style wines from white grapes. This lighter style will vary in flavor depending on the grapes used, with blanc du bois and viognier among the most popular. These light fortified wines taste of sweet peaches, honeysuckle and caramel, and they partner well with lighter desserts, like a fruit pie with a fluffy meringue topping.


Originating from the Portuguese island of the same name, Madeira is made by “baking” the wine at high temperatures (more than 100 degrees) in cellars called estufas. The heat creates a sweet wine made luscious with honey and caramel flavors.

Raymond Haak, founder of Haak Vineyards and Winery in Santa Fe, Texas, was a pioneer at harnessing the Texas heat to create a Lone Star version of this classic wine. His experiment paid off and has received wide acclaim from customers, critics and wine competitions.

Made with blanc du bois grapes, Haak Texas Madeira is sweet with the flavors of peaches and apricots drizzled with honey and just a touch of nuttiness, a natural match for chocolate truffles or pecan pie. For a cheese course, try a harder cheese like Gruyère to complement the nutty flavors in the wine.


The sweet muscat grape thrives in the hot Texas sun, and a number of Texas wineries use the orange muscat or muscat canelli in both dry and sweet wines. McPherson Cellars, a Texas winery with a label almost two decades old, is releasing its first orange muscat grown in the Texas High Plains this fall.

The grapes are harvested late in the season to ensure they’re bursting with sugar, creating a wine with notes of honey, apricot and orange marmalade. Serve muscat with creamy or fruity desserts, such as a fruit tart, panna cotta or crème brûlée. For a cheese pairing, salty, buttery Gorgonzola couples well with the honeyed muscat.


Spiced red wine is a holiday tradition in Europe, and Fredrik
Osterberg—originally from Sweden—missed the Christmastime treat. He quickly began lobbying his co-founders at Pedernales Cellars to create the traditional Swedish holiday wine, called glögg, shortly after the winery opened. “We didn’t know what he was talking about, so he brought back a number of examples for us to taste,” says Julie Kuhlken, co-founder and chief marketing and hospitality officer at Pedernales Cellars. “It’s Christmas in a bottle.”

The Texas glögg uses tempranillo as its base wine and is fortified with brandy spiced with cinnamon and cardamom. While Swedish glögg is quite sweet and often served warm, the Pedernales Cellars version is drier and needs additional sugar added if you intend to heat it.

Gingersnaps are the traditional pairing for this holiday libation, but any spiced cake, cookie or pie will complement the baking spices in the wine. The Pedernales Cellars tasting room manager swears that glögg is also the perfect wine to enjoy with fruitcake. If you’re looking for a cheese match, fondue is ideal.

Whether choosing a port-style wine to serve with holiday fudge or glögg to pair with a pumpkin pie, you can’t go wrong with a Texas dessert wine to finish your next meal. And, don’t worry if your dinner party doesn’t finish the bottle. Most dessert wines will keep for one to two weeks if well-sealed and stored in the refrigerator. 


Guide to the Grapes

 Wine Style        Suggested Pairing Wineries
 Madeira Chocolate truffles, pecan pie
or Gruyère
Becker Vineyards
Haak Vineyards
William Chris Vineyards
 Muscat Fruit tart, panna cotta, crème
brûlée or Gorgonzola
Wines of Dotson-Cervantes
Enoch's Stomp Vineyard
Messina Hof Winery
McPherson Cellars
 Port Chocolate or blue cheese Becker Vineyards
Brennan Vineyards
Enoch's Stomp Vineyard
Haak Vineyards
Messina Hof
Pedernales Cellars 
 Glögg Gingersnaps, spiced cake,
pumpkin pie or fondue
 Pedernales Cellars

Note: Port is a protected name and can only be used by wineries that were producing wines before the name was restricted. Newer Texas wineries use the name Portejas, a name trademarked by Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association for Texas port-style wines.

By Kristi Willis • Photography by Jenna Northcutt