Just desserts deserve
just the right beverage

By BOB STERNER
For The Star-Ledger

Whether it’s a gathering of old friends relaxing into warm
conviviality after a hearty meal or a more formal social
setting, dessert wines and liqueurs can add a special glow
of sweetness to the occasion.

Matching dessert beverages to the setting is the key to
appreciating them. Some robust liqueurs and wines have
such character that they would overpower many
desserts. These are better served to the guests so fully
sated that they even pass up on the Godiva chocolates,
yet they linger around the table with throats drying from
lively conversation.

Lighter beverages may be better suited to complementing
the dessert course of an afternoon tea or be offered to
help a sherbet clear palates between courses of a formal
meal. Some versatile libations can be enjoyed for their
rich flavors as is, or become a part of the dessert
themselves.

The most popular after-dinner drinks are liqueurs or
cordials, Tony Caristi at the Wine Cellar in Bernardsville,
said. “They really wrap up a meal. Pour a little into a
brandy glass, and maybe have it along with a good cup
of coffee.”

A real standby to cap off a meal is Grand Marnier, a
cognac-based, orange-flavored liqueur, available in
various blends and priced according to the characteristics
of the cognac base. While the Cordon Rouge at $30 a
bottle is fine for flavoring ice cream, those who wish to
dwell on the flavor may prefer the complexity of the top-
of-the-line Cent Cinquantenaire, a $175-a-bottle cuvee
honoring the company’s 150th anniversary.

Nut-like flavors give two other cognac-based liqueurs
enough complexity that they can hold up to post-meal
sipping, yet the are priced low enough to let hosts
comfortably splash a little extra over ice cream or white
cake. Amaretto de Saronno, at $19 a bottle, has a mellow
almond flavor that is a little less sweet than many
liqueurs. Frangelico, at $18 a bottle, is similar, but with a
rich hazelnut taste. Cognac without any flavorings is a
classic meal topper, with Hennessy’s Very Special Old
Privilege a standby in many liquor cabinets.

Wines need not be distilled, as they are in cognacs, to
hold their own as a post-meal course. Chateau d’Yquem,
a rich, full-bodied sauternes, can revive a palate with its
opulently oaky, honey flavor and tropical fruit bouquet.
The blend of Semillon and sauvignon blanc grapes goes
for about $20 a bottle, or a bit more for prime vintages of
1980 and 1989.

Several wines can stand on their own, or compliment
light pastries or fruit cups after a meal or during a
Grand Marnier
and Hennessy's
Very Special Old
Privilege are
liqueurs to be
enjoyed along
with desserts or
when guests
reassemble
around the
fireplace.
luncheon. Caristi suggested Italy’s Paolo Sarocco
Moscato d’Asti as particularly refreshing for
summer parties. The $14-a-bottle beverage is lightly
bubbly and brings out peach notes from the Muscat
grape. A French still wine made with the same
grape, Beumes de Venise, Domaine Beaumarlic, is a
bit darker than the Italian product and has apricot
accents. It is $11 for a 375 milliliter half-bottle. For
effervescence and a rounded sweet taste that
offsets pastries and lightly sweetened desserts,
Moet & Chandon’s demi-sec champagne is a
classic at $30 a bottle.

Chocolate desserts can be offset with cream-based
liqueurs, such as the rich coffee-flavored Kalua
Royal Cream, at $17 a bottle. Godet’s White
Chocolate Liqueur, at $21, is a bit lighter than
dessert beverages and goes well with summer
entertaining. Both of these liqueurs go well over ice
cream. Kalua Royal Cream is as good with vanilla
ice cream as its older brother, conventional coffee-
flavored Kalua. Godet’s White Chocolate is one of
the few liqueurs that can improve on chocolate ice
cream, Caristi said.