Break the Rules: 10 Wines to Drink with Ice Cream

published Jul 22, 2015
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(Image credit: Jayme Henderson)

Who says you can’t drink wine with your ice cream? Ask most wine professionals, and they’ll tell you, “Pairing wine with ice cream is one of those ‘impossible pairings.’ Go with beer or have a sip of whiskey, instead.” But what if you are presented with a situation where wine is your only option, or what if you simply love wine and ice cream together?

Adaptability is a positive quality, so let’s break some rules.

It’s All About Sugar, Acid, and Tannins.

You might be asking why ice cream is difficult to pair with wine. According to dessert and wine pairing guidelines, the wine should be sweeter than the dessert, or else the wine may come across as flat. The other element to consider is acidity. Most wines are inherently acidic. Think about it — you wouldn’t squeeze lemon juice on your ice cream.

The last component to think about is tannins. Sure, tannic wines — like Cabernet Sauvignon or Nebbiolo — may play well against rich dishes, but once you add a sugary component, the profile changes. All of a sudden, the delicate, sweet notes of your dessert are swept away by bitterness and dryness.

(Image credit: Jayme Henderson)

For all of you wine lovers, however, who want to enjoy a scoop of your favorite ice cream alongside your glass of vino, here are some of my favorite pairings. A couple of them definitely bend the rules.

If you love …

1. Chocolate Ice Cream

Look for Brachetto d’Acqui, a sweet, ruby-hued, semi-sparkling dessert wine with floral notes and hints of red berries. Banfi’s Rosa Regale, $19, is an easy-to-find option. Add fresh raspberries or strawberries to this already delicious combination. Perfection.

2. Salted Caramel Ice Cream

Salted caramel’s flavor profile is a perfect match for Pedro Ximenez (“PX”) sherry. I’m not talking about your plain ‘ole cooking sherry, either. PX is dark and complex, the sweetest of sherries, with notes of espresso, caramel, and raisin. PX is another option to serve alongside or on top of your coffee ice cream. Alvear’s “1927” Solera, at $20, is spectacular.

3. Pistachio Ice Cream

Pair this Mediterranean classic with cava, a sparkling wine from Spain’s Penedès region. Cava is a Champagne lover’s go-to for a quality, budget choice. It’s made in the same style as a Champagne, without the fancy price tag. I’d seek out a bottle of Marques de Gelida, a bright but toasty cava, priced around $16.

4. Butter Pecan Ice Cream

Go with a chardonnay. The butterier, the better. The ice cream’s rich, nutty, toasty flavors mimic the aromas of a buttery, oaked chardonnay. I like Picket Fence’s Russian River Valley Chardonnay, $12. Also try to find Kendall Jackson’s Late Harvest Chardonnay, $25. It’s a rich, sweeter style of chardonnay.

5. Blood Orange Sorbet

Moscato d’Asti is your match. Almost any sorbet tastes great with this bubbly, semi-sweet dessert wine. Pour moscato over sorbet for a refreshing sorbet float. At about 6 percent alcohol, you won’t get too much of a buzz. Robert Mondavi’s Moscato d’Oro, $25, is my jam. For a more budget-friendly option, look for Saracco’s Moscato d’Asti, $15. It’s even twice the size.

6. Strawberry Ice Cream

When I make a batch of homemade strawberry ice cream, I always have a glass of off-dry (ever-so-slightly sweet) rosé at the ready. Casal Garcia’s Vinho Verde Rosé, $9, has a hint of effervescence, which is perfect for cutting the richness of ice cream. Its notes of strawberries, raspberries, and ripe watermelon complement strawberry ice cream.

7. Peach Sherbet

Opt for an off-dry riesling to pair with peach sherbet. Riesling is characterized by aromas of stone fruits — think white peaches, apricots, and nectarines. One of my favorites is Charles Smith’s Kung Fu Girl, $11, out of Washington. Its bright acidity works well with the hint of cream in the sherbet, and the flavor match is spot-on.

8. Vanilla Ice Cream

Oh, man. Vanilla ice cream is such a simple classic, but it is also a blank canvas for whatever toppings you are craving. If you are garnishing with red berries, go with a late-harvest zinfandel, such as the one from Dasche Cellars, $24. If you are topping with nuts or chocolate, go for a tawny port, such as Penfold’s Club, $14. Reference the box below for some more enticing options when it comes to toppings.

9. Plain Greek Frozen Yogurt

The sour notes of plain Greek frozen yogurt pair perfectly with the similar tart flavor profile of Italy’s dessert wine, vin santo. The extended barrel aging of these white wine grapes provide richness, as well as acidity. For the ultimate pairing experience, serve with baked spiced apples or pears. A great example is Antinori’s Santa Cristina Vin Santo, $19.

10. Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Here’s where Australian shiraz comes out to play. Its rich, red raspberry fruits, chocolate nuances, and subtle eucalyptus notes are cross-complementary with mint and chocolate. I recently tasted d’Arenberg’s the “Stump Jump” Shiraz, another Trader Joe’s score for only $10.

(Image credit: Jayme Henderson)

Pro Tip: Toppings Expand Your Wine-Pairing Options.

  • Light-colored fruits? Peaches, nectarines, or citrus always pair well with Sauternes, riesling, ice wine, or moscato.
  • Dark-colored fruits? The likes of raspberries, strawberries, or blackberries are stellar matches with ruby port or a rich zinfandel.
  • Toasty, nutty components? If your toppings include almonds, peanuts, or hazelnuts, go for a sherry, Madeira, chardonnay, tawny port, or, my favorite, vin santo.

What are my personal, favorite combos of the moment? I love every bite of Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby with Graham’s 20-year Tawny Port. While there is no version of Talenti I don’t like, their blood orange sorbet is divine with Michele Chiarlo’s Nivole Moscato d’Asti. Okay, this one might be a little obscure, but there’s this amazing, small-production winery out of Oregon, Sineann, and their rare “Sweet Sydney” Columbia Valley Late-Harvest Zinfandel is on my table right now, alongside a handful of toasted pecans and plain ‘ole chocolate ice cream.

I hope these suggestions get your creative juices flowing. What are your favorite ice cream and wine combinations? Any flavor fails?