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From Salads to Dessert, How to Pair Wine with Cherries

The star of late spring farmer’s markets, cherries are a quintessentially West Coast fruit: California, Oregon and Washington produce more than 90% of the country’s sweet cherries (props to Michigan, which grows most of the sour cherries). Like other stone fruits—peaches, plums, apricots, even almonds—cherries are in the rose family, which contributes to their romantic appeal. What to drink depends how you choose to use them.

An illustration of a cherry sauce on a cheese cake.

Cherry Sauce

Cherries are delicious in a quick pan sauce (recipe below) for pork or duck. The cherry flavors of Sangiovese are balanced by high acidity and, often, savory notes of tomato, olive and dried herbs. It works with both the cherries and the meat.

An illustration of a salad with cherries on it.

Salad

Add cherries to any green salad, especially with goat or blue cheese, basil or mint, and a sweet-tart dressing. Doing so lets you pair with a red wine like crisp Barbera, whose cherry notes are complemented by black pepper and anise.

An illustration of a piece of cherry pie.

Dessert

It’s hard to resist baking fresh cherries into a pie, clafoutis or coffee cake. Take advantage of this opportunity to break out a young Ruby Port, with flavors of fresh cherries and berries, dried fruit and chocolate that make any cherry dessert pop.

An illustration of cherries.

Straight Up

The best way to eat cherries is unadorned, in a bowl or just walking down a country road spitting pits. In your thermos? Light-bodied Zweigelt, an Austrian red with cherry and raspberry fruit, a little warm spice and refreshing acidity.


A Guide to Different Types of Cherries

Bing cherries are by far the most common cherry and all sweet cherries, even Rainier, are closely related to it. They are mahogany-colored, fresh and juicy but with a deep and rich flavor that can hint at cassis.

Rainier cherries are mostly yellow with a red blush, and a pale-yellow flesh. With a thin skin, they’re difficult to grow and harvest, partly accounting for their high price. They are even sweeter than Bings, with tropical undertones.

Sour cherries, a.k.a. pie cherries, are a cherry species with tart, complex flavor and subtle almond notes. Common cultivars include Montmorency, Morello and Amarelle. They’re especially good in sweet baked dishes.

Fun Fact: “Black cherry” isn’t actually a type of cherry. Colloquially, it usually refers to two things: Dark and deeply flavored sweet cherries like the chelan cultivar or very ripe Bings, or an astringent fruit related to the chokecherry and known as capulín in Mexico, which is rarely sold commercially in the U.S.

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Quick Cherry Pan Sauce

Pan-fry pork chops or duck breasts and set aside to rest. In the same pan, over medium-high heat, add 1/4 cup minced shallot and cook about a minute until soft. Deglaze pan with 1/2 cup red wine and 1/2 cup chicken stock, scraping up the browned bits, and add 1 1/2 cups pitted halved sweet cherries and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Boil until thick and saucy. Stir in 1 tablespoon butter and salt to taste before serving. Pour that Sangiovese.

This article originally appeared in the June/July 2024 of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!


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