Wine and food lovers, rejoice.
In the recent past, when sommeliers were asked for their favorite pairings, foie gras and Sauternes may have been at the top of the list. Although that duo is delectable, most of today’s wine lovers are on a tighter budget. From Big Macs and Burgundy to fried chicken with Champagne, we are experiencing a revolution in which wine professionals rethink standard rules and create exciting, approachable combinations.
Pairing wine and ice cream might not seem intuitive, but it’s possible.
“Theoretically, it should work, right?” says Kerith Overstreet, winemaker at Bruliam Wines. “We pair wine with cheese, with soft, squishy cheese, and even ricotta. Dairy plus fat plus wine, that’s a good combination.”
Why, then, isn’t the pairing more common? “Maybe it’s a temperature thing,” says Overstreet.
Larissa Dubose, founder and educator at The Lotus and the Vines, says the pairing is possible, “when done with care.”If you want to tackle this difficult yet surprisingly delicious combination, keep these expert tips in mind.
Ice, Ice Baby Too Cold
Serving wine or ice cream at an extremely cold temperature will diminish their flavors.
Tamara Keefe, founder and owner of Clementine’s Naughty and Nice Creamery, a St. Louis-based microcreamery, says to let ice cream sit at room temperature before you serve it.
“Letting the ice cream soften will allow you to taste more of the flavors,” says Keefe.
In Big Macs & Burgundy (Abrams, 2020), Vanessa Price and Adam Laukhuf write that cold temperatures can “numb the palate.” When pairing wine and ice cream, they recommend “tasting the ice cream and waiting seven seconds to try the wine.”
How Sweet it is
Brian Duncan, founder of Down to Earth Wine Concepts LLC, recalls one of the golden rules of wine-and-food pairing: “Your wine must be sweeter than your dessert.”
Dubose sees potential for certain sweet wine pairings.
“I love the idea of an ice wine or Sauternes paired with vanilla ice cream,” she says. “The luscious mouthfeel and sweetness of these wines…pair with the creamy texture of the ice cream.”
Sugar can alter your palate and perceptions, so proceed carefully when pairing wine with something as traditionally sweet as ice cream.
“If you take an extremely dry wine with a sweet dish, it [the wine] tastes very bitter and astringent,” says Miranda Elliot, advanced sommelier and founder of Elliot Wine School. “Dry wines with ice cream don’t hold any particular interest for me.”
However, there are exceptions.
“If the ice cream has a savory component, then I can start to imagine some dry, or mostly dry, Rieslings working with green tea matcha ice cream, or a goat cheese ice cream,” says Damien Casten, founder and CEO of Candid Wines.
Christopher Poldoian, sommelier and brand ambassador for Storica Wines, suggests to make your own ice cream to control its sweetness.
“I’m a sucker for savory ice cream,” says Poldoian. “One summer, I bought the Humphrey Slocombe ice cream cookbook and made a lot of savory ice cream… If I could go back in time and pair that bacon ice cream with some Madeira, that would be magical.”
You might also find success with dry but fruit-forward wines, like Willamette Valley Pinot Noir rosé with Italian butter cookie ice cream.
Trouble With Tannins
When it comes to pairings, tannins can be a beast to tame. Bitter or astringent flavors that come from grape skin, seeds, stems or oak aging, tannins can provide texture, body and complexity to wine.
High-tannic wines are best paired with fatty cuts of meat, like Cabernet Sauvignon and ribeye. The richness and fattiness of the steak softens the tannins. When a dry, tannic wine is paired with sweet ice cream, it’s a whole mess—the wine will taste bitter.
Elliot once attempted to pair a very dry, tannic Cabernet Sauvignon with a sweet ice cream.
“I had leftover wine from a wine pairing at restaurants, and I was curious how the very dry wine would go with a very sweet ice cream,” she says. “Spoiler: it was gross. The wine tasted extra bitter. The richness of the ice cream overpowered the dry wine, and the flavors completely clashed.”
Casten agrees. “Avoid anything with tannins.”
Have Fun With It
Texture is a component of all pairings.
“I love selecting pints [to pair with wine] which tend to have less overrun,” says Soroya Pognon, founder of Oh Lait! Oh Lait! Ice Cream. Overrun refers to the amount of air pushed into ice cream during the freezing process. “It allows me to really appreciate the flavors and inclusions, all of those yummy bits of chocolate, candy, cake pieces, etc.”
“Have fun and don’t be afraid to explore,” says Dubose.
Pairings are personal. What you like might not be the same as someone else.
“Think about complementary flavors, like chocolate ice cream with a red wine that presents the sweet and or ripe fruit condition of cherries and strawberries,” says Dubose, likening the combination to chocolate-covered strawberries.
There’s an emotional component, too.
“These combinations together make me think of the barbecues as well as the family and church gatherings back in the day where there would be a huge bowl of fruit punch: Sprite and sherbet ice cream mixed in to keep it cold,” says Dubose. “These pairings, when done correctly, can quickly bring up nostalgia of chasing after the ice cream truck as a child, but with an adult twist.”
Six Wine Experts’ Favorite Ice Cream Pairings
Goat cheese steeped with thyme and honey, made into ice cream with as little sugar as possible, paired with Condrieu
Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream with Winter’s Hill 2017 Pinot Gris Ice Wine from Oregon
Berry or chocolate ice cream with Brachetto d’Acqui
Coffee or nut-based ice cream with Lustau East India Solera Sherry
Late-Bottled Vintage (LBV) Port with Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked
Pedro Ximénez Sherry with vanilla ice cream
Marenco Pineto Brachetto d’Acqui with strawberry ice cream
Domaine Serol Turbullent Sparkling Gamay with strawberry ice cream
Miso peach, bacon, peanut butter curry or similar savory ice creams with Madeira
Regine T. Rousseau
Clementine’s Gooey Butter Cake with Gallo Signature Series 2018 Russian River Chardonnay
Oh Lait! Oh Lait! Guanabana with Kim Crawford New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
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Last Updated: August 1, 2023