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Choosing after dinner drinks

Diana De Cicco is a food editor and writer based in New York City. She has a master's degree from New York University in Food Studies. Her passions are eating, traveling, and eating while traveling.

Dessert wines & cordial endings

After dinner drinks have gone largely unnoticed on drink menus, mainly because they are often unfamiliar and can seem intimidating to the after dinner drink novice. However, you have no reason to fear ordering an after dinner drink. Here's our simple guide to dessert wines, cordials and brown liquors, all popular after dinner sips that can bring a warm, wonderful and sweet ending to a fine meal.

Woman with dessert and wine

Dessert Wines

Just as red and white wines can pair well with different courses of your meal, dessert wines have the distinct purpose of pairing with the dessert or cheese course or simply taking the place of dessert. Probably the most well known dessert wines are ports, from Portugal, and sherries, from Spain. Port and sherry are great served all on their own or paired with cheese, fruit or chocolate.

The Italian Vin Santo is traditionally served with biscotti or nutty cakes because of its distinct hazelnut flavor and German Ausleses are a superb accompaniment for nutty and fruity treats.

A general rule of thumb for dessert wines is that the sweeter the dessert, the drier the wine should be and vice versa. You don't want an overly sweet dessert paired with an overly sweet wine; if a dessert wine is super sweet, drink it all on its own in place of dessert. Additionally, if a dessert wine has nutty or fruity flavors then pair it with a nutty or fruity dessert to complement flavors just like any other wine and food pairing.

Cordials

Many cultures have their own version of an after dinner cordial or liqueur. In the Italian culture, Sambuca, Frangelico, Grappa, and Amaretto are some of the most popular after dinner drinks. They are often poured into hot coffee for an after dinner coffee or served with biscotti, but can also be sipped on their own.

Frangelico has a less sweet, hazelnut flavor while Sambuca has the taste of anise or licorice. Grappa is made from grapes and is similar to brandy, and Amaretto exudes a lovely almond flavor.

More decadent cordials like Irish cream, chocolate liqueur and Kahlua are delicious served in coffee, with milk, or simply enjoyed chilled. Coffee flavored liqueurs like Tia Maria or fruit flavored liqueurs like Grand Marnier (cherry) and Chambord (raspberry) are also great choices for a sweet after dinner beverage. Usually cordials are sipped and savored in glasses poured only about three-fourths of the way full or in double shot glasses.

The Brown Liquors

Although brandy, whiskey, scotch, cognac and bourbon are each unique in their own way, they pair perfectly with a fine cigar or a piece of pound cake. Brown liquors all tend to have a very distinct flavor and it may take a while to acquire a taste for them. As an after dinner drink, they are usually served on their own or on the rocks.

If you are new to brown liquors, stick to a well-known brand to help develop your palate. Good choices are Remy Martin (cognac), Jameson (whiskey), Jack Daniels (bourbon), or Glenfiddich (scotch). This class of after dinner drinks is especially good during the cold winter months because the liquors tend to warm your palate and belly.

More on dessert wines, cocktails & wine pairings

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