Pairing desserts with dessert wines is a fascinating subject, adding yet another element to the complexity of combining food and local wine: sweetness. To complement Missouri’s exceptional dessert wines, we worked with Simone Faure, executive pastry chef at the Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis, to pair equally delectable desserts with five of our favorite local bottlings.

Although some ports and sherries were produced locally in the mid-19th century, only during the last 20 years has Missouri been well-recognized internationally for its many stunning examples of dessert wine – from late-harvest wines to ports to sparkling wines. This accolade can be attributed to the grape varieties that grow best in Missouri and their ability to beautifully ripen and mature during our warm, long growing season.

Missouri late-harvest wines are often produced from Vignoles and Vidal Blanc by allowing the grapes to remain on the vine well past harvest, concentrating sugars and flavors through evaporation, and then pressing and fermenting the grapes. Vignoles, Missouri’s darling grape, is an aromatic variety that can be vinified on a multitude of sweetness levels, and Vidal Blanc’s thick skins provide protection against pests such as migratory birds. Long hang time and high skin-to-juice ratio make Norton an ideal grape for port – which is fortified with spirits to produce a sweet, high-alcohol wine – yielding concentrated, full-bodied wines of varying styles. Chardonel and Chambourcin, which interestingly are related to Champagne’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, are often used in Missouri’s sparkling wines. The grapes suit the secondary fermentation process of Méthode Champenoise and the complexity associated with yeast aging.

A true expert on the subject of sweets, Faure considered the varying sweetness of the wines as well as their levels of acidity; extraction; and, at times, tannins when conceptualizing her pairings. In the hotel kitchen, we tasted through the desserts and wines, adjusting ingredients in her recipes where needed to create a beautifully balanced flavor combination. It was quite the enjoyably laborious experience, and Faure confessed that her “preconceived notion of Missouri wine was simply wrong,” noting the complexity of the wines and diversity of dessert wine styles offered by local winemakers.

Valvin Muscat + Clafoutis

PAIRING: Blumenhof Valvin Muscat 2010 + Blueberry Ricotta Clafoutis with Lemon Ricotta Crème

Less commonly grown in the Midwest, Valvin Muscat is a winter-hearty, disease-resistant hybrid that is nearly identical to its parent grape: Muscat, an ancient grape with many varieties still grown in France, Italy and other Mediterranean regions. It pairs delightfully with panna cotta, hazelnut biscotti or lemon meringue pie.

With the dessert: The fresh, “grapey” nature of this wine and its honeyed, white raisin accents enliven the buttery, melt-in-your-mouth opulence of this “rich man’s custard,” found in most patisseries in France. Faure’s choice of fresh blueberries, instead of traditional cherries, lends a restrained tartness to this creamy dessert that is further accented by the wine’s semisweetness and candied-orange-peel notes.

Blumenhof Vineyards and Winery, Dutzow, Mo.,

RECIPE: Blueberry Ricotta Clafoutis with Lemon Ricotta Crème

Norton Port + Chocolate Pâté

PAIRING: Adam Puchta Signature Port, N.V. + Dominican Chocolate Pâté

Adam Puchta produces the Signature Port from 100 percent Norton grapes in a style reminiscent of a ruby in its fresh cherry and dark-berry flavors. It is simultaneously evocative of a vintage port with its fig, smoke and dried-fruit nuances. Serve it with caramel-pear charlottes, Stilton cheese puffs or pecan-date tarts.

With the dessert: This robust, velvety wine marvelously courts the elegant nuances of the organic, single-bean Dominican Republic chocolate, for which Faure has a deep fondness. This dessert is extraordinarily opulent yet relatively light. It transcends the palate; the chocolate’s aromatic, slightly floral and herbal components beckon the wine’s cocoa, tobacco and fig notes. Faure deems this pairing “very relaxing, prompting one to slump back into her chair and breathe deep,” as the romance between wine and dessert is quite compelling.

Adam Puchta Winery, Hermann, Mo.,

RECIPE: Dominican Chocolate Pâté

Vidal Icewine + Vanilla Soufflé

PAIRING: Montelle Vidal Icewine 2009 + Tahitian Vanilla Bean Soufflé with Salted Caramel Anglaise

Montelle Winery’s icewine is produced from Vidal Blanc grapes that hang well past harvest – until around Thanksgiving – on south-facing, glacial, soil-rich hillsides for maximum sunlight, ripeness and maturity. The grapes are frozen and then pressed for optimal-quality juice. It’s great paired with seared foie gras and lingonberry jam on brioche toast, ginger crème brûlée or Benedictine blue cheese.

With the dessert: Though Faure originally imagined a passion fruit soufflé for this pairing, she found that the wine’s refined fruit profile was diminished by the intensity of passion fruit and turned to a more complementary ingredient. The ability of Tahitian vanilla bean to enhance the flavors it’s paired with juxtaposes the soufflé’s fluffy texture and decadent sauce that contrasts caramel and salt. Its exotic nature integrates the concentrated apricot, honeysuckle and ripe peach flavors of this elegant, medium-bodied wine into a component of the dish.

Montelle Winery, Defiance, Mo.,

RECIPE: Tahitian Vanilla Bean Soufflé with Salted Caramel Anglaise

Spumante Blush + Fruit Cobbler

PAIRING: Stone Hill Spumante Blush, N.V. + Peach and Mango Cobbler with Fromage Blanc Ice Cream

This bottling is produced from Catawba and carbonated to retain the rich, ripe aromas of this pink-skinned grape. It complements the flavors found in beignets, passion fruit mochi, dried fruit and strawberries dipped in white chocolate.

With the dessert: This intriguing coupling demonstrates the important food-and-wine pairing principle of how the separate components taste different when combined. Faure noted she was “quite pleased about the wine’s complementary nature to the Fromage Blanc ice cream, which can be startling to some” in texture and flavor. Fizzy, sweet and ripe with strawberry and wild raspberry aromas, this wine dances on the palate, preparing it for the dessert’s contrasting components of concentrated stone and tropical fruit flavors in the filling and the creamy, ever-so-slight sourness of the ice cream. In turn, the dessert highlights the wine’s melon and honey flavors.

Stone Hill Winery, Hermann, Mo.,

RECIPE: Peach and Mango Cobbler with Fromage Blanc Ice Cream

Vignoles Icewine + Cheese Fritters

PAIRING: Augusta Vignoles Icewine 2010 + Mascarpone and Goat Cheese Fritters with Fig Chutney and Port Reduction

Augusta Winery’s estate-grown Vignoles grapes, picked well after harvest in early November, intensify this variety’s intriguing aromatics. This wine is produced only in years of minimal disease pressure in optimum conditions. Try it with ginger-lemon meringue ice cream, mango upside-down cake or coconut cheesecake.

With the dessert: Faure was enamored by this pairing, particularly the wine’s flirty fruitiness. Decadently crisp, sugar-coated balls of warm mascarpone and goat cheese seem destined for this mouth-coating, indulgently concentrated wine, revealing ripe flavors of kumquat, pineapple and strawberry. The dried figs and port reduction add additional depth to the pairing, softening the wine’s lively acidity while its lengthy finish grants the palate opportunity to contemplate this pairing’s beautiful complexity.

Augusta Winery, Augusta, Mo.

RECIPE: Mascarpone and Goat Cheese Fritters with Fig Chutney and Port Reduction