How a Veteran Winemaker Pairs Wine with Cookies

Don Van Staaveren is a man of many talents. Aside from his extensive resumé—he gained acclaim at Chateau St. Jean—the winemaker emeritus at Three Sticks in Sonoma Valley spends his free time surfing, woodworking and creating homemade cookie recipes for each new wine release. Before you dismiss the idea of pairing wine with cookies as déclassé, consider how some of the most common descriptors for wine’s flavor and texture—fruity, chocolaty, nutty, smooth, chewy—also apply to cookies. 

Staaveren has experimented with wine and cookie pairings in his home kitchen for years. “I look for tastes that are complementary when pairing wines with foods,” he says. “What in the wine complements the cookie? And what in the cookie complements the wine?” Here are his sweet spots:

Chardonnay with Oatmeal Raisin 
“It has a toastiness that can round out and enhance a wine, especially a Chardonnay, but a Pinot Noir, too,” Van Staaveren says of oatmeal, the key ingredient found in many of his cookie recipes. “Raisins match the fruit notes of the wine, while coconut draws out tropical flavor elements and provides creaminess and smoothness. The cookie’s substantial overall texture—smooth yet chewy—holds up to Chardonnay’s richness and complexity.”

Cabernet Sauvignon/Other Big Reds with Dark Chocolate/Espresso
“In a cookie, the flour mitigates the aggressive bitterness you can get in chocolate otherwise,” Van Saaveren adds. "The bold flavors of the espresso and bittersweet chocolate can match the heft of a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon. Oils present in the chocolate as well as the richness of butter and brown sugar tame the tannins that are more prevalent in big reds. " 

Pinot Noir with Oatmeal Chocolate Chip (With/Without Walnuts)
Van Staaveren’s oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies are no store-bought variety—he folds in smaller amounts of bittersweet and dark chocolate chips for more complexity and the extra “zing” they provide at the end of the palate. “Red wines with more finesse stand up to the smoother, milder flavor of milk chocolate chips,” he says. “Walnuts contribute a nutty, earthy note reminiscent of the mushroom and forest descriptors often used for Pinot Noir.” 
Lighter Whites with Sugar
Balance is especially critical when it comes to pairing lighter, aromatic whites like Albariño, Torrontés, Viognier, Pinot Gris and Old World Sauvignon Blanc. “These wines can be crisp and lively—not as heavy as a Chardonnay—so you need a lighter cookie like a sugar cookie,” Van Staaveren says. “Brown sugar adds a complex sweetness to balance out the acidity, while vanilla accents the wines’ body and length.”

Curious to see how wine and cookies pair together? Whip up a batch of Van Staaveren’s oatmeal raisin cookies and grab a bottle of Chardonnay while you’re at it! 

Editor's Note: for the sake of editorial research, we made a batch of the below cookie recipe. It does, indeed, hold up to the richness of Chardonnay. The cinnamon, in particular, added a lovely spice to the wine.

Oatmeal Raisin Plus 

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 cups raisins
1 cup butter
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup white wine
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups Old-Fashioned Quaker Oats
2 eggs
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup chopped walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 325˚F.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.
3. In a second bowl, stir oats, walnuts, coconut and raisins.
4. Place both sugars, butter, and wine in a mixing bowl; mix at medium speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl from time to time; turn mixer to low speed, and add eggs one at a time; add vanilla and mix until fully-incorporated; add flour mixture and mix for 30 seconds; add oat mixture and continue mixing until fully-incorporated.
5. Using a 2-Tablespoon ice cream scooper, drop dough onto prepared greased baking sheet; bake 16-18 minutes. (They should be damp in the cracks and soft in the middle.

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