Lithuania's culinary delight: the Wine+Dessert pairing contest
The niche competition held in the country’s capital captivated the local foodie community.
Lithuania, an unlikely hub for wine events due to its strict anti-alcohol laws and relatively small population, is actually home to a thriving HoReCa (Hotel/Restaurant/Café) community determined to shine in the culinary world. This October, the 13th annual ‘Wine+Dessert’ Pairing Contest unfolded in Vilnius, creating a culinary sensation, and captivating the local foodie community.
History of the EventThe ‘Wine+Dessert’ contest is a distinctive and somewhat niche public event, bringing together pastry chefs and sommeliers to orchestrate the perfect marriage of desserts and wines, creating an unforgettable culinary experience and a match made in heaven. This year's event witnessed an unprecedented participation, with 21 teams showcasing remarkable pairings and incorporating unexpected ingredients into their creations.
Alongside the classical ingredients, desserts also featured unconventional elements such as real ants, mushrooms, parsley, pine syrup, and even garlic. The winner was the esteemed fine dining restaurant, Vila Komoda, who somewhat surprisingly used celery root as the centerpiece of their dessert, which also incorporated hazelnut crumbs, milk and egg caramel, hazelnut milk and cream praline, parsley extract, and fermented red currant syrup. The exceptional dessert demanded nothing less than Champagne to complement it: the chosen wine, Pol Roger Rich Demi-Sec NV, elevated the tasting experience to new heights.First-hand Impressions and Cultural Significance
Martynas Pravilonis, a jury member and the 2022 ‘Wine+Dessert’ champion, as well as the Lithuanian and Baltic sommelier champion, shared his enthusiasm after the event: “It is, probably, becoming the second most anticipated event in the sommelier community after the national sommelier championships. It has really grown big, flashy, and seriously competitive.”
The significance of the event goes beyond the contest itself. After the lights go down, the wine and dessert pairing enthusiasm lives on, with many restaurants introducing the created desserts to their menus, making it possible for visitors to order and taste for themselves what it takes to be the best. For tourists too, it becomes a kind of culinary guide of the best wine and dessert pairings in the country.
Behind the ScenesArūnas Starkus, the visionary behind this remarkable contest, says the journey to what the contest has become was not an easy one: 20 years ago, Arūnas and his wife and business partner, Rasa Starkus, boldly established Lithuania's first specialised wine shop; they ventured further, introducing the country’s sole wine magazine, founding the Lithuanian Sommelier Association and the Lithuanian Sommelier School, and initiating the largest Baltic wine fair, ‘Vyno dienos’.
However, something was still missing from the package. Arūnas, a devoted enthusiast of all things sweet, found the conventional restaurant menus with apple cakes, tiramisus, and crème brûlées to be monotonous and rather disappointing, ruining the last moments of many dinners. Simultaneously, sweet wine sales were declining worldwide, and out of the desire to reinvigorate both of these sectors, ‘Wine+Dessert’ was born.
Expansion Plans and Search for PartnersRecognising the growing success and challenges of the contest, and tired of the strict regulations in Lithuania, the organisers have embarked on expanding the event into new territories. In the spring of 2024, Latvia will host its inaugural ‘Wine+Dessert’ Pairing Contest, with Poland and Estonia to follow shortly after. The organisers invite possible partners from other countries reach out to them and collaborate, with the hope of witnessing a fierce international competition among the winners from each nation in the near future.
Winners of the 2023 ‘Wine+Dessert’ Pairing Contest1st Place & Most Instagrammable Pairing:
Team: Vila Komoda restaurant and Vyno klubas wine shop.
Dessert: Celery root ice cream, hazelnut crumbs, milk and egg caramel, hazelnut milk and cream praline, parsley extract, and fermented red currant syrup.
Wine: Pol Roger Rich Demi-Sec NV.
Dessert: ‘One Bite of Lithuania’ – pine syrup, cranberries, hazelnuts, pumpkin, quince, apples.
Wine: Canadian Inniskillin Ice Wine VQA Niagara Peninsula Riesling 2019.
3rd Place & Most Passionate Pairing:
Somm the Wine Bar.
Dessert: ‘Nocciola Toscana’ with chocolate, hazelnuts, salted caramel, and gorgonzola.
Wine: Carpineto Farnito Vin Santo del Chianti DOC 1999.
Best Wine Award:
Brothers – independent chef Rokas Jarašūnas and ‘Vyno klubas’ wine expert Petras Jarašūnas.
Dessert: ‘Edge of a Forest’ with mushrooms and white pepper
Wine: Kracher Chardonnay Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) no. 2, 1998