John JuergensScouting wines

Girl Scout Cookies For thousands of years we humans have relied on a variety of celestial events to mark time and to guide our activities. Considering the uncertainties and vagaries of life in ancient times, it is understandable why many people came to regard the heavenly bodies with reverence, and, in some cases view them as gods. They were among the few things people could count on.

The vernal equinox came and went right on schedule March 21, but I suspect few of us gave it any thought. After all, it doesn't have any real implications for our busy lives. But there is another event that occurs every year at this time with almost equal celestial precision that affects the lives of millions of people: The arrival of Girl Scout Cookies.

Yes, these addictive little treats have become as ubiquitous and anticipated as the first daffodils and Japanese Magnolia blossoms. When the cookies arrive you know that Spring is upon us, daylight savings time is right around the corner, and the Great Watchmaker has the correct time.

Without a doubt, I think Girl Scout Cookies, a.k.a. GSCs, can be classified as a comfort food, even though they are a far cry from the original. Few people are alive that can remember a time when the cookies were not a part of the American landscape, and I think they deserve a place among those other icons of our great country, baseball, apple pie, and mom.

At this time of year it is almost impossible to walk into someone's home and not see at least one box of GSCs on the kitchen counter; more likely there will be two to four different varieties lined up. And because I have a highly motivated, entrepreneurial scout living in my household, I and many of my friends are now awash in cookies. Consequently, none of us have to put a lot of thought into what is for dessert these days.

In my ongoing quest to find new and interesting wine and food pairings, I decided to explore wines that might make good companions for the range of GSCs now available, as opposed to the obvious choice, milk. As you might recall, the rule of thumb for pairing wines with foods is likes attract, that is, tart wines with tart or acidic foods and sweet wines with sweet foods. Although it might seem counterintuitive, when combining a sweet wine with a sweet food, you don't perceive double sweetness. The sweetness in the food tends to cancel the sweetness in the wine and you generally are left with fairly intense fruit flavors from the wine and enhanced food flavors.

True dessert wines contain a high concentration of residual sugar, that is, sugar left over after the fermentation process, which can be anywhere from ten to twenty percent or higher. For reference, White Zinfandel wines usually have about 2.5 percent residual sugar, so dessert wines are very sweet.

I routinely run into people who say they hate dessert wines, but when I probe a little I usually learn that what they are referring to are not classic dessert wines made with highly concentrated grape essence imbedded in an elegant balance of sugar and acidity, but just some inexpensive syrupy concoctions of fruit flavors and alcohol. And, as with table wines, certain kinds of dessert wines go with certain kinds of dessert foods, and some combinations can be just plain awful.

In lieu of buying every possible dessert wine available in town - these things tend to get a little pricey - I selected several wines that I thought might be representative of the class, including a German Riesling, a Washington State Late Harvest Riesling, a sparkling Asti Spumante (made from Muscat Canelli grapes), and a port. (A can of Michelob Ultra somehow found its way into the tasting, but it was not an official candidate.)

Along with a group of brave friends, I tried each type of GSC with each of the wines, which was something of a challenge. Not everyone had the same appreciation for some of the combinations, but there was fairly good consensus within the group. Here are the results.

  • Shortbread: Okay with the Spumante but terrible with the Rieslings and port.
  • Animal Treasures: Okay with the Spumante and port, because of the chocolate backside.
  • Peanut Butter Patties: Great with the Spumante, but not with the others wines.
  • Lemon Pastry: The Spumante and Washington State Late Harvest Riesling brought out nice, bright lemony flavors, but the German Riesling made the flavors explode as if we were sucking on lemon drop candy.
  • Peanut Butter Sandwich: Very nice with the Late Harvest Riesling.
  • The Iced Berry Pinatas: Good with the Spumante and the port.
  • Thin Mints: Very nice with the Spumante and both Rieslings, but best with the Michelob Ultra, unofficially.
  • Caramel deLites: Unfortuantely, someone ate all the deLites before we could match them with a wine. But my palate intuition tells me they would go very well with the Spumante and other Muscat Canelli based dessert wines.

There probably were better wines to use for this exercise. For example, the Rieslings weren't quite sweet enough to offset the sweetness in some of the cookies. So if you are going to try this at home, I would recommend things like Vin de Glaciere Muscat by Bonny Doon, Moscato d'Oro by Mondavi, or one of those other concentrated dessert wines that comes in small bottles. Ask the wine store workers for assistance in locating these wines.

While this was fun and educational, to a point - the sugar load after at least eight cookies times four wines became a bit overwhelming - I doubt we will ever see these wine recommendations as "serving suggestions" on the back of the cookie boxes. I'm just thankful that like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the vernal equinox, the Girl Scout Cookie truck comes around only once a year.

March 2005

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