In The Odyssey, Homer calls pears a “gift from the gods,” and for millennia, writers and painters have considered them to be a symbol of temptation, fertility and longevity. Enticing for those with patience, pears are among the only fruits that don’t ripen well on the tree, where they become mealy. Instead, they’re picked when mature but hard, to be ripened on your counter. The good news is that virtually all supermarket varieties will ripen evenly to sweet perfection; eat them when the neck yields to gentle pressure. The many types of pears can be quite different, but most share certain qualities and complementary flavors that make wine pear-ing a breeze.
Where many fruits offer a simple tug-of-war between sweet and tart, pears have a complex floral sweetness more akin to honey than sugar. Dry or sweet Chenin Blanc (depending whether the pear dish is sweet or savory) has flavors of honey and orchard fruit, with refreshing acidity.
Many pears exude a subtle perfume that can be reminiscent of vanilla’s muskiness, which might be why it’s one of the best flavors to pair with pears. Find it in a California Chardonnay aged in American oak, which often imparts a spicy vanilla note to wine.
Pears go extremely well with all sorts of baking spices—clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, pepper—and many varieties (Bosc and Anjou in particular) themselves have spicy undertones. Fruity Gewürztraminer features these same sweet flavors, helping bring out a pear’s sassier side.
Pears were nicknamed “butter fruit” in the 1700s, and Bartlett and Comice pears have an especially buttery mouthfeel. Dry or extra-dry Prosecco has complementary flavors of pear and cream, while its fizz, by contrast, accentuates this lush texture.