A plate of dessert fruit topped with red wine pepper sauce. Credit: Courtesy of Sandy Oliver

Sweet and zippy, red wine pepper sauce perks up vanilla ice cream, a plate of pears, cheesecake, a wedge of brie, pound cake — you name it. And it isn’t too late to make it as a holiday gift for friends and hosts.

My neighbor John makes this and was willing to share the recipe. I kept thinking about it, and how delicious it was after I sampled it at a friend’s house and thought perhaps you might like it, too.

You can make any quantity of it that you like, from enough for one meal’s dessert to several pints. You need a stout red wine like Cabernet or Pinot Noir. I turned a box of Cabernet into sauce. You can set it up on the stove and leave it as it gradually reduces and thickens and you go off and do other things like write cards or decorate the house.

You just need equal parts of wine and sugar and a half-teaspoon of pepper per cup of wine. John said that the original recipe he used called for white pepper but he chose plain black, as I did. At the very end, add vanilla extract at the rate of a quarter-teaspoon per cup of wine, or if your rich uncle has just left you a ton of money, use a section of vanilla bean.

Plan on simmering away at least a third of the mixture, or enough until the syrup coats the back of a spoon or thickens on a cold saucer. I chose to strain out the pepper. If you prefer a little less pepper in your life you might reduce the amount called for by a little.

You might consider making a small quantity of the sauce, starting with 2 cups of wine, 2 cups of sugar, and one-half to 1 teaspoon ground pepper, and a half-teaspoon of vanilla extract at the end.

What a pretty color it has when dribbled over your dessert of vanilla ice cream or custard. Any time you need to jazz up fruit or creamy cheese, or even a lemony dish like sherbet, pound cake or pudding, pull out the red pepper jelly. It works with chocolate. How about a brownie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top and sitting in a pool of red wine pepper sauce, and maybe even a little whipped cream garnish?

Nobody says you have to keep this on hand just for the holidays. Make some in July.

Red Wine Pepper Sauce

Yield varies

1 part red wine

1 part granulated sugar

½ teaspoon ground black pepper per cup of wine

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract per cup of wine

Mix the wine, sugar and pepper together in a heavy bottomed pan or cookpot.

Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer.

Simmer until the sauce coats the back of a spoon or thickens on a cold saucer. Cook time will depend on quantity, up to a couple hours for a couple quarts of wine.

Remove from the heat and add the vanilla.

Strain out the pepper through cheesecloth-lined strainer if you wish, or stir it to prevent it from settling as you pour it into bottles or jars.

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...