Pairing Wine and Chocolate – What Works Best?

Gourmet Chocolates for Wine Pairing

Wine and chocolate. It sounds like a match made in heaven, but quite honestly, the pairing rarely lives up to expectations. Why? The natural tannins in red wines fight with the chocolate, and the sweetness of the chocolate make the wine seem more tannic – a visious cycle.

The solution? Pair dark chocolate with sweet wines.

Though Americans turn up our nose at sweet wines, the truth is they can be heavenly when part of the dessert or cheese course. It has always struck me as odd that the country that consumes Coca Cola (at 10 cubes of sugar per can) won’t touch high-quality dessert wines. I’m not talking about table wines with high degrees of residual sugar – please leave those on the bottom shelf at the wine shop where they belong. For pairing with chocolate, turn to wines made as dessert wines.

But before we get to the wines, let’s talk for a moment about chocolate. Because Mmmmmm.

The Ideal Chocolate:

While most of the chocolates you see on the market, especially around Valentine’s Day, are often milk chocolate, white chocolate, or cream-filled, I recommend pure chocolate bars – the darker the better. Those with almonds also work well, especially with the wines I’ve recommended here, which are known for their nutty characteristic (called Rancio by wine collectors- our wine geek word of the day).

Fortunately for all of us, there has been an explosion of artisinal, single-source chocolate producers in the past decade. Look for Dandelion Chocolate (“bean to bar” chocolates), Dick Taylor and many, many others. Melissa Clark of the New York Times, published a good article last year listing 13 of her favorite gourmet chocolate producers which includes these two favorites of mine plus 11 others.  I also recommend her article on chocolate tasting techniques –  we’ve found the approach she describes to have significantly elevated our tasting experience.

The Ideal Wine:

And now for the wine – the crowning glory in the whole affair!  While some have found pleasure in pairing dark chocolate with highly extracted/high-alcohol table wines (the reds from Rombauer come to mind, as do those from Frank Family, Biale, many Lodi Zins…) I skip this intermediate step in favor of wines specifically designed to pair with dried or baked fruits, nuts and dark chocolates – fortified wines such as these:

 

Value Option: Passagem Tawny Port. $19.99/500ml btl. ($0.04/ml)

Tawny Port

Port is the term for a fortified wine from Portugal’s Douro region. Wines made in a similar style that are NOT from Portugal can’t use the term “Port” (such as the one from the fun and jovial winemaker, Andrew Quady, who calls his Port-style wine “Starboard”). But the real thing is sufficiently affordable to justify a trial purchase. Look for a basic Tawny without any age indication for a deliciously satisfying and affordable Port. Passagem Tawny Port $19.99/ 500ml bottle.

All ports are part of the family of fortified wines – wines whose fermentation was stopped by the addition of a grain alcohol, thus preserving the grape’s natural sugars before they could be fully fermented into alcohol while also raising the alcohol level in the finished wine.

Ports are generally 18%-20% ABV, and because they are so rich on the pallet and high in alcohol, they’re served in smaller pours than regular wine. Most producers of high-end stemware have a line designed specifically for Port, and if you have sufficient storage space, Port glasses make a nice addition to your stemware collection. Otherwise, use the smallest wine glass you have and pour less than half full – about 4 ounces. Ideal serving temperature is “Cellar temperature”, or about 60-65 degrees.


 

Comparing the color of the 10-year Tawyny (L) and the Tawny (R). Passagem’s 10-year Tawny, $33.99 / 500ml bottle ($0.068/ml)

10-Year Tawny

Aged in smaller oak barrels than is a Vintage Ruby port (aged in huge, often century-old wooden casks), Tawnies age more quickly due to the higher ratio of wood-to-juice. A ten-year tawny like this one (left, above) was aged in oak for ten years, while the regular Tawny (right, above) still shows its youthful color and brighter fruit flavors. But it’s color is not the only difference – the older wine exhibits greater nutty, spice and Sherry-like notes that go quite well with chocolates of all styles. Passagem, 10-Year Tawny, $33.99


 

A delightful but obscure dessert wine – Rivesaltes Ambre. $25.99/750ml bottle ($0.035/ml)

Rivesaltes Ambré

Rivesaltes is a town in the South of France and a demarcated wine-making area known for sweet wines – this is one of six types produced there (Rosé, Grenat, Ambré, Tuilé and Hors d’Age). The Ambré style sees at least two years of oxidative aging that yields a deep golden hue upon bottling, and which darkens further with bottle age. The flavor is distinctly nutty with citrus peel spice notes. ~16% alcohol. Read more about this fascinating place here at – Domaine Fontanel 2008 Rivesaltes Ambré, $25.99


  

2003 Banyuls Grand Cru, Cuvee Joseph Nadal. A true treat! $47.99/btl ($0.064/ml)

Banyuls

La Cave de l’Abbe Rous is a co-operative of small growers from the best sections of Banyuls, producing wines at the highest quality level for the appellation. Among the best dessert wines I’ve tasted, but also one of the most obscure (the vast majority being consumed within France), the wine is similar to an aged Tawny Port in both alcohol (~20%), aging (9 years in cask) and flavor profile (nutty with a ginger and spice top note). Read more about it here – 2003 Banyuls Grand Cru Joseph Nadal, $47.99 

Whatever wine you choose to pair with chocolate, I encourage you to experiment with something new – new chocolates, new wines, and maybe, even new friends to share them with. Physically distanced, of course, as long as our health requires it, or even virtually if necessary!


About the Author: Dave the Wine Merchant has been involved in wine for four decades. He now enjoys discovering and sharing global wines that stretch the imaginations of curious wine lovers and encourages them to “discover a new favorite!” 

“Best Dessert Wine in the State of CA”

Last year I introduced my subscribers to the Harrison Family 2006 “Nobility” – a late harvest, botrytised blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (think Sauternes, only for $75 instead of $150 a bottle).  Today I was contacted by the maker of that wine – Roger Harrison (AKA “Mr. Botrytis”) with the news that his wine was named best dessert wine in all of Napa, and then in all of California.

So I thought it worth revisiting here.  Now, I love such wines with summer fruit crisps, crumbles, cobblers and squeaks.  Expecially when still warm from the oven and served with a bit of really good vanilla bean ice cream.  So I asked Roger if he had a favorite stone fruit dessert recipe.  He said “It’s not stone fruit, but it IS delicious!”  So here it is

Passion Fruit Poached Pears

Ingredients (Serves 10)
10 Small Bosc or Forelle pears (Peeled and cored )
1/2 Cup passion fruit juice ( or other juice/Puree)
1/2 Cup sugar
Zest from 1/2 Lemon
1/4 Cup water

Procedure
Cut a thin slice off the bottom of the pears so they can sit upright in your pan.

In a large saucepan over high heat, combine the passion fruit juice, sugar, lemon zest and water bring to a boil.  Add the pears and simmer gently until soft (8-10 minutes).  Transfer the pears to a plate and cool.

Serve standing upright with a dollop of creme fraiche and some fresh mint for garnish.  Also serve a glass of my 2006 Nobility.  Awesome!

Buy the 2006 Nobility Here

Cheers!  And “Congratulations” to Roger and his team
Dave the Wine Merchant
www.DaveTheWineMerchant.com

Favorite Holiday Dessert – Marion Cunningham’s Steamed Persimmon Pudding

Click to see Marion Cunningham's cookbooks

The late Marion Cunningham is probably best known as the author of several editions of the Fanny Farmer cookbook.  Or for her years in working with James Beard, who plucked her out of obscurity when he chose her as his assistant.

I once met the preternaturally cheerful Ms. Cunningham in 1997 at a Thanksgiving-themed cooking class at San Francisco’s famed Tante Marie’s cooking school.  She led the class with Chuck Williams (of Williams Sonoma), and each dish they made was delightful, but the highlight of the meal was this dessert.

I’d never heard of steamed puddings outside of a Dickens’ tale, but I went out and bought a mold and made it the next week for my family’s Thanksgiving dinner.  It was so popular, It’s been in demand every year since then, both at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Ingredients
1 Cup pureed persimmons (~ 2 large persimmons, skins removed)
2 tsp. Baking soda
8 Tbs (1 stick) butter at room temperature
1 1/2 Cups sugar
2 Eggs
1 Tbs lemon juice
2 Tbs+ rum
1 Cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp. Cinnamon (I enhance with a pinch of allspice and a whisper of ground clove)
½ tsp. Salt
1 Cup broken walnuts or pecans
1 Cup+ raisins (I like to mix regular and golden) or add any coarsley-chopped dried fruit of your choice

Procedure
This dessert can be started early in the morning and left to steam for as long as you remember to refill the water.  Once lifted from its bath and the top of the mold is removed, it’s not unusual for the top of the pudding to be runny – ten minutes in a hot oven should be enough time to dry it out before un-molding.

Slice the persimmons in half, from bottom to top and lay open to expose the flesh (it’s not necessary to cut through the very tough stem). Use a soup spoon to scrape the flesh from the skin, collecting the contents of both persimmons in a bowl. The flesh can be pureed by hand or using a hand blender of mixer. Then add the baking soda and set aside to stiffen and lighten in color – it’s really a very odd little chemical reaction!

Find a pot large enough to hold a 2 Qt pudding mold (About $30 – $40.  Click here to purchase).  Fill the pot with enough water to rise halfway up the sides of the mold.  (If no mold is available, two metal coffee containers covered tightly with foil will do, but only fill about ¾ full as the pudding expands a bit.)   Let the water come to a boil while you mix the pudding batter.

Grease every nook and cranny of the mold very well.  Butter is best, though cooking spray is faster.

Using a mixer, cream the butter and sugar.

Add the eggs, lemon juice, and rum and beat well.  Set the mixer to its slowest speed and add the flour, cinnamon, and salt.  When well blended, add the persimmon mixture and beat until well mixed.  Remove the bowl from mixer and stir in raisins and nuts just until well distributed.

Spoon the batter into the mold, cover, and steam for at least two hours (it’s nearly impossible to over-steam!)  Remove the mold from the pot and let rest for 5 minutes (see opening note about drying in a warm oven).  Use a long, narrow blade or skewer to make sure the pudding is separate from the sides of the mold, then top the mold with the serving plate of your choosing and invert both, turning the mold upside down onto the plate. If the pudding doesn’t separate from the mold immediately, let it sit for a few minutes. Even then, some may stick to the bottom of the mold – carefully remove them whole and patch back together (the pudding is very moist).

Presentation
The traditional service for this dish is with a sprig of holly stuck into the top, then flamed with more of the rum.

To flame your rum, pour a generous ounce of it into a sauce pot, and THEN put the pot over medium heat.  Swirl the rum to warm it for thirty seconds or so, then carefully light it and immediately pour the flaming rum over the pudding.  It may be difficult to see the flame in strong light, so dim the lights for the 20 seconds or so before the alcohol burns off.

Serve warm with unsweetened whipped cream, or better yet, a crème anglais.

Wine Pairing
This dessert requires a very sweet wine – look for a late-harvest or ice wine or a port (shop here for dessert wines).

Cheers!

Dave the Wine Merchant

Quote for the Day
Once again we come to the Holiday season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes in his or her own way, by going to the mall of their choice”
Dave Barry, American Humorist (1947 – )