Tuesday , May 17 2022
Perfect Pairings 1

Perfect Pairings

It’s Easter time, and our thoughts naturally turn to chocolate. Which is fine for the sweet-toothed, but not so good for the wine drinker, as chocolate is a foodstuff which is notoriously difficult to pair with wine.

With varying levels of sweetness, chocolate contains very similar antioxidants called flavanols to wine, which can cause unpleasant clashes. Any wine which is going to stand up to it will need a high level of residual sugar (the rule of thumb for any pudding/wine pairing is that the wine should be sweeter than the dessert).

Fortunately, all is not lost: here are six suggestions of wines which will complement your Easter chocolate stash.

Maury or Banyuls
Often called the ‘French port’, these two wines, both from the Roussillon region close to the Spanish border, and both made from Grenache grapes, are probably the best starting point when it comes to matching your Easter chocolate.

The two wines are Vins Doux Naturels, which means they are lightly fortified with grape spirit before the fermentation process has finished. This addition of brandy raises the alcohol level above that at which the yeasts can carry on doing their work, so fermentation stops, leaving plenty of residual sugar in the wine.

You will find Rancio versions of both wines, which have been aged in wood and exposed to the air, giving a sherry-like character – these are in fact the best matches for chocolate.

More recently producers in Maury have started to produce a dry red wine, also labelled Maury.  Delicious as this can be, it will taste austere and tannic if you try to serve it with chocolate.

Tawny Port
It is vintage port which generally takes the limelight, but an aged tawny can be a wonderful thing, and is the better match for chocolate. Tawny port is aged in barrel rather than in the bottle, allowing the colour to settle out of the wine before it is bottled, which is why the wine is paler.

Ready to drink as soon as it is released, tawnies generally are labelled by age – 10 years, 20 years and even 40 years. The complexity and deliciousness will increase with each step-up of age, as will the price.

This is the sophisticated choice, and is the wine to choose for high-cocoa, single estate chocolate. Serve it slightly chilled – you will be surprised how much better tawny is at this temperature.

Spicy Red Wines
Generally the tannins in red wines will fight against the unctuous sweetness of chocolate, but there are some exceptions. Reds made from grapes such as Syrah and Zinfandel have a slightly higher residual sugar, but more importantly they have a spicy character which complements dark chocolate in particular (think cardamom, cumin and even chilli).

If you search hard enough, you may find a sparkling Shiraz from Australia, which can taste distinctly odd when drunk on its own, but makes sense if consumed with chocolate.

Tokaji Aszu
Not to be confused with Tokay, the name sometimes used to denote Pinot Gris in Alsace, Tokaji is an intensely sweet wine made using the same noble rot process as Sauternes. Six grapes are permitted in the wine, but by far the most important is Furmint.

Tokaji Aszu is graded according to the amount of residual sugar in the wine, with the scale being puttonyos. Three puttonyos is the least sweet, with six puttonyos being the sweetest.

Above this comes a grade called Eszencia, one of the rarest and most expensive wines in the world. Its sugar content means it only reaches five or six percent alcohol, and so technically isn’t even a wine, but when it tastes that good, who is arguing? Drinking Eszencia with chocolate is a criminal waste of a very special wine.

Fun Fact: wines made from Muscat are the only ones which actually smell of grapes.  The grape is very versatile, but is at its best when made into intensely sweet wines, which
can stand up to chocolate, and are especially good with milk chocolate.

Two to look out for are Rutherglen Muscat from Victoria, Australia, and Orange Muscat from California, which has flavours of orange blossom, pears and apricots.

Pedro Ximenez
No list of wines to drink with chocolate would be complete without PX, the intensely sweet, figgy wine made from the grape of the same name in Jerez- and other parts of Spain.

Unctuous, with flavours of raisins and molasses, this is a wine which is delicious simply poured onto ice cream; it is one of the few wines which will stand up to Christmas pudding – so you won’t be surprised that it is more than a match for chocolate. 

Three wines Andy has enjoyed this month

  • Dow’s Fine White Port
    Adnams, £12.49
    White port is an unfairly neglected drink in the UK, despite being a delicious aperitif.  When a wine of this quality is available at this price, it’s hard to see why.  Golden in colour, with an intense, rich, nutty complexity, it is subtly sweet, smooth and well-balanced.

  • Villa Cialdini Lambrusco Grasporossa
    Harper Wells, £15.50
    Put aside any of your prejudices about Lambrusco, because this is the real thing – a sparkling red wine with an abundant, fine mousse.  With a pronounced bramble fruit aroma, with sour cherries, blackberries and a pleasant acidity on the palate, this is a fizz which will go well with food.

  • Sancerre Pinot Noir Les Champs Clos, 2018
    Sainsbury, £13.99
    You are most likely to know Sancerre as a steely Sauvignon Blanc, but 20 per cent of the appellation’s vines are Pinot Noir, making both red and rosé wines.  A great summer wine, and ideally served slightly chilled (but not ice cold), it gives raspberry, strawberry and pomegranate, and will pair well with fish such as salmon or red mullet.

Article published in Feast Issue 45

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