In case you have scrupulously avoided this blog for the past couple weeks and missed it, Part 1 of this mammoth super-post talked about the general principles applicable to pairing wine with chocolate and made some guesses as to which wines might make winning choco-combos; Part 2 put three dry red wines to a taste test only to see all of them fail more or less miserably; and tonight’s Part 3 moves away from dinner wines and reveals whether dessert wines (and a beer, for good measure) fared any better with dark chocolate at the tasting night I held with wine friends Brian, Tyler and Farrell earlier this week. In parallel with this PnP saga, Victoria Kaye, the chocolate distributor who put the wheels in motion on this train of thought by sending me a care package of free Xocai brand chocolates with instructions to wine-match as I saw fit, has been providing the chocolate’s perspective on this whole thing on her blog XoXoXocai — click here for her reaction on the first part of the Pop & Pour taste test, which includes some tasting notes on the various chocolates that gave themselves up for a good gastronomic cause.
To refresh your memory, by the end of Part 2 of this post, Wines 1 through 3 were wishing that they had been passed over as candidates in this study: the 2008 Alias Cabernet Sauvignon (Calfornia) was the worst of the bunch, netting a chocolate Compatibility Score of 25%; the 2005 Modern Wine Project Malbec (Washington) had fared (literally) twice as well but still barely scraped a passing grade at 51%; and the 2008 Colaneri Cabernet Franc (Niagara) proved to be the most polarizing wine of the night, attracting my fiery hatred and tasting like tomato soup but still (somehow) pulling out 50%. Starting with Wine #4, we ditched the dry wines and moved to those sweeter reds that were initially predicted to be the best chocolate matchups. It may have been that we were in a better mood after downing the three bottles of wine that preceded them, but the dessert wines did not disappoint.
Wine #4: Domaine Madeloc “Robert Pages” Banyuls ($30-$35 CDN): I knew I would like this wine as soon as I discovered that it was made by Pierre Gaillard, the winemaker responsible for the fantastic Viognier from France’s Condrieu region that I had a few months back during a post-birthday tasting. Banyuls is a sweet wine region in southern France (actually, it’s the southernmost appellation in the whole country, in case you needed some more obscure wine trivia), one of the few in the world that specializes in dessert wines made from red grapes. In Banyuls’ case, the main grape in question is Grenache (it has to make up at least 50% of any such wine), and the wines are created in much the same way as Port: the fermenting juice is spiked with grape spirit to boost the alcohol level and stop the fermentation process before all the grapes’ sugar is converted into alcohol, leaving the resulting wine both sweet and high in booze (16-17%ish). Banyuls pulls out some tricks that Port doesn’t, though, sometimes adding the high-alcohol spirit at the very start of fermentation, and sometimes using grapes that have raisined on the vine to provide more sweetness and flavour intensity. The wine ends up tasting somewhat like a Tawny Port, but more delicate and lower in alcohol (Port usually straddles/exceeds 20% abv); it shares the burnt sugar/maple/nutty oxidized notes of Tawny because it is often intentionally exposed to oxygen during its creation and maturation. Note to Calgarians: Banyuls is tragically difficult to find in our fair city, but I finally tracked it down at Metrovino on 7th St and 11th Ave SW– this particular bottle cost $35, and for that price was a fantastic example of what this lesser-known region can offer. It wasn’t as full-bodied as your standard Port but offered up hugely intense flavours of cinnamon, baking spice, orange zest, raisin, fig and maple syrup that were sweet and mouth-coating but still finished clean. It was a particular boon to one of the pieces of Xocai chocolate that Victoria had provided, the orange-flavoured Omega Square — talk about a match made in heaven. The fruity and citrus notes in the chocolate absolutely popped against the similar flavours present in the wine, although the Banyuls shone with fruit-free dark chocolate as well. It was that pinnacle of pairings, where the flavours in food and wine, while not entirely overlapping, mutually enhanced each other: the chocolate added a new component to the Banyuls’ flavour profile that uplifted what it already brought to the table, and the Banyuls was the only wine (in my opinion) that fully kept its integrity against the powerful and persistent flavours of the chocolate. Ladies and gentlemen, meet your choco-wine compatibility champion!
Compatibility Score: 9.5/10 (Peter) + 8/10 (Tyler) + 9/10 (Farrell) + 9/10 (Brian) = 35.5/40 = 89%
Wine #5: 2004 Taylor Fladgate “Vargellas” Vintage Port ($30-$35 CDN for 375 mL): I was really happy to have a Vintage Port to open on tasting night, partly because Vintage Port is awesome and partly because it was a great contrast with the more Tawny-esque Banyuls. (Very) briefly, Tawny Port is matured for extended time in barrels with exposure to oxygen, which gives it the oxidative characteristics described above, mellower flavours and low, fine tannins; on the other hand, Vintage Port is bottled early and does all its aging in bottle, making relatively recent VPs like this one much deeper, darker, fruitier and tannic than their Tawny counterparts. This bottle of Taylor Fladgate Vargellas (TF is the producer, Vargellas the single vineyard where the grapes are from) amply illustrated the comparison: unlike the elegant, caramelized Banyuls, the Vargellas was a fruit-laden powerhouse. Waves of grape Kool-Aid, black currant, black licorice, mint and even tropical fruit leapt out of the glass with abandon; it was immediately clear that this wine had the “stuff” to stand up to chocolate. We decanted the Port briefly, but it was still changing and evolving as we were tasting; had we opened it a couple hours earlier, I might be waxing even more poetic about it than I am. In terms of pairing strength, my three fellow judges had it almost on par with the Banyuls: the main thought was that the chocolate toned down the more aggressive aspects of the young Port, enhancing the fruit while downplaying the tannins and making the wine’s mintiness and other intriguing notes pop. I was more or less on board with that conclusion, although I did think that some of the Port’s vibrant “grapiness” was lost once the chocolate got involved. The intensity was a match, and the flavour profiles got along, but I didn’t get the same dual enhancement of wine and food as I did with the Banyuls. Still, both separate and together, top notch dark chocolate and single-vineyard Vintage Port are freaking delicious.
Compatibility Score: 7/10 (Peter) + 8/10 (Tyler) + 8/10 (Farrell) + 9/10 (Brian)
Wine #6Beer #1: Brew Dog “Alice Porter” Renaissance Baltic Porter: Now would be a good time to clarify that I know basically nothing about beer. A couple of minutes on Google have suggested that the meaning of the “porter” style beer is (1) complicated and (2) mildly controversial, so I will save myself some time and just say that nowadays it suggests a medium-darker style of beer, often with (wait for it) chocolate notes, which I presume is why Brian chose to bring it to the tasting. Brew Dog is an envelope-pushing creator of craft beers (they are the proud creators of Tactical Nuclear Penguin, the world’s strongest beer at 32% abv and truly disgusting/terrifying to drink); their Alice Porter is stated to be “a delicate mirage of chocolate, red fruit and burnt sugar” (sounds like Port!). I was getting something LIKE chocolate in its flavour profile, along with coppery/metallic notes; Brian aptly identified the not-quite-chocolate flavour as coffee, and I think its un-chocolate-ness ruined the pairing for him. For me, unlike with any of the wines, the dark chocolate almost made the beer taste sweeter (don’t ask me why this would be the case), but resulted in a mealy, unpleasant aftertaste. The judging panel’s determination was that this was one of those better-in-theory-than-practice matches that, at least based on the producer’s description, should mesh better than it actually does. I didn’t find it offensive, but that’s possibly because, unlike with my wine, it doesn’t really bother me if my chocolate adulterates my beer. Sorry beer.
Compatibility Score: 5/10 (Peter) + 6/10 (Tyler) + 5/10 (Farrell) + 4/10 (Brian) = 20/40 = 50%