Has there ever been a more controversial subject than wine and chocolate, as least so far as the gastronomy world is concerned? Granted, I’m more of a vanilla person, but when I think of chocolate, my brain quickly goes to tawny port or Banyuls, not red wine.
Generally, desserts are best with wines that are sweeter than the dessert itself. Tannin often brings out the bitter quality in chocolate, so red wines — especially cabernet sauvignon — can be really unpleasant. (Do I hear the producers in Napa calling for my neck yet?) What does work well with chocolate? I would have to say tawny ports and Banyuls.
Tawny ports are aged in wood for an extended period of time. The solera system of fractional blending over the course of many years creates a marriage of fruit and wood that results in nut, spice, dried fruit, vanilla, caramel and sometimes even chocolatelike qualities. There are also vintage dated tawny ports known as colheitas. The five major grapes that are used to make all ports, save for the white versions, are tinta barroca, tinta cão, tinta roriz (tempranillo), touriga francesca and touriga nacional.
Banyuls is a fortified dessert wine made primarily from grenache in the Roussillon region of France. Banyuls superiore is aged for at least 2½ years and must be composed from at least 75 percent grenache. Like tawny ports, the wines becomes more complex as it ages and gives it myriad qualities, some of which are very similar to tawnies.
The characteristics found in tawny ports and Banyuls complement and even bring out the nuances in chocolate. Texturally, they have just enough acid to for all dark and milk chocolate and, as they lack tannin, do not clash.
Ferreira 20 Year Tawny Port, Duque de Braganca (Douro, Portugal): Ferreira is the oldest and largest Portuguese-owned port house. Founded by the Ferreira family in 1751, it was purchased by Sogrape in 1987. This 20-year tawny is Ferreira’s flagship and arguably one of the finest tawny ports to be found. Sensationally aromatic with roasted almonds and cashews, dried fruits, spice and vanilla and vibrant acidity and superb finish, you can enjoy this with chocolate and nut desserts like a chocolate hazelnut tart. Suggested retail: $59
Domaine du Mas Blanc Banyuls Rimage, Cuvée La Coume, 2006 (Languedoc-Roussillon, France): Dr. Andre Parcé took over this old family property in 1949 and over the course of the next few decades helped put this obscure area on the map. Son Jean-Michel is now at the helm and Domaine du Mas Blanc continues to be the benchmark producer in the region. Concentrated with stewed stone fruits, caramel and a hint of orange peel, this wine is destined for a rich chocolate cake. Suggested retail: $57
Smith Woodhouse Colheita Tawny, 1994 (Douro, Portugal): Smith Woodhouse is part of the vast Symington empire but has retained a personality that is very unique. Known for its late-bottled vintage, this colheitas are a wonderful surprise. From an illustrious vintage, this wine has a delicious array of vanilla, dried apricots, marmalade, white pepper and toasted almonds. Calling out for German chocolate cake. Suggested retail: $49.99
Pamela S. Busch is the owner of Skrewcap.com, founder of CAV Wine Bar and a Bay Area wine consultant. Please submit your questions to Pamela@Skrewcap.com.