Wine and chocolate is a recurring theme on Valentine’s Day. Understandably, considering many of us will be either giving a gift of wine and chocolate or opening a gift of wine and chocolate. Keeping it simple and knowing the most common mistakes will ensure the two complement each other and make your Valentine celebration much more enjoyable.
There are many rules for general wine and food pairing, but with chocolate and wine there are two keys to successful pairings:
The first, when pairing wine and chocolate, the wine should be at least as sweet — if not sweeter — than the chocolate. If the wine is not as sweet as the chocolate many times the pairing will have a slight sour taste.
And second, avoid pairing chocolate with over-oaked red wines or extremely dry styles as these mismatches will likely rob the chocolate of its sweetness and rob wine of its fruitiness. The result is an unpleasant, dry, dusty flavor.
For safe bets pair light-bodied wines with mild-flavored chocolate, and full-bodied wines with darker and more robust chocolate. For example, a delicate Moscato d’Asti matches perfectly with the mellow buttery flavors in many white chocolates. Cabernet sauvignon matches well with many dark chocolates because it has hints of aromatic dark berry, spice and even of chocolate itself.
To make gift buying easy, here are some safe pairings. All you need to do is choose your partner’s favorite style of chocolate and then select value or splurge that fits your budget.
White chocolate with framboise or moscato
- NV Cupcake Moscato d’Asti, Italy (about $12 retail)
- 2017 Castello Del Poggio DOCG Moscato, Italy (about $19 retail)
Light-bodied milk chocolate with pinot noir or cabernet sauvignon
- 2016 Block Nine Pinot Noir, California (about $15 retail)
- 2015 Sonoma-Cutrer Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, California (about $29 retail)
Medium bodied milk or semisweet chocolate with cabernet sauvignon, port, merlot or syrah
- 2017 Chateau St. Jean Merlot, California (about $14 retail)
- 2015 Round Pond Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $65 retail)
Full-bodied bittersweet or dark chocolate with cabernet sauvignon or port
- 2017 Coppola Diamond Label Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $16 retail)
- Kopke 10 Year Tawny Port, Portugal (about $37 retail)
Recently, I was giving an exam to some of my first-year wine students. Just before the exam I overheard a group discussing wines they had been enjoying lately. It got my attention because these were obscure grapes rarely discussed.
I was curious as to how they even knew some of these grapes and were they really exploring them for their everyday bottles?
It turns out, these students are part of a growing trend among younger wine drinkers seeking exotic and lesser known grapes. Their buying habits are quite different from the generations before them who sought out the comfort and familiarity of the noble grapes. These young wine drinkers (aka Millennials and iGeneration/Generation Z) are seeking wines that their parents and grandparents likely avoided because they were unpronounceable or from unheard esoteric regions of origin.
Contributing to the emergence of more diverse grapes may be that millennials (ages 23-38) are drinking more wine than other age brackets and more than half have active social media accounts making getting the “word out” much faster and efficient.
In the past most of these “obscure” grapes only came to the consumer’s attention on restaurant wine lists where the sommelier had to steer the diner away from the comfort of the chardonnay and merlot to explore something different. Many restaurants were reluctant to include such so-called exotic, unusual or oddball wines on the list because of consumer confusion, but today more consumers are searching for wines unique and different.
The following lesser-known grapes are good starting points for those wishing to explore beyond the usual. Spain’s mencia tastes much like a cross between pinot noir and syrah. Sicily is home to carricant, similar to the taste of cool-climate chardonnays. Hungary’s Furmint has the aromas of sauvignon blanc and the refreshing acidity of a Riesling. Mourvedre, also known as mataro and monastrell, is known for its earthy rich full-bodied flavors.
- 2017 Triton Mencia, Spain (about $17 retail)
- 2017 Cline Ancient Vine Mourvedre, California (about $20 retail)
Many of us are in a dedicated love affair with Napa Valley wines. But most of my readers confess their love for these wines doesn’t always line up with their everyday dinner budget.
There are Napa Valley wineries offering exceptional wines that won’t break the bank.
Flora Springs Winery was one of the first wineries I visited during my inaugural visit to Napa Valley more than 15 years ago. I was honored with a private one-on-one tour. Flora Springs Winery was founded in 1978 by Jerry and Flora Komes and the winery remains a family affair.
Flora Springs started making cabernet sauvignon in the late 1970s using the Bordeaux model, much like others in the Napa Valley. This was a time in U.S. winemaking that winemakers wanting high quality cabernets were producing them to warrant long periods of aging. Before aging, most of these wines were simply too big, tannic and overpowering to drink.
Flora Springs’ Napa Valley Merlot is one of those people-pleasing wines nearly everyone enjoys. It was Flora Komes’ favorite with its supple fruit flavors and easygoing texture. The 2016 brings all of Napa Valley’s best vineyards into one bottle with the fruits sourced from the prestigious sites of St. Helena, Rutherford and Oakville, properties Flora Springs has owned and farmed for decades. My reason for buying this wine is — not only am I getting Napa Valley’s finest — it is priced so I can fit it into my everyday dinner budget.
The 2016 Napa Valley Cabernet also comes from the coveted sustainably farmed estate vineyards of St. Helena, Rutherford and Oakville. It’s not only the source of the grapes making this wine exceptional, but the detail and techniques used by Flora Springs in winemaking. This wine was made with hand harvested grapes, cold soaked for several days to extract flavor and color. Several of their lots underwent extended maceration to refine and soften the tannins, making the wines much more approachable. And to add to the complexity of this wine the winemaker aged it in French and American oak barrels for 19 months prior to blending.
- 2016 Flora Springs Winery Napa Valley Merlot, California (about $35 retail)
- 2016 Flora Springs Winery Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $50 retail)
I first looked into the cannonau grape after reading Dan Buettner’s book, The Blue Zones.
Blue Zones, according to Buettner, are regions of the world where people live much longer than average.
Could a red wine be a magic elixir?
It seems the cannonau is working for the people of Sardinia. Sardinia has one of the largest populations of vibrant male centenarians and has been designated a Blue Zone — one of the highest concentrations of people who reach the golden age of 100. Buettner cites other lessons to longevity including putting family first, walking, goats’ milk, celebrating elders and laughing, to name a few. But it was this odd sounding grape “cannonau” I wanted to explore.
Cannonau was thought to be just another name for grenache. This brought a lot of debate among locals pondering how could the grape they hold so dear belong to the Aragons? This was another point I picked up while reading The Blue Zone: Sardinians are not like other Italians. They are known for (and proudly admit) they tend to be stubborn, intelligent, reserved and serious.
The debate piqued the interest of scientists from the University of Pennsylvania. During an excavation in Borore, Sardinia, they discovered hundreds of grape seeds dating to 3,200 years ago. DNA testing confirmed the grape seeds were the remnants of cannonau and distinctly different from the modern-day grenache grape. This find makes the cannonau one of the most ancient wines in the world.
Cannonau is a very dark, robust red wine. It is referred to as “vino Nero” by locals, which literally means “black wine.” This robust, nearly black wine leads us back to the pondering thought of the centenarian population of Sardinia. Cannonau has one of the highest levels of polyphenols in wine, rich in anthocyanins (common in most berries) and the long maturation period of winemaking.
So, is this grape the fountain of youth? I’m not suggesting we all run out and stock up cases hoping to catch up with the Sardinians in longevity. But combining it with the other factors of laughter, family and walking, I’m certainly open to exploring this grape in my food and wine pairings as I continue my quest along the path to long life.
- 2017 Argiolas Costera Cannonau, Italy (about $20 retail)
- 2017 Sella Mosca Cannonau Di Sardegna, Italy (about $19 retail)
The first of each year I like to scour the business journals to research emerging trends in the wine market.
- As with 2018, packaging will continue to matter to consumers with bling, material and technology. Not only is packaging important but it is changing the interest in brand loyalty to the largest group of wine consumers, millennials. With shelves lined with hundreds of choices, “eye catching” is the key. A Portland State University study showed these young buyers are most concerned with label color and logo. With more and more restaurants moving to digital (tablet) wine lists, the visual presentation will also show a growing impact of how we select wines while dining out.
- Canned wine continues to grow. Many surveys showed an increase in sales as high as 45 percent from June 2017 to June 2018. This trend has been credited for several reasons — including pricing and portability — but most interesting is the intimidation factor. When consumers were faced with a range of availability the relaxed nature of the can seems to help ease the process.
- Technology will continue to play a key role with a shift in our buying experience. Producers are stepping in line with other retail commodities giving us a virtual experience. Treasury Wine Estates recently released “The Banished” red wine under its “19 Crimes” brand aimed at men between 21 and 34 years old. This includes a mobile app that activates an augmented reality feature when the phone’s camera is pointed at the bottle.
- Another hot topic will be the discussion of shifting climates and environmental concerns. The top of the list will be water stress and temperature increases. The regions in the past we considered “cooler” are not so cool anymore. Many vineyards will be replanted with different varietals and we will see emerging regions coming to the market where grapes were simply unable to ripen. California will continue to struggle with the aftereffects of the fires and drought in 2019. David Ramey — owner and winemaker of Ramey Wine Cellars in Sonoma County — goes even as far as issuing a warning to consumers in the coming year, “If this continues, the impact on the marketplace will be substantial.”
- It will take a few more years but sake is quickly becoming an established drink in the U.S. market. A recent survey showed it was featured on 2 of every 5 premium wine lists and half of those had an entire section specific to sake. It has slowly been added as a cocktail ingredient but in 2019 we will see more and more restaurants recommending this wine as the ideal wine pairing for almost any dish on the menu.
- What’s next in regions and trending grape varietals? Uruguay seems to be the answer for many wine drinkers in Europe and is quickly entering the U.S. market. And with more and more consumers looking to fruit-driven lighter styles of red wine we will see an emergence of cabernet franc and also more indigenous grapes from Italy with nero d’avola leading the list.
So, all in all we will have some exciting new shifts in 2019. But one I was just not ready to accept is that edible wine “bottles” made from isomalt, a sugar substitute, will become commonplace. For that one, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Chicken continues to be a staple for weeknight dinners in my house.
The lean protein is easy to cook (and I’m not that great of a cook), and generally inexpensive. But the main reason may be its versatility. It can be transformed into anything from Italian, Indian, Asian to Southern in a matter of minutes depending on spices, cooking methods and sauce.
Another thing I love about chicken is how easily it lends itself to exploring new wines. Chicken may be the one protein that can match with just about any wine produced. The key is how the chicken is cooked and the additional ingredients and sauces.
The following are some of my favorite pairings.
Chicken with curry sauces and Spanish Cava
- NV Freixenet Brut Cava, Spain (about $10 retail)
- NV Sumarroca Cava Brut, Spain (about $19 retail)
Oven Roasted Chicken and Pinot Noir
- 2016 Cellar No 8 Pinot Noir, California (about $9 retail)
- 2016 A to Z Oregon Pinot Noir, Oregon (about $21 retail)
Chicken breast in cream sauces and riesling
- 2017 J. Lohr Monterey Riesling, California (about $10 retail)
- 2017 Anne Amie Yamhill Riesling, (about $18 retail)
Barbecued or grilled chicken and zinfandel
- 2016 Bonterra Zinfandel, California (about $14 retail)
- 2016 Cline Ancient Vines Zinfandel, California (about $19 retail)
Chicken gumbo and Champagne or sparkling wine
- NV Aime Boucher Brut, France (about $23 retail)
- NV Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc, California (about $49 retail)