Winecast 39 – Like Wine for Chocolate

by Tim Elliott on September 7, 2005

This month the theme is provided by celebrated food blogger Clotilde from Chocolate and Zucchini, who challenged us with theme of, “Like Wine for Chocolate“. Instead of just selecting a varietal or wine region, she has given us a recipe to match a wine; in fact, the most challenging match I can imagine: wine with a chocolate cake.

When announced, this sent me to the basic rule of thumb to match a sweet dessert with a wine of more sweetness, and chocolate with a very fruity wine of high alcohol. All roads led to the great vintage wines of Porto. Since I assumed most WBW participants to go down this road, I thought slightly differently. First, in selecting a fortified wine from Clotilde’s native France, the somewhat cult status Banyuls, and then with a big, ripe Zinfandel from my native state of California. Since I am not well educated in the fortified wines of France, I trusted the advice of Solo Vino’s experts, Robert and Chuck, to steer me to M. Chapoutier Banyuls from the 1998 vintage. Similarly, I trusted the advice of listener Stephanie in suggesting I try Matt Cline’s wines at Trinitas, made from ancient 120 year old vines in California’s Contra Costa County. My theory was that ripeness and high alcohol would lessen the perception of sweetness and the jammy ripeness of the old vine Zin would match with the richness of the cake better than wines that naturally have chocolate flavors, such as Merlot.

Here are my findings:

Before cake:

Trinitas Cellars, Old Vine Zinfandel, Contra Costa County 2002 ($17.50) – Ruby color with a subtle blackberry, spice and cedar nose; bold blackberry fruit with some vanilla and dusty, but strong, tannins. Not as rich and extracted and I would have expected in a 15.5% wine. Score: 8.5/10

M. Chapoutier, Banyuls 1998 ($24 / 500 ml) – Light ruby color with tawny edges; earthy raison and spice aromas; very sweet entry with rich black cherry fruit and some orange peel. Very much like a vintage Porto. Delicious on its own, but looking forward to trying with the cake. Score: 9/10

I made the recipe with bittersweet chocolate and the rich, sweet flavors are sumptuous in this moist cake. I thought that I possibly over sugared this, as the recipe did not specify whether the chocolate was sweetened or not, but it seems to be quite nice as it is. Next time I might cut the sugar in half or more, given the sweetness of the chocolate.

With cake:

Trinitas, Old Vine Zinfandel – The wine picked up a bit more aroma in the glass since the first tasting, now showing more sweet blackberry aromas with the cedar scents noted earlier; the flavors seemed to be toned down a few notches, with the tannins barely noticeable over the sweetness of the cake. Quite interesting, but not a good match, I’m afraid. The wine seems to be overwhelmed by the sweetness of the cake. Score: 8/10

M. Chapoutier, Banyuls – This wine also picked up more aromas, now dominated by prune and orange peel; the sweetness of the wine seems less when matched with the cake, with very nice black cherry flavors and now just a suggestion of orange. This is perfectly matched, but still garners the same 9/10 score (I might have given this a 93 on a 100 point scale).

Two days later, before cake:

Trinitas, Old Vine Zinfandel – After 2 days of Vac-u-vin with very little headspace for air, the wine is much more open and aromatic, suggesting mandatory decanting or some more time in the cellar. Strong blackberry and spice aromas are present with a bit of oak; ripe blackberry and raspberry flavors dominate the palette, followed by pepper and a touch of, yes, sweetness. Not the traditional, jammy-style but an undercurrent of fruit that finishes the wine quite nicely. This elevates the wine to a delicious, 9 out of 10 on my scale.

M. Chapoutier, Banyuls – Not much different in aroma than the last time, dried dark fruit and a bit of orange; very port-like flavors and a sweetness that is nicely balanced by acidity. Very young now, but seems quite a bit more drinkable than a similarly aged vintage Porto. Still a solid 9 out of 10.

Two days later, with cake:

The cake is still quite moist and rich, as I remembered it from 2 days before. A bitter-sweet extravaganza of flavor…

Trinitas, Old Vine Zinfandel – I really like the nose more and more on this wine, but the tannins of the wine and sweetness of the cake almost cancel out each other. Still not a good match.

M. Chapoutier, Banyuls – This remains a very nice match with the sweetness of the cake. I really enjoy how the wine complements the cake and adds more dimension to the flavors. It remains a solid 9 out of 10.

So the clear winner here is the Banyuls, not from its country of origin, but its level of sweetness (helped, no doubt from the level of alcohol and our perception of sweetness previously mentioned). I’m sure I would have come to the same conclusion had I chosen Porto or port-style wines from California or Australia, but it was nice to see a French wine come out on top this time.

Although this has been the most demanding Wine Blogging Wednesday to date, I’ve had a great time researching and choosing different wines to try to stand up to a delicious recipe. Thanks once again to Clotilde for hosting and conceiving such an excellent theme. A high bar for those of us who will host this event in the future.

Feedback: winecast@gmail.com | Audio comments: +01-206-33-WINE-9 (+01-206-339-4639)
Copyright 2005 Tim Elliott. Licensed to the public under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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  • http://www.greatwinesmadesimple.com/fine_wine_news/index.html The Wine Blog

    I really like your wine blog. Please check out my wine and winery related news and information wine blog. Thanks!

  • http://www.theartofrwfirestone.com Frank

    I just began listening to your podcasts today – from iTunes.

    You asked for comments – here’s mine: please talk slower. It’s hard for me to follow your train of thoughts and wine picks.

    Other than that, I shared many of your opinions about Cabs – the one I’m listening to now.

    Thanks.

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  • Graeme

    Hello Tim,

    I am very new to Podcasting, in fact only discovered it on Wednesday last week, however I am have been a serious wine drinker for years (I have been in the UK wine trade for 17 years!!!).

    Firstly, great show, well informed and refreshingly delivered. I now know what my iPod was invented for!!!!

    I was very interested in your forthcoming tasting of Pinot Noir from non-indigenous areas. You have suggested looking at Australia, in my opinion you may find this a little disappointing. Although there are some fine examples from Oz, on the whole the climate is too warm and unless a huge amount of detail is taken over canopy management, yields and site selection then the resultant wine will not generally be great. May I suggest that you look at New Zealand as an alternative??? A cooler climate that allows some really excellent wines to be produced. Areas that are particularly good are: Central Otago and Martinborough. At the London Wine Trade Fair I tasted The Schubert Pinot Noir and it was outstanding, really complex with well-developed dark cherry fruit and a slight vegetal edge, if you ever see it I would heartily recommend buying a bottle (or case).

    Or another idea may be to look at Germany….Spatburgunder, some cracking examples although can be pricy.

    Many thanks for a great show please let me know if I can help in any way.

    Regards,

    Graeme

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