Monday, February 05, 2007

Valentine's Day Wine -- wine and chocolate pairings

I had mixed feelings about this installment. In the interest of full disclosure, Valentine's Day may be my least favorite holiday. I won't go off on my long-winded rant about "coming through on February 14th," societal expectation, Hallmark holidays and the like – so I'll try to focus on the positive. Valentine's Day is supposed to be a day to do something good for your beloved. Gifts, romantic gestures, etc. are commonplace. (Cynical Mike says, "Why shouldn't that be every day?" Down boy.) Two traditions stand out for me -- wine and chocolate.

The most recent wine tasting I attended, led by Brian of Vintner Select, focused on wines pairing well with chocolate. He made the observation that people either really love the taste of chocolate with wine or it simply doesn't work for them -- not much in-between. I happen to be in the former category, as does the Sweet Partner in Crime. He put together an interesting array. Unfortunately, many were outside Vine range.

However, I shamelessly cribbed the idea and sampled a few wines for readers looking to craft a gift basket for someone special. (And for single Vine readers -- that "someone special" can be yourself. You also get the whole bottle to yourself that way…make the best of it!) So here’s something for every palate:

Domaine Ste. Michele Brut Columbia Valley -- Leading off, the traditional "romantic beverage," sparkling wine. (Remember, it's not champagne.) I find dry sparkling wines work better than sweet with chocolates. Although French-sounding, Domaine Ste. Michele is in Washington and is part of Ste. Michele Wineries. They produce Chateau Ste. Michele, Columbia Crest, and Snoqualmie labels among others. This brut is a simple, refreshing palate cleanser. There's a little fruit behind the bubbles, amplified pleasantly by the chocolate. This wine's also very flexible -- it will go with almost any food. It's equally worthwhile on its own, with desserts, in mimosas for the morning after, or -- as we had had it -- with Kentucky Fried Chicken. Tasty. For $8-10, you won't break the bank.

Rosenblum Vintner's Cuvée XXIX Zinfandel -- If you ever see a wine labeled "cuvée" -- that’s WineSpeak for "a blend of different batches or vintages." Winemakers commonly blend bits of wine from different vineyards. In many cases, the whole outstrips the parts. The Rosenblum Vintner Cuvée series is a very accessible set of wines -- and they're especially good for this price. Their cuvée zinfandel hits you with an enormously fruity nose with strong plum and cherry scents. There's a medium body and lots of fruit. The finish is less spicy and peppery than some zins and not overly dry. If you've ever heard a zinfandel referred to as a "fruit bomb" -- here's a prime example. If your intended doesn't like dry reds, here’s an excellent alternative. However, the finish of this wine doesn't hold up well against dark chocolate. The first sip is nice, but the rest of the flavor combination doesn't work very well. With milk chocolate -- normally not so bitter -- the flavors marry really well. Chocolate-covered cherries would be a great combination here, also. At $8-9, a good choice for the Esther Price recipient on your list.

Rabbit Ridge 2004 Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignon -- Cabernet sauvignon and chocolate is a classic pairing. The Rabbit Ridge has a pronounced nose of cherry and pine trees. The taste is full bodied and full of fruit. It's moderately dry with a long, slightly smoky, dry finish. Dark chocolate and this wine go hand in hand. The bitterness of the chocolate pulls out the wine's fruit, and the wine's finishing tannins take the edge off the deep chocolate taste, leaving a delicious finish. You'll find this for $8-10. (Personal note on Rabbit Ridge -- one of their former winemakers, Susie Selby, started her own winery in Healdsburg, California, and she cranks out some of the best zins and merlots you'll find. They're out of our price range here, but if you splurge on a Selby wine, you won't be disappointed.)

Jacob's Creek 2004 Reserve Shiraz -- Since the Santa Barbara trip, I've become quite enamored with syrah. Down Under, for whatever reason, the Ozzies call the grape "shiraz." Who knows? Who cares? It's scrumptious, just the same. Shiraz is one of the more widely planted grapes in Australia, and goes fabulously well with chocolate. Jacob's Creek is a widely-distributed Australian wine, and their reserve starts you with a subtle combination of pepper and licorice. The first sip is full of soft, velvety fruit, joined quickly by some spice. The finish is nicely balanced with flavors of cloves and fruit. You might want to crack this one and let it breathe for 15 minutes or so before you serve it to let the fruit open up. I was fascinated by the combination of this wine and dark chocolate. The two tastes took turns coming forward, each complimenting the other wonderfully. The finish was very long and tasty. A bottle runs you $11-13 well-spent.

Until next time, be happy with yourself or others and bundle up against the February cold…


  1. Some food (and wine) for thought:

  2. We had a really excellent, plummy, spicy Zin the other night; It's called Monkey Business, and I believe it was a 2005.

    Tasty, yummy goodness.

  3. Yep. I like that one. I've had it before. I think it's connected to Selby somehow...but I could be wrong...

  4. Tried Gnarly Vineyards Old Vine Zin tonight. Way too fruity. Hard to believe it was a Zin, let alone old vine.

    But at $28 in a restaurant, who's complaining?

  5. Almost picked that one up the other night. Thanks for the tip.

  6. I held a wine and chocolate tasting a couple of weeks ago -- the guests supplied the wine. A friend took your suggestion and brought the Jacob's Creek Shiraz, which paired particularly well with Santander 70% cacao dark chocolate. Thanks for the recommendations.