The Great Chocolate-and-Wine Myth

If you’ve ever felt like devouring a giant wedge of chocolate cake for dinner, today you have an excuse: it’s World Chocolate Day, and according to Wikipedia, “celebration of the day includes the consumption of chocolate.” Duh.

Choc.cake

My mom baked the most decadent chocolate cake; she added mayonnaise for extra moistness. When she cooked a pot of chili, she included a square of dark chocolate to make it richer. From Oreos to truffles, brownies, fudge, hot chocolate or Trader Joe’s dark chocolate-covered coffee beans, we all know some form of chocolate that makes us swoon.

Supposedly, this day marks Europe’s first introduction to chocolate, 466 years ago – but this dark delight has been around a lot longer than that. Ancient Mayans (250-900 A.D.) came upon cacao in the rainforest and taught themselves to roast and grind the seeds into a paste. They mixed it with chile peppers, cornmeal and water to make a spicy drink they later traded to the Aztecs; priests in both societies served it in religious ceremonies. But they didn’t grow sugarcane, so chocolate didn’t sweeten up until the Spaniards conquered the Aztecs in the 1500s. They took it back to Spain where someone thought to add sugar and cinnamon, and dessert was served.

Chocolate was one of George Washington’s favorite beverages. A century later in 1886, Milton Hershey launched his biz, but it wasn’t until 1900, when he began mass-producing milk chocolate, that chocolate became affordable.

And somehow, over the years, people got it into their heads that chocolate should be paired with Cabernet Sauvignon and other BigSexyReds. But they make a terrible pairing, and the fact that this misinformation endures is one of the most annoying myths in the wine world.

You don’t believe me? Ye of little faith. Try this: take a bite of your chocolate cake or brownie. Now sip your Cab. That unpleasant sensation near the back of your tongue? It’s bitterness – not dryness, not citrus tang. Harsh bitterness. Pairing chocolate and Cabernet kills the rich, smooth, delicious tastes of both the wine and chocolate.

Now try this: open a nice bottle of Port – Vintage if you can afford it, but Ruby will do nicely. Match the wine to the chocolate if you can; the darker the chocolate, the darker you want your Port. If you’re eating a lighter milk chocolate, pair it with a light Tawny Port.

Bite the brownie, sip the Port – notice the difference? The alcohol and depth of your slightly sweet Port meet the richness of your chocolate, and they kiss. They’re transformed and elevated; each mellows the other and brings out their more subdued qualities.

Now, go ahead and indulge – once a year you deserve a chocolate dinner!

Vino ‘View:  We’re having a heat wave in Ohio. That means glorious summer, a good time to introduce this sometime-feature because I want a light wine tonight – and if it’s a red, “light” usually means Pinot Noir. 

Mark West PN

I’ve tasted this Mark West 2014 California Pinot Noir, and it’s perfect for dinner on the porch (yep, that’s my front porch). It’s young enough to show plenty of acidity, enhanced by the coastal breezes cooling the vineyards. The flavors are summery, too: strawberries, blueberries, cola, a touch of black pepper – a good, soft vino to drink with a cold chicken salad. Since it’s so warm, I’ll chill the wine for about 15 minutes before I open it. (Alcohol 13.5%, $10.99/750ml)

Wine Lingo of the Day:  CadastroPortugal’s vineyard ranking system. The DOC (the officially sanctioned quality wine region) assesses vineyards on 12 factors that influence the wine, including altitude and yield. Vineyards are ranked on their total scores, A through F; that ranking determines the Beneficio, or the volume of Port the government allows each vineyard to produce that year.

[Photo, “Triple Chocolate Cake,” by Meraj Chhaya via Flickr.]

Cheers!

Mary 

 

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Doughnuts and Wine – a Tasty Pairing!

You say doughnuts, I say donuts – especially today, because it’s National Doughnut Day.

We can feel good about indulging our collective sweet tooth, since it’s for a good cause and always has been: the holiday was created in 1938 by the Chicago branch of the Salvation Army to honor “Lassies” – women who distributed donuts to U.S. servicemen in World War I. The Salvation Army’s practical aim was to raise money to help needy families during the Great Depression.

But the day puts two decisions on the table: what kind of donut, and which wine to pair with it?

Krispy Kreme glazed donuts

The donut choice is a no-brainer. It must be glazed, from Krispy Kreme. No substitutes, please. Don’t show up at my door with bear claws, fritters, cronuts or other pretenders. I’m adding 400 calories to my day’s total – just enough, probably, to keep me from losing weight this week. So I need to be picky. I’m sure many of you will disagree with my choice (poor misguided souls) and you’re welcome to chew me out in the Comments section.

On the wine I’m willing to compromise. You’ll want to select a wine with at least a bit of sweetness (trust me on this; both the wine and the donut will taste like they were brought together by Divine Intervention). If you’re not accustomed to buying sweet wines, take the plunge and buy a quality bottle – a Vouvray, maybe, which will always have a bit of sweetness, or a floral, not-super-dry Rosé.

If you’re not in an experimental mood, reach for a Prosecco, Italy’s famous sparkling wine. Prosecco is made from a grape called Glera, which is a little sweeter than the grapes used in making Champagne. You can also buy Prosecco without bubbles, but it may not be easy to find.

My choice for this evening will be a glass of Sherry, often called “the whiskey of wines” for its bite and high alcohol content, which can reach 20 percent ABV or higher. I like the nutty, aromatic nature of Sherry. It’s not as thick in the mouth as Port, though I do enjoy a nice Port with dessert, too. Sherry styles could make another long blog post, but I probably will reach for a spicy Oloroso that I can sip like a fine Scotch.

However you accent your dessert tonight, go get a donut (or, if you prefer, a doughnut)! Krispy Kreme is giving away donuts today, no purchase required. Dunkin’ Donuts will give you a free donut if you purchase a drink, and if you buy half a dozen donuts at Giant Eagle, they’ll give you another half-dozen free of charge.

Wine Lingo of the Day: Spumante, Frizzante, Tranquillo = “Spumante” is Italian for “sparkling” and refers to bubbly wine, usually in discussions of Prosecco. “Frizzante” is semi-bubbly; you’ll see bubbles in the glass and feel them tingling on your tongue, but they don’t last. “Tranquillo” is still wine, with no bubbles at all.

Happy sipping and munching!

Mary

[Photo courtesy of Camknows via Flickr.com]