Comfort Wine ~ What’s it to you?

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On first impression, Provence evokes thoughts of food, savory herbs and perhaps a nice bowl of bouillabaisse.

To me, however, it just reminds me of being a kid.

One of the earliest memories I have is sitting at a table on my great-great-grandmother’s porch in Pégomas. I was fresh off my first disastrous experience with fois and I remember being given a very small glass of white wine for what my aunt declared as my “French lesson”.

As an American kid growing up on Coca Cola, this was equally as disastrous.

It occurs to me now that all the memories I compiled during these early forays into French culture, like that of the fois, were perhaps too vast for me to truly appreciate at the time.

I’m now 24, and what I wouldn’t give for the opportunity to revisit these places of my youth; to discover the vast culinary prowess of the region, a glass of rosé and a bowl of ratatouille.

There’s just something about wines from the old-world regions, something almost book-like. They have the ability to transport you miles on a taste like an author on a word.

With my eyes closed and a sip of Chateau Barbanau L’Instant (rosé from the village of Roquefort, east of Marseille) in my mouth; I can almost imagine the words roaming back toward me over the lavender covered hills: “Matt! Get down from that rock before you break your neck!”

It’s comforting.

Most people would probably consider a “comfort wine” to be something big, a brooding Cab or a Malbec. To me, however, a “comfort wine” is just a wine that puts you in a good place and makes you happy.  To me, this is a Provençal wine and Barbanau fits this criteria.

What’s it to you? What’s your favorite “comfort wine”?
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Some notes on the liquid inspiration here: Chateau Barbanau 2011 L’Instant Rosé
It’s definitely something light and crisp with a nice balanced acidity and fruity (perhaps even melony) flavors. It would compliment a fish dinner or something with a bolder flavor like a citrusy roasted chicken.

Cheers,
Matt

Chocolate & Wine for Valentine’s

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Janet Shimada’s beautiful, award-winning Cadeaux Chocolates (above)

As with food, when pairing wines with chocolate, match lighter-flavored chocolates with lighter-bodied wines, and more “intense” flavored chocolates with more full-bodied wines. When pairing wine with chocolate, you can look for wines with have the same flavor profile as the chocolate (nutty, cherry, other fruit, mint, etc.), or look for contrasts. Most experts would recommend “sticking” with fortified wines (ports), because the sweetness of the wines match well with chocolates. But there is more behind it. Let’s take a journey beyond fortified wines.

Milk Chocolate
Milk chocolate has a higher percentage of sugar, and a smaller percentage of chocolate liquor (unsweetened chocolate). In addition with its higher milk content, milk chocolate is a milder, sweeter product with fewer aromas and flavors.  Wine pairing suggestions: a Tawny Port (try: Quinta De La Rosa 10y Tawny Port) is the ultimate match. Its nutty, caramel flavors highlight the milk chocolates’ own flavors and intensify the overall chocolate flavors.

Semisweet Chocolate
Dark chocolate with 50% to 69% cacao has strong, complex flavors, with notes that are nutty, spicy, floral, earthy, fruity, and/or caramel. The aftertaste is balanced, not too sweet. Wine pairing suggestions: fortified fruity wines like Banyuls and Ruby Ports (try: Niepoort NV Ruby, Quinta De La Rosa Finest Reserve) have cacoa and chocolate aromas and flavors as well as cherry, raspberry or other berry fruit, and are classic companions with chocolate. Vintage Ports should be matched with caution: The high sugar and alcohol content can overwhelm the chocolate. Banyuls and nonvintage Ports have softer, rounder tannins than vintage Ports and pair better with chocolate.  Another classic choice is Cabernet Sauvignon (try: Heitz Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon or Sparkman Kingpin Cabernet Sauvignon) or Bordeaux (try: Château Pibran Pauillac or Château Pichecan Margaux). It brings out the fruity-peppery-grapey notes in the chocolate. Zinfandel brings out chocolate’s spicy notes. Tawny Ports, which have nutty, tobacco and leather notes, also make good pairings.

Bittersweet Chocolate
The most intense, richly-flavored dark chocolate is 70% to 100% cacao. Bittersweet chocolate can have bitter, roasted, fruity, earthy, woodsy, ashy and/or nutty notes. The same wines will match bittersweet and semisweet chocolate.

Chocolates with Caramel or Toffee
Wine pairing suggestions:  Hungarian Tokaji, with notes of apricots, butter and caramel, pairs well with buttery salt caramels. Young Madeira (try: Broadbent Madeira 5y old) has classic caramel and toffee flavors and good acidity to pair with that kind of chocolate. Buttery caramels and toffees pair well with buttery wines. Mersault from a ripe year, with rich, lush fruit and low acid or a rich buttery Chardonnay from California (try: Shannon Ridge Chardonnay) complements the brown sugar and caramel flavors as well as the cocoa flavors of the chocolate. The nutty bouquet of a dry Oloroso Sherry complements the nuts in toffee. It’s also great with salt caramels. Sauternes, a rich sweet dessert wine from Bordeaux, has honey, apricot and peach notes, also pairs well with caramel and toffee chocolates. The chewiness of the candy stands up to the viscosity of the wine. Tawny Port enhances the nutty notes of toffee, and to a lesser extent, caramel.

Chocolates with Cinnamon and Ginger
A spicy, dry Zinfandel (try: Four Vines Maverick Old Vines Zinfandel) or a sweet Late Harvest Zinfandel (they can almost be port-like) are good options to complement the spicy notes of chocolates with cinnamon and ginger.

Chocolates with Coconut
Brachetto D’Aqui (try: Giacomo Bologna), a light sparkling dessert wine from Piedmont, with typical aromas and flavors of strawberries and roses, is a great match with nuts and coconut. Sauternes or a Late Harvest Semillon or Moscato from Australia (try: Two Hands) are other options.

Chocolates with Coffee Flavors
Chocolates with espresso, mocha, coffee bean and other coffee flavors. Oloroso sherry or cream sherry (coffee, nutty flavors) or Australian Shiraz (try: Langmeil Valley Floor Shiraz), with dark fruit, mocha, coffee, espresso flavors.

And last … Chocolates with Nuts
Including hazelnuts, almonds, and other nuts and pralines. Wine pairing suggestions: nutty Tawny Ports are the perfect match for chocolates with nuts. Sherry that is not too sweet is a good companion to almond-based chocolates, ideally a Pedro Ximinez with its almond aromas and flavors, or a well-rounded Fino. Cream Sherries match well with hazelnuts. Lighter nuts like pistachio can be served with Sauternes. Other options would be Brachetto D’Aqui and Cabernet Sauvignons.

Cheers & Happy Valentine’s Day!
Jens