Many wines complement chocolate

March 12, 2012

The chocolate show appeared to be a grand success. When Barbara and I appeared, the line was out to Rehoboth Avenue, so we passed.  Broke my heart 'cause I love chocolate. It is my only vice that won’t get me thrown in the clink for overindulgence.  I had a column all worked up on wine that goes well with chocolate, but was forced to go to plan B. Fortunately my email contained a great Snooth article titled “Pairing wine with cookies,” some of which were chocolate, so I purloined one that looked intriguing.

How about white chocolate oatmeal raisin cookies and Port, or chocolate chips with Banyuls? I decided to write about the chocolate chips because we’ve all tried some Port, but how many have had Banyuls or would even know the name was for wine were they not reading here?

I’ve written of Banyuls in the past, describing it as a sweet-tasting Grenache and one of the best with chocolate. It is even better than Port, generally speaking.

From the Languedoc-Roussillon region, Banyuls has the soubriquet, “a French love letter to chocolate.”  Banyuls is a Grenache-based fortified wine produced since the 13th century. Reportedly a physician/alchemist named Arnaud de Villeneuve discovered the method of mutage. He observed the fermentation of wine could be halted by adding pure grape spirit to it, thereby leaving it sweet.  I’m guessing he spilled a glass of brandy into the fermentation barrel.

Banyuls is allowed to ferment until it has about 6 percent alcohol, and then, spirit is added, raising the alcohol level to about 15 percent. Talk about a chocolate high. Oh my! Port, Madeira, some sherries and muscat also use this process.

Mutage generates a sweet, high-alcohol wine especially compatible with semisweet or dark chocolate. Rich and full-bodied, most are less sweet and syrupy than your typical dessert wine. Normally lovely garnet-colored  when young, with good acid balance, they drink more elegantly than vintage port. Following a spoonful of chocolate dessert you taste black plums and cherries, and in the finish you may also note orange bark toward the back of your tongue, and espresso and raisin somewhere in the middle.

An easy find for your wine guy or gal would be the M. Chapoutier Banyuls 2008, 90 points,  priced around $25. You will note this is “cheap” dessert wine.

Great value! Made from 100 percent black Grenache, it is very dark ruby-colored, opens to red raspberry and Sambuca bouquet. On the palate, full-bodied, balanced and rich with black licorice and fig flavors accented by a fillip of black cherry. The finish is dry and shows a little heat, but not nearly like a port. It would pair perfectly with sharp cheeses, fruitcake-type desserts as well as chocolate.  On the advice of Jimmy Blythe, I tried some 2000 Pietri Giraud Banyuls which I bought for $28, and a 1985 Domaine de la Rectorie.  Wonderful stuff!  I bought for $38. I learned that Banyuls that is nut-brown-colored when older is really delicious. So is the ruby. Jimmy brought some Bombshell Harvest cherry maple beef jerky to go with. Don’t laugh. It was great. Later I looked it up on the net priced $6.50 for a quarter ounce, and it is available as turkey jerky for health advocates.

For my sybarite friends, try soaking a cigar in the wine. Sounds a bit nuts no doubt, but it reminded me of a Swisher Sweet. Eclectic is good! You can find a 1995, 93-point, M. Chapoutier  Vin  Doux Naturel Banyuls Languedoc- Roussillon half bottle for under $40. Trust me on this.

The primary cause the wine is reasonable is it is out of vogue. Smart shoppers can buy mixed cases of new release for $120 and stack in the cellar.

Banyuls is nearly indestructible because it is fortified and ages well.  Sort of like Madeira, certain sherries,  Ports and other fortified wines.