We’ve known since the age of the Aztecs that chocolate is the food of love, so what could be more romantic on the day we celebrate that special someone than sharing a box of luscious truffles or a gooey chocolate cake. The more pressing question is what wine to pair with it? Chocolate can be tricky since it comes in so many variations, from creamy milk chocolate to bittersweet and dark. Complicating the matter is that chocolate is often mixed with fruit or caramel. One wine, however, that complements the full range of chocolate confections is Malmsey Madeira.
Madeiras are fortified wines from the eponymous Portuguese island, which lies a little more than 500 km west of Morocco. The wines are made in the same way as port, meaning grape spirit is added to the fermenting must, leaving some residual sugar and upping the alcohol level. Though while all ports are sweet Madeiras range in style and sweetness depending on the grape variety and aging. At the drier, lighter end of the spectrum are wines made from Sercial and Verdelho grapes, while the sweeter, richer wines are made from the Bual and Malvasia (Malmsey) varieties. What makes Madeira wines so unique, however, is that while every other winemaker in the world tries to protect their wines from the heat, in Madeira, heat is the secret ingredient.
Some time in the 17th century while the Portuguese where conquering distant lands they discovered that the wine they stocked up in Madeira became much more stable and delicious when cast about on the sun-scorched deck of a ship for months at a time. They quickly figured out, however, that they needn’t actually send the barrels of wine on ships to attain the same result, and today the wines are either heated in a large stainless steel tanks (for less expensive wines) or left in oak barrels in heated attics, sometimes for decades.
In a Malmsey Madeira all that heat shows itself in the wine in both taste and color. The longer the wine is aged in barrel the darker and richer the wine. This particular 15 year old Blandy’s has a dark amber hue and a full body with a complex array of flavors, such as caramel, toffee and raisins. There is also a pleasantly surprising streak of orange rind and clove. As with all Madeira wines there is a tongue tingling acidity, which balances out the sweetness and makes this wine so refreshing and food friendly, especially when you need to cut through the richness of chocolate. They make an ideal pair.
Blandy’s 15-Year-Old Malmsey Madeira, 500ml, $39.95