Valentine’s day is Friday. For us it’s a night to stay in, cook up something rich and decadent and indulge in a chocolaty dessert, say, in the shape of a heart. (When else can I use all my heart-shaped bakeware?)
This year I made a flourless chocolate cake with ganache and hazelnuts and then went in search of a wine to match. This particular cake is made with dark chocolate, which keeps it from being overly sweet, and whipped egg whites so it has a surprisingly light texture. It calls for something that matches its delicacy but needs to be slightly sweeter. Port is a classic pairing, but I also love the port-like wines of Banyuls and Maury in the Roussillon region of southern France. This 1998 La Coume du Roy Maury worked perfectly.
Maury is a tiny appellation within Roussillon that sits just inland from the Mediterranean and gets its name from the picturesque village of 900 people tucked in amongst the garrigue (wild scrub) and schist-covered foothills of the Pyrenees. It’s one of the hottest, driest regions in France (325 sunny days per year) but perfect for producing lusciously ripe grapes. While dry red and white wines are made here, the region is known for its long tradition of making sweet, fortified vin doux naturel.
The process of making these wines is said to date back to 1299 when the king of Mallorca granted a patent to the Catalan alchemist Arnaldus de villanova who had perfected the method of using grape spirit to halt fermentation. At that time Roussillon was under Spanish rule and eventually became a center of production for this type of wine. One of the marked differences between these wines and Port, is that in Maury and Banyuls the wines are often aged in open oak barrels or glass demijohns, which exposes the wines to oxygen and heat and results in rancio flavors of dark fruit jam, fruit cake and walnuts. They also often have less alcohol than Port (around 16% compared to Port’s 20%).
Founded in 1850, La Coume du Roy is one of the oldest wineries in Maury and is currently being run by the sixth generation of winemakers, Agnes and Jean-François Bachelet. They make a variety of wines styles including dry red, white and rosé, sweet Muscat and both oxidized and maderized (heated) vin doux naturels. The 1998 La Coume du Roy Maury is made using 100%, late-harvested Grenache grapes. Yields are kept low at 20 hl/ha, ensuring each grape is concentrated with loads of flavor and sugar. The must then spends 10 months in fermentation tanks before being pressed and aged in oak barrels for 10 years. These wines can age for a century or more, so a mere 14 years in bottle is young. The wine still retains its dark red color, with only some of its garnet-tinged age appearing in the rim. This is delicious on its own with flavors of black cherry, plum, cocoa, and cedar, but an ideal match with this dark chocolate cake.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Flourless Chocolate Cake with Toasted Hazelnuts
10 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, diced
10 large egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 large egg whites
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 cups hazelnuts, toasted, coarsely chopped
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter 10-inch-diameter springform pan with 2 3/4-inch-high sides. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper round. Place chocolate and 1 1/4 cups butter in medium metal bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water; stir until mixture is melted and smooth. Remove bowl from over water; cool to lukewarm, about 10 minutes.
Using electric mixer, beat egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in large bowl until very thick and pale yellow in color, about 5 minutes. Beat in vanilla and salt. Gently fold chocolate mixture into yolk mixture. Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites and remaining 6 tablespoons sugar in another large bowl until peaks form. Fold 1/3 of beaten whites into chocolate mixture. Fold in remaining whites in 2 additions. Transfer batter to prepared pan.
Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 45 minutes (cake will be puffed and soufflé-like while baking). Cool cake in pan on rack 15 minutes (cake will fall in center). Run knife around cake sides to loosen; press edge of cake down to make level with center. Remove pan sides and cool cake completely. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and store at room temperature.
Combine chocolate and cream in medium metal bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water and stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Remove bowl from over water; let stand until ganache cools slightly but is still pourable, about 5 minutes.
Place cooled cake on rack set over rimmed baking sheet. Pour 1/2 cup ganache over top of cake. Using offset spatula, quickly spread ganache over top and sides of cake. Freeze cake 3 minutes. Pour remaining ganache over top of cake. Working quickly but gently and grasping pan bottom and rack together, slightly tilt rack with cake from side to side, allowing ganache to flow evenly over top and down sides of cake; smooth sides with offset spatula. Press hazelnuts onto sides of cake to adhere. Chill cake until ganache is set, about 1 hour. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and keep refrigerated. Let stand at room temperature 45 minutes before serving. Read More http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Flourless-Chocolate-Cake-with-Toasted-Hazelnuts-and-Brandied-Cherries-237344#ixzz2tG1ONtnK
This week a blast of Arctic air pushed the thermometer down to single digits and wind chills to well below zero. People threw water into the air and watched it turn to snow, and Niagara Falls froze solid. These frigid temps may be a bit extreme, but it’s just this kind of cold, icy weather that we have to thank for a rare and remarkable dessert wine. Ice wine (or Eiswein as it is known in Germany and Austria and Icewine in Canada) is the golden elixir that results when grapes are left on the vine well into the winter and harvested only when they freeze. Needless to say, production is miniscule and fraught with difficulties, making these wines very rare and usually very expensive.
The practice of making wine from frozen grapes may have begun with the Romans, but documentation dates it to 1794 in Germany. For almost two centuries it remained something of an oddity until the 1960s when technological innovations allowed for easier pressing of frozen grapes. For obvious reasons it’s made only in cold climate regions. Besides Germany and Austria ice wine is now produced in Canada (Ontario and British Columbia), Michigan and New York in both the Finger Lakes region and the North Fork of Long Island.
Only high-acid grapes are used: Riesling, Vidal Blanc, Sylvaner, Gewurztraminer and Cabernet Franc. Once the freeze sets in, a team of pickers rapidly descends on the vineyard to harvest. It’s back-breaking, bone-chilling work that usually happens in the early morning hours. Harvest time depends entirely on the weather; sometimes it’ll be as early as December, but it can be as late as February. In Germany the temperature has to drop to 19.4 ° F, while in Canada it’s 17.6°F. Some years the thermometer never dips low enough (as happened in Germany in 2006 and 2011), and no eiswein at all will be produced.
Freezing the grapes is actually a means of removing the water, leaving behind rich, intense must of concentrated sugars, fruit esters and acids. Only healthy grapes are picked as any infected with Botrytis cinera (or noble rot) would have been harvested earlier and used to make either beerenauslese or trockenbeerenauslese. So there is no hint of botrytis, just a lusciously sweet wine with fresh fruit flavors.
Two reasonably priced half bottles I found were Heribert Boch’s Trittenheimer Altarchen Riesling Eiswein, from 2008, $40, 8.5% abv, and Henry of Pelham Riesling Icewine from the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario, Canada, $60, 9.5% abv.
The Heribert Boch is a true Eiswein from the Mosel region of Germany. The wine was a deep golden color, almost amber, and tasted of apple cider, ripe pear and peach. The fruit here was juicier with mouth-watering acidity. The Henry of Pelham Icewine on the other hand was strikingly pale, and the flavors of pear, apricot, and candied oranges were a little more intense and focused.
Both were delicious and would be perfect all on their own. Or you could try as I did to pair them with some salty cheese: a Zamoran (manchego), an aged Gouda and a softer, farmhouse cheese from Ireland called Ardrahan. A nice blue cheese would work well too as the salty and sweet play nicely off each other. Either way these wines show the magic that can be conjured from the cold.
On a recent snowy evening my husband and I popped into our local gastropub for a late, post-movie bite. Alder is the newest restaurant from Wylie Dufresne, who first gained attention at 71 Clinton Fresh Food before opening WD-50, his innovative restaurant on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. This is where he unleashed his inner mad scientist, using techniques from the school of molecular gastronomy to create dishes such as deconstructed eggs benedict with deep fried hollandaise and aerated foie gras. At Alder, the atmosphere is more casual with a smaller menu that falls under the category of upscale pub food. Dufresne has scaled back the molecular gastronomy aspect, but his signature playfulness is still evident. He’s taken traditional pub fare and added asian accents. A pedestrian sounding pub cheese is actually made by simmering wine, garlic, shallots, thyme, bay leaf and cloves and then mixing it with cheddar, cream cheese, mustard and miso. The pigs in a blanket are Chinese sausages wrapped in hot dog buns that have been flattened through a pasta maker then wrapped around the sausage and served with Japanese mustard and sweet chili sauce. Beef tongue has the unusual accompaniments of smoked yucca, pickled cippolini, and chimichurri dashi. The flavors feel familiar, comforting, and most of all delicious.
The wines too are in line with the more casual gastropub ambitions. It’s a small but well-curated list with an emphasis on value, which means wines from lesser-known regions like the Jura, Roussillon, Jurancon, and the Languedoc. Most bottles are under $100. Dessert wines were conspicuously absent in print, but when I asked our server she told us that they did indeed have a dessert wine, though only one. But what a wine it is—a 2007 Vin de Constance from Klein Constantia in South Africa. It seemed fitting too, during this week of remembering Nelson Mandela to raise a glass of wine from his country and drink a toast to such a remarkable man, especially since this was his favorite wine.
Constantia is a small wine region southeast of Cape Town (really a suburb now). Nine producers make wine from vineyards that sweep across a large amphitheater facing False Bay. They’ve been making wine here since in 1685, and although dry whites and reds are made, it is the sweet dessert wine that originally brought fame to the region. In the 18th and 19th centuries it was a favorite among European aristocracy, including Frederick the Great, King George IV and Napoleon Bonaparte, who ordered it during his exile on St. Helena. Even Jane Austen suggested a glass of Constantia for its “healing powers on a disappointed heart.” In the late 1800s, however, phylloxera and powdery mildew decimated the area’s vines. The vineyards were sold to the government and the dessert wine production came to a halt. There things stood until 1980, when the Klein estate was bought by Duggie Jooste, who set out not just to revive the vineyards but also to recreate the famous dessert wine that hadn’t been made for nearly a century.
Klein’s new Vin de Constance is based on the original Constantia wine and made from Muscat de Frontignan. A small portion of the grapes (10%) is picked early to make a base wine with high acidity. The rest of the grapes aren’t picked until late in the harvest season and are allowed to raisin on the vine, with no help from botrytis. Picking is done by hand in tries, or passes through the vineyard, with only those grapes that have sufficiently dried being selected. Three passes are usually required. The raisined grapes are then pressed and the must placed in 500 L barrels for fermentation where they remain on their lees for up to four years. Klein’s first vintage was from 1986, but wasn’t released until 1990. Following Klein’s lead Groot Constantia began producing their own version called Grand Constance, and Buitenverwachting have their 1769.
The Vin de Constance at Alder was from 2007, considered one of the best years of the decade. The long, dry growing season produced a rich, silky wine with deep concentrated flavors of orange marmalade, apricot, honey, raisins and spice balanced with a nice taut streak of acidity. Neal Martin of Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate gave it 97 points, the highest rating a South African sweet wine has ever received. It didn’t pair well at all with the root beer pudding my husband ordered. But quite frankly, the wine was so remarkable and delicious, it was best savored all on its own. Look for Klein’s distinctive, bottom-heavy 500 cl bottles that run around $55 and drink a toast to South Africa and the man who set an example for us all.
A mere 50 miles east from some of France’s most famous vineyards in the Côte d’Or of Burgundy, lies what could easily qualify as country’s most obscure, least-heralded wine region, the Jura. Even to French wine drinkers the area’s distinctive wines remain relatively unknown. A few years back, however, they caught the attention of the wine cognoscenti in the U.S. and have been popping up on the wine lists of adventurous sommeliers ever since.
If the area is known at all it’s usually as the source for the term Jurrasic, named for the ancient limestone mountain range dating from the time when dinosaurs thrived. It turns out that the limestone, clay and marl soils provide the perfect base for growing vines. Burgundy’s signature grapes—Pinot Noir and Chardonnay—are grown here too, but the region’s uniqueness stems from wines made from grapes grown nowhere else: the reds from Poulsard (Ploussard) and Trousseau, the whites from Savagnin, often aged under a veil of yeast (sous voile), similar to how some sherries are aged, and known as Vin Jaune.
Most of the region’s wines are dry, and even though some have sherry-like flavors they are not fortified. Some producers, however, do make a little known fortified sweet wine called Macvin. It can be red, rosé or white, but all are made in similar fashion: by halting fermentation with the addition of marc brandy, usually in a 1/3 marc to 2/3 wine proportion. The resulting wine is sweet, and the alcohol is potent, somewhere between 17 and 22% abv. The wines are then aged in oak for up to six years, lending a woody, roasted walnut character.
Chateau d’Arlay is one of the famous vineyards of the region and is, in fact, said to be the oldest vineyard castle in the country. It produces mostly dry wines with only a small percentage devoted to sweet wines. Their white Macvin is made from 50% Chardonnay and 50% Savagnin but is unlike any white wine, sweet or otherwise I’ve ever tasted. The aromas alone tell you you’re in for something different, with scents of roasted walnuts, pie crust, orange and lemon peel, hazelnuts, honey, pineapple and pears. The wine is full bodied, but a tangy acidity keeps it lively. The flavors are a swirl of complexity with marzipan, pears, lemon marmalade, baked apples, honey and walnuts, but there is an unusual tartness to it too. It’s an intriguing, unique wine. We poured our half bottle of Chateau d’Arlay Macvin with a baked pear crumble made with dates, raisins and walnuts.
Baked Apple/Pear Crumble (Adapted from StraightUpFood)
1/2 cup walnuts
2 pitted dates
3 apples or pears, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Apple/Pear sauce (that will be tossed with the diced fruit, above):
2 apples/pears, peeled and dice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
5 pitted dates
¼ cup raisins
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Topping: Blend the walnuts and dates in a food processor until the texture is similar to Grape Nuts. Spoon into a small bowl and set aside.
Filling: Toss the 3 peeled, diced apples with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and set aside in a bowl. Next, in the food processor, blend all of the sauce ingredients: 2 apples, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 6 pitted dates, raisins, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Toss this mixture with the sliced apples.
Bake: Place the fruit filling into a 2-quart baking dish and sprinkle with date-nut topping. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
Preparation: 15 minutes; cooking time: 45 minutes; serves: 4
This followed a main course of homemade pizza with eggplant, artichoke hearts, peppers, onions, roasted garlic and capers accompanied by a Pater Sardus Arrugo from Sardinia.
‘Tis the season for Thanksgiving wine lists when experts recommend their best bets for what to pair with the meal’s myriad, complicated flavors: turkey, gravy, stuffing, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts and cranberry sauce. Favorites include Beaujolais crus, Rieslings, and Pinot Noirs, all wonderful choices, but that is where the lists usually end. So what to serve with the pumpkin pie? Give your holiday that extra special touch by serving a dessert wine that’s been specially chosen for the holiday’s signature desserts?
Pumpkin pie is by far my all-time favorite and even when I don’t think I have any room left I will find a way for a slice of this. Pumpkin pie is creamy, not to mention the dollop of whipped cream on top, and wonderfully rich with autumnal spices like cinnamon, cloves and allspice. What’s needed is a wine that blends with the spices and isn’t too over-the-top sweet.
- Blandy’s Five Year Old Verdelho, $25. Madeira is a great choice due to its signature high acidity that cuts through all that richness. A drier style such as Verdelho with it’s nutty, dried fruit flavors would work well. These wines tend to be less sweet than the Malmseys or Boals, but still have a fair amount of residual sugar. In the world of fortified wines this is relatively light bodied with notes of dried fruits (raisins, punes and figs) and toffee, caramel and candied ginger. Its acidity not only cuts through the rich creaminess but also has the surprising effect of refreshing the palate, which, at this point in the meal, comes as a welcome relief. Its burnt orange color, too, couldn’t be better coordinated. And if you don’t manage to finish the bottle, no worries, due to the intentional oxidation and heating during the aging process, these will keep for next year’s celebration, or the one after that or the one after that. Blandy’makes wines that are readily available here in the U.S.
- Falchini Podere Casale I Vin Santo del Chianti, $25. This wine is made from Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes that have been dried and aged in oak and cherry casks for many years. It is softer and more viscous than the Madeira but still has a bright acidity to keep it from being cloying. Flavors of candied orange, caramel, cloves and almonds work perfectly with the sweet spices of the pumpkin pie.
With its rich nutty sweetness pecan pie calls for something that can stand up to its intensity.
- Lustau Pedro Ximenez “San Emilio” Sherry, $29. Lusciously sweet, with silky, rich flavors of raisins, dried figs, dates, molasses and walnuts, this wine gets its concentration from Pedro Ximenez grapes that have been dried out in the sun for 4 to 10 days. The flavors are further concentrated by aging in the solera system that allows for controlled oxidation in barrels. If you wanted to forego pie altogether and just sip your dessert this would be the wine to have.
- Graham’s 20-year-old Tawny Port, $55. Rich and smooth, with notes of roasted walnuts, dried fruits and butterscotch, a 20-year tawny is the pinnacle of this style. The age indicated on the bottle is the average amount of time the wines have spent in wood casks. Extended wood aging slowly turns the wine a pale amber or brown, and its flavors develop from bright red fruit to concentrated dried fruit and caramel. Twenty years is the peak of a tawny’s evolution, when the tannins soften and the flavors come together to create a complex yet harmonious wine. Once opened these can be kept for about a month or two in the refrigerator (recorked of course).
There are many wines that pair well with apple pie, but if you want to keep things all American (or how about at least all North American?) than two choices come easily to mind.
- Inniskillin Vidal Icewine Niagara Pearl 2008, $54 for a half bottle (375 ml). Made from frozen grapes, icewine was originally a specialty of Germany and Austria, where it’s known as eiswein, but has turned out to be a popular wine to make in the cold climates of Canada and northern New York and Michigan. The grapes are picked while frozen on the vine, thus removing most of the water and concentrating the sugar and flavors of the grape. Some of Inniskillin’s icewines are oak aged, but his one is not, retaining the grapes fresh fruit flavors. This golden wine is silky sweet but with a refreshing amount of acidity and tastes of apricots, pears and honey.
- Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling Late Harvest Finger Lakes 2012, $30. More time on the vine translates into a sweeter, richer wine with deeper, more concentrated flavors. The Riesling grape is famous for retaining its acidity, which is critical for dessert wines, keeping them wine fresh and lively. Hermann J. Wiemer is a well-known producer from the Finger Lakes region of New York, and the wine’s flavors of ripe apple, pear and honey pair perfectly with that quintessential American dessert—apple pie.
Suddenly sherry is cool again, and perhaps no one deserves more credit for restoring its reputation than Peter Liem, a wine writer known for his champagne expertise but more recently has taken up the cause of Sherry. Last year he and Jesús Barquín, founder of Equipo Navazos, published Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla, one of the most comprehensive books about sherry to hit U.S. bookstores in decades. It was while planning for the book’s launch party that Liem and Rosemary Gray hit on the idea for Sherryfest, a three-day event with dinners, seminars and a Grand Tasting. This year it featured 27 bodegas and more than 160 sherries.
A highlight for me was a masterclass on amontillado, a style of sherry in between a fino and oloroso. Presenting the wines was an all-star line up of producers from Barbadillo and Osborne, along with Beltran Domecq, whose family has been in the sherry business for generations and is the president of the Jerez DO regulatory board. He also just published his own book on sherry. Peter Liem and Carla Rzeszewski, former Wine Director of The Spotted Pig, The Breslin, and The John Dory Oyster Bar, poured the wines.
The most poignant aspect of this tasting was in seeing how these wines evolve as they age. Life for an amontillado begins as a fino or manzanilla (a fino aged in the township of Sanlucar de Barrameda near the sea). Finos are the lightest of all sherries and are made using the solera system of fractional blending. Newly made dry wine from the Palomino grape is mixed with wine from the previous vintage, which itself is mixed with older vintages, and so on. For finos this process can last from three to eight years, all the while aging under under a layer of flor. This blanket of yeast not only protects the wine from the oxygen but also interacts with it in a way that gives finos and manzanillas their distinctive citrus and toast flavors (not oxidative since it is protected from the air) as well as their refreshing zip (the yeast consume glycerol, which gives wine a fuller mouthfeel).
After a few years of aging some finos or manzanillas may lose their flor. Sometimes this happens naturally, but more often the producer will add a few degrees of alcohol to stop its growth. The sherry is then further aged in barrels where it ages oxidatively. Producers will age them anywhere from 8 to 40 or more years. The longer it spends in barrel the more concentrated the wine becomes. The sherry darkens in color and grows in complexity, developing aromas of toffee, nuts, dried fruits and orange peel to add to the yeast and citrus notes from its life under flor. In the Osborne Amontillado I even detected the scent of grapefruit. The wines may sometimes smell as if they are sweet, however, they remain completely dry.
This process was most clearly demonstrated with three sherries from Barbadillo: Manzanilla en Rama, Amontillado Principe and Amontillado VORS. Barbadillo is one the largest producers in Sanlucar with 17 bodegas housing more than 65,000 casks. Their main manzanilla, Solear, is aged for 7 years under flor. A small portion of this wine is then aged another year before being bottled straight from the barrel without filtering (the en rama part). This is their Manzanilla en Rama and is the wine that is used to make the Amontillado Principe, which is turn is aged to make the Amontillado VORS. Compared to other manzanillas the en rama has a more intense yeasty aroma and is a lot more complex with camomile, citrus and sea spray notes. To become the amontillado it will spend another eight years in barrel without its flor and exposed to a small amount of air. The result is a darker amber color and concentrated aromas of salted caramel, nuts and dried figs, with the underlying yeast and citrus notes still coming through. The aromas suggest that the wine may taste sweet, but it is bone dry. The ultimate expression of this wine is the Amontillado VORS, which is aged a total average of 40 years. Only about 300 bottles are made every year, and it is truly an exceptional wine: full bodied and rich but still lively and precise with notes of caramel and dates that lasted forever. Alongside my tasting note I simply wrote “delicious!”
The VOS and VORS wines are made is very small quantities and much more expensive but are a real treat. VOS stands for Vinum Optimum Signatum (or Very Old Sherry) and VORS for Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum (or Very Old Rare Sherry) and have been aged 20 years or more and 30 years or more respectively.
Easier to find and definitely more affordable is the Valdespino Tio Diego Amotillado. Valdespino is a top producer whose fino Inocente is also fantastic. Valdespino is one of the few producers who own their own vineyards. These two wines are made from grapes grown on the Macharnudo Alto vineyard, known for its pure albariza soil. Fermentation takes place in American oak barrels rather than stainless steel tanks, which is more common, and they use indigenous yeasts. The wines are extraordinarily complex and (I’m repeating myself) delicious.
So, a blog about sweet and fortified wines, possibly the most under appreciated and least popular styles of wine in the country. I may be vying for the fewest-readers-of-a-blog-in-history award, but I hope not. Because within these categories are some of the finest, most complex wines made, many with the potential to age for decades (Madeiras and some Sauternes can last for more than a century). They are often painstakingly difficult to make, requiring enormous investment of effort, time and care on the part of the winemaker.
With nearly every wine-producing country in the world making a sweet or fortified wine, each with its own distinctive grape or winemaking method, the list of wines is long: off-dry Chenin Blancs from the Loire Valley, fortified port-like Banyuls from the south of France, luscious dessert wines from Tokaji, Hungary, long-lived Madeiras from Portugal, late-harvest Rieslings from Germany and botrytised dessert wines from Sauternes in Bordeaux. That’s just a small sample. It seems a shame then to let these wonderful wines go unappreciated. There is a time and a place for every style of wine and that holds true for sweet and fortified wines as well. My aim here is to explore the possibilities and shine a spotlight on these delicious, finely crafted, artisanal wines. I hope you’ll find ways to incorporate them into your life and seek out this section on the wine list the next time you go to a restaurant. Mostly, I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.