With the annual day of love around the corner – consider this your reminder that Tuesday is Valentine’s Day – what pairs with chocolate is a good pairing rule to know. And not just chocolate bars or chocolate cream-filled candies. Slivers of flourless chocolate cake. Chocolate fondue drizzled over fresh strawberries. Fudgy brownies.
You get the picture, right? When selecting a wine to sip with chocolate, whether it’s a handful of Hershey kisses or an elaborate four-layer cake that took you all day to make, look for wines with a heavy body, a sultry quality (smoky or intense fruit), and hints of mocha, cocoa or chocolate.
Here are a few of my picks:
2009 Layer Cake Cabernet Sauvignon (California, $16) is filled with complex layers of mocha and spice. Don’t be fooled by this virtual winery – other wines from Layer Cake include Malbec from Argentina and Shiraz from Australia – because the quality is definitely there. I challenge you to find as good a Cabernet Sauvignon at this price point too. (layercakewine.com)
2010 McManis Family Vineyards Petite Sirah (Central Valley, Calif., $11) is a testament to how awesome Petite Sirahs from California are, although they rarely receive the attention they are due. Luscious, jammy black-fruit notes are the hallmarks of Petite Sirah. This one begins with an inky purple color in the glass, with silky and expressive blackberry notes carrying through to the finish, with some white pepper and toffee on the end of the palate. (mcmanisfamilyvineyards.com)
2010 Cupcake Vineyards “Red Velvet” Red Wine (California, $14) may classify as a fruit bomb but the difference is that it’s got finesse, possessing layers of black fruit, particularly raspberries and blackberries with a mocha finish that borders on buttercream. I’ll admit I was a bit unnerved about a winery (which, by the way, is virtual just like Layer Cake) carrying the word cupcake in its name but trust me – the “Red Velvet” blend (with Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petite Sirah) will blow your slippers off this Valentine’s Day. (cupcakevineyard.com)
2010 Colores del Sol Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina, $12) contains a delightful smokiness on the palate, with intense blackberries layered with spice. This wine would be the perfect match with a deep, dark chocolate dessert. Malbecs from Mendoza are consistently an excellent value and this pick is no exception. (coloresdelsolwines.com)
DEAL OF THE WEEK
On Tuesday nights head on over to Milwaukee Street – specifically to Indulge, the slick wine bar that Marc and Marta Bianchini opened in 2008. And if you’re still scouting out a Valentine’s Day venue to host a date, this just might be it. Think dim lighting, few tables and low ceilings that kind of make you feel like you’re in a wine cave. Many of the wines are half off on this evening only. There are 300 wine selections, with about 60 available by the glass. I like how the wine list is organized, with categories like “sassy,” “voluptuous” and “fierce.” If you’re using this as a happy hour and it’s before dinner, order some gourmet nibbles, like truffle flights (yes, you read that right: four flights of five truffles), artisan cheeses and a carefully curated charcuterie selection (from Wisconsin’s own Nueske’s to foie-gras moose from Brooklyn, N.Y., and some Serrano ham from Spain).
WINE EVENT OF THE WEEK
While normally you might balk at an outdoor shopping event in early February, this year it’s hardly freezing temperatures. Tonight, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., several Whitefish Bay shops – from Elements Therapeutic Massage to Minoan Intimate Apparel, even PNC Bank and Breadsmith – will open their doors for “Wine & Chocolate” where (you guessed it!) wine and chocolate are served at no cost. The event, which also includes chair massages, live entertainment and one-night-only sales at some stores, helps support the Wisconsin Breast Cancer Coalition with information at each shop about how you can help the cause. More details are at shopwhitefishbay.com.
Okay, I realize the above event might be more of a girlfriends’ outing. That’s why I went ahead and found something more, um, unisex to do that still involves wine education. On Saturday at 7 p.m., Bacchus is hosting a wine-and-chocolate event that promises to give primers in pairing these two indulgences. For $49, you get entrance to the sit-down tasting which includes a guided tour of all things chocolate (including origins and creation) with Sean Henninger, founder of Atomic Chocolates. The same sorts of stories will be told about wine. To sign up, visit the website or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
WINE OF THE WEEK
Here’s a little history lesson: Do you know what Chile’s signature wine grape is? Answer: Carmenere. Give Carmenere a test drive on your palate with 2010 Lapostolle Carmenere, a bargain at $12 (lapostolle.com). It’s got a smoky edginess on the palate with leathery, tobacco notes before sliding into chocolate and bright, red fruit. If you aren’t sick of hearing about chocolate and red-wine pairings, listen up because this bottle will make a good companion with chocolate. I’m thinking brownies with a kick of chipotle myself.