Port and chocolate make a luscious pairing, especially on a cold and even snowy St. Valentine’s Day. Port also pairs wonderfully with cheeses and nuts, or it can simply be enjoyed on its own around a fire.
WHICH PORT TO SERVE? A brief Port Primer: Authentic Port comes from grapes grown on the terraced hillsides in Portugal’s spectacular Douro river gorge.
A few ports are made from white grapes but most are made from red grapes. Ports made with red grapes can be divided into two families: tawny ports and ruby ports.
TAWNY PORTS are aged in wood barrels for a minimum of seven years; the best age for decades in casks. As it ages, the wine loses much of the reddish color and becomes more caramel or “tawny” colored. At the same time, the winey flavors become subdued and the undertones of caramel, walnuts, and orange peel emerge into the forefront. The port lodges release a basic, seven-year-old tawny, (usually called “Tawny port” or “Fine Tawny”) as well as blends, labeled 10, 20, 30, or 40 years which indicate the average age of the wines used in each bottling. Each producer has a house style for their blends, and the winemaker mixes available vintages so that the flavor profile is consistent, no matter which year it is purchased.
COLHEITAS are unblended tawny port from a specific harvest. Colheitas are available for many years going back as far as 1937. The grapes used in a colheita tawny are entirely from a specific vintage and reflect the conditions of that particular year. For example, a 2001 Colheita shows twenty years of barrel aging in its subtle flavors whereas a 20-Year-old blend contains an average of 20-year-old wines including some younger port to lend vibrancy to its flavor profile. If you have a tawny port tasting, the difference between a blended tawny and a colheita tawny is worth exploring. Also, tawny ports are excellent gifts to commemorate a significant birthday (for example, a 30-year-old tawny is great for a 30th birthday or anniversary, or choose a colheita tawny from the birth or wedding year).
RED PORTS or Ruby Ports are barrel-aged for much less time than a tawny style port. They are wine-colored and have the distinct nose and flavor of sweet wine carefully balanced with tannins. Port lodges bottle a basic Ruby Port as well as Late Bottled Vintage ports (LBV) which are ready to drink when released. They tend to be a rich, deep purple color with moderately sweet fruit flavors of black plumb and berries. LBVs are more complex than Ruby Ports.
VINTAGE PORTS are the flagship wines of Port Lodges. They are bottled and released with great fanfare two years after the harvest. Only wines from great harvests become declared Vintage Ports (historically about 3 times per decade) but with climate change and modern wine-making techniques, vintage port declarations have become more frequent. There are also “single Quinta Vintage Ports” which are from a single estate that had an exemplary harvest, in years when the general harvest was not as great. Vintage ports are released two years after the harvest. When released they are still very young and need to be aged for twenty years or more before they are ready to drink. For this reason, people sometimes lay down a bottle of vintage port from a child’s birth year for them to drink on their twenty-first birthday.
We have two new dark chocolates for Valentine’s Day:
Comptoir du Cacao Coeur A special chocolate bar for Valentine’s Day or just to express love! A dark chocolate bar (72% Cocoa minimum) topped with spectacular red-colored hearts. The cacao beans are from West Africa. Pair with an LBV port.
Heart-shaped chocolate Alfajores – Two shortbread cookies joined with dulce de leche (thick caramel-like deliciousness). The word alfajor stems from the Arabic al-hasú, which means filled or stuffed. Alfajores originated in Moorish Spain and then hopped the pond to South America where they flourished, Pair with Tawny Port
Other chocolates that are excellent with port-
Blanxart Catanias – Roasted Marcona almonds coated with chocolate. Pair with Tawny Port
Rabitos Royale – Figs filled with brandy ganache, coated in dark chocolate. Pair with Tawny Port
Caro Orange Delights – Orange slices dipped in chocolate. Pair with Tawny Port
Mathez French Cocao Truffles. Pair with a Ruby or LBV Port
Valrhona Chocolate Lava Cake. Pair with an LBV or Vintage port
PORT AND CHEESE PAIRINGS
Vintage ports are powerful wines, with concentrated fruit, spice notes, and substantial tannins. They are delicious with hearty blue cheeses such as Roquefort Paillon, Cabrales, or Andazul, a blue cheese made from goat’s milk. Adding dried figs, dates, raisins, and walnuts to the cheese board brings extra dimensions.
Tawny ports with 20 years or more of aging are wonderful with hard, salty cheeses such as Comte, Beaufort d’Ete, and aged Manchego. Serve Membrillo (quince paste) and Marcona almonds to balance the sweetness of the port.
CHOCOLATE PORT WINE CAKE
Red Port and chocolate are old friends and they mingle in this intensely rich chocolate cake. Serves 10
2/3 cup Kopke Fine Ruby or LBV Port*
5 oz Unsalted French butter*
6 oz Valrhona chocolate feves, or bittersweet chocolate chopped*
4 large Eggs separated, room temperature
4 oz Blanched marcona almonds*
¾ cup Sugar, split
1 cup Flour
* Ingredients available at Paris-Madrid Grocery
Preheat oven to 350º
Warm the chocolate, butter and port in double boiler until melted, then set aside to cool to lukewarm.
Put the almonds and 1 tablespoon sugar in a food processor and pulsing to grind them into a powder. The sugar will help prevent the almonds from turning into nut butter.
Whip the egg yolks and ½ cup of the sugar with an electric beater on high for 3 minutes until slightly increased in volume.
Reduce beater speed to low and incorporate the chocolate mixture.
Clean and dry the beaters and whip the egg whites with the other ¼ cup of sugar until they peak (If the beaters are not dry, the eggs may not peak properly).
Gently fold half the egg whites into the chocolate-egg yolk batter then the other half. Mix until just incorporated.
Bake in a 9 inch cake pan lined with parchment paper.
Cover top with bittersweet chocolate frosting:
1 cup Whipping Cream
8 oz Valrhona Chocolate Feves
Bring cream to boil.
Whisk in chocolate.
Cool to room temperature, then spread over cake.