Valentine’s Day is all about chocolate and, for many, wine. Bringing the two together seems easy enough, but not all matches are equal. While many pairings are satisfactory, only a few have a true mix of passion, panache and palatable bliss. For Port and chocolate, I do believe it is a match made in hedonist heaven.
Port is a fortified wine from the remote vineyards in Portugal’s Douro Valley. Its name originates from the city of Oporto, situated at the mouth of the Rio Douro, or River of Gold. The history of Port began in the 17th century.
The Portuguese had been making wine for hundreds of years since the Romans introduced wine to the Iberian Peninsula in the 1st century B.C. By the beginning of the 1700s, they were shipping as many as 1.2 million cases of wine down the Douro River to Oporto each year. From there it was sold throughout Portugal and Europe, especially in England.
Because of the geo-politics of Europe in the mid-1700s, the British developed Portuguese wine into Port. Wine shipped from Portugal to England would often spoil along the way; thus, fortification was introduced to improve the shipping and shelf-life of the wine for its journey. Producers of Port are still referred to as “shippers” today.
Many Port-style wines are made around the world, most notably in Australia, South Africa and the United States; however, the strict usage of the terms Port or Porto refer only to wines produced in Portugal.
Port as Aphrodisiac
It has long since been believed that Port wine is one of the strongest aphrodisiacs when it comes to alcoholic beverages. It is said to enhance intimacy especially when served with strawberries. White Port wine is said to have more seductive properties over the red variety.
Fortified wine’s alluring bouquet, tang on the tongue and mellowing effect make it the perfect concoction for romance. Add chocolate, another accepted aphrodisiac, and the two together inspire sensuality and simple pleasure.
Pairing Port and Chocolate
There are some helpful conventions for pairing wine with chocolate. The wine should be sweeter than the chocolate; and since chocolate coats the mouth, it’s best to select a wine that can cut through the richness. Finally, it is ideal to find similar flavors in both the chocolate and wine.
There are other considerations when pairing Port with chocolate. For instance, milk chocolate contains a small amount of cacao and is the sweetest of chocolates, with high sugar content, which pairs better with Tawny Ports. Chocolates containing 50 to 70 percent cacao are considered semi-sweet and the sweetest of the dark chocolates. With hints of earthiness or spice, these pair perfectly with Ruby Ports. Bittersweet dark chocolates, with 71 to 100 percent cacao, are the richest and most intense and can also be paired with Ruby Ports and, most elegant of all, true vintage Ports.
When tasting wine with chocolate, first take a sip and allow the wine to coat your mouth. Take a bite of the chocolate, and let it slowly melt on your tongue, then sip the wine once again. Enjoy and take note of the sweet romance.
Leah Jorgensen is a communications expert who has worked in the wine industry for over a decade. She consults for several wineries and writes about travel, wine and gluten-free living.
Oregon Ports and Chocolates
2007 Abacela Winery Umpqua Valley Port
This outstanding Port is made from the five traditional Douro winegrapes—Tempranillo (53 percent), Bastardo (19 percent), Tinta Amarela (13 percent), Tinta Cão (9 percent), Touriga Naçional (6 percent)—grown on Abacela’s Estate Fault Line Vineyards. Warm notes of violets, clove honey, candied orange peel, pumpkin pie filling and dried figs make this wine a natural for pairing with chocolate.
Xocolatl de David “Orange Cardamom”
Dark chocolate topped with candied orange peel
The shared candied orange peel flavors in the wine and chocolate were pure magic, very delicate. After the second sip, the dark chocolate became dusty with hints of Grand Marnier.
Kekau “Lavender Caramel Cream”
Caramel cream made with dark chocolate and infused with lavender
There was an earthiness that the wine brought forth from the chocolate. The infused lavender floated in the mouth, with the dark chocolate flavors rounding out the finish, which showcased the nibs unadulterated without the sugars persisting.
Non-Vintage Chateau Bianca Wetzel’s Fireside Willamette Valley Port
This non-vintage estate-grown Port is rich with hints of hazelnut, dark fruits and bacon. The earthy, dusty, nutty flavors paired deliciously with the following savory-sweet chocolates.
Xocolatl de David “Salt & Pepper”
Dark chocolate topped with fleur de sel and Sichuan peppercorn
The notes of bacon and roasted nutmeats detected in the wine mingled well with the rich, dark chocolate and its subtle salt and pepper seasoning.
Honest Chocolates “Salty Caramel”
Caramel made with dark chocolate, Heavenly Honey Farm blackberry honey and topped with sea salt
This was a surprise, as it seemed the salty component would be too much for a Port. Rather, it invited more fig and cherry-almond flavors from the wine.
2003 Eola Hills Wine Cellars Reserve LBV Cabernet Sauvignon Port
LBV stands for “late-bottled vintage,” and is intended to provide the experience of drinking a Vintage Port but without the need for lengthy bottle aging. Fermentation was halted with the addition of Eau de Vie (un-aged brandy), and the wine was barrel-aged for four years. Hints of pine, toasted coconut and burnt sugar with rich, nutty flavors of earth, marzipan, fig, cocoa and spice make this wine a stand-out.
Sweet Masterpiece “Mendiant”
Dark chocolate disk studded with toasted coconut, almond and fig
The shared flavors of toasted coconut, marzipan/almond and fig brought about as much pleasure as a chocolate and Port pairing could conjure.
Coco & Co. “La Framboise”
Raspberry liquor ganache dipped in dark chocolate and topped with raspberry confiture
While there weren’t raspberry hints in the Port, per se, the complement was quite lovely. The marzipan and nutty flavors of the Port really came out when tasting the ganache. The raspberry hints finished with richness and not a syrupy sweetness.
Remy Wines “Beneficio” Port-style Barbera
Made with grapes from Rosebud Vineyards in Mattawa, Wash, this wine was fortified with Grape Neutral Spirits from Clear Creek Distillery, and was barrel aged for three years. While it is not called a Port, the name “Beneficio” refers to the process of adding spirits to the fermentation to stop it. Here’s a beauty layered with dark chocolate, fig, juicy red berries, brandied cherries and a hint of eucalyptus and briar in the nose. A trace of spice on the finish lingers with a spark of dark cherries.
Xocolatl de David “Rose Hips & Berries”
Dark chocolate made with rose hips and berries
The Port cuts into the richness of the chocolate, which, together, melt in the mouth and burst with dusty cocoa, nuttiness and a rush of brandied cherries, berries, with rose hips on the finish.
Coastal Mist “Wild Cherry Chocolate”
Tart cherry enrobed by soft chocolate encased in a dark chocolate shell
The dense chocolate center is layered around a center filled with a touch of liquor soaking just the dried wild cherry, which matches the flavors of dark and brandied cherries in the Port.
2007 Troon Vineyard “Insomnia” Port
Made with 100-percent Tempranillo from Conner Vineyard in the Applegate Valley, this fortified wine’s name refers to the tradition of staying up all hours for several nights monitoring the ferment, which, for the 2007 vintage, happened in perfectly controlled, reasonable conditions in the early evening. The wine has hints of baking spice, sugar cookie, cedar and roasted nutmeats, with dusty, earthy flavors on the backend, along with a surprising edge of minerality and sweet-tart cran-raisins.
Honest Chocolates “Troon Ganache”
Firm dark chocolate ganache made with Insomnia Port reduction
A custom-made confection for Troon Vineyard, the ganache and the wine both bring out the dusty, earthy cocoa nuances in the other, along with an understated hint of coconut.
Coco & Co. “La Classique”
Dark chocolate and vanilla ganache truffle rolled in organic cocoa
Again, the dusty nature of both the wine and chocolate is prominent. Here, the dust is really exquisite and much more rich and nutty in character.
Non-Vintage Van Duzer Vineyards “Windfall” Pinot Noir Port
This is an engaging wine with hints of gingerbread, German spice cookies, figs and rich flavors of chocolate raspberries and Amaretto cherries with very firm tannins.
Kekau “Cherry Marzipan”
Marzipan made with milk chocolate and cherries
This is a delicious yet simple greeting of almond paste and cherries on the palate. It finishes with hints of the gingerbread and spice cookie notes from the wine.
Coastal Mist “Raspberry Chocolate”
Dark chocolate shell filled with homemade raspberry jam and dark chocolate ganache
The darkness of this chocolate really enhanced the rich flavors of chocolate raspberries in the wine. Firm tannins of the wine lingered with flavors of dusty cocoa and raspberry jam.
Special thanks to David Speer, owner of Red Slate Wine Bar in Portland, for hosting this Port and chocolate tasting. For more details on Red Slate, visit www.redslatewine.com.
Abacela Winery, Roseburg
Chateau Bianca, Dallas
Eola Hills Wine Cellars, Rickreall
Remy Wines, McMinnville
Troon Vineyard, Grants Pass
Van Duzer Vineyards, Dallas
Coastal Mist Fine Chocolates
& Desserts, Bandon
Coco & Co. Fine Chocolates, Portland
Honest Chocolates, Carlton (kitchen), stores in McMinnville & Newberg
Kekau/Nib Wine Bar, Eugene
Sweet Masterpiece, Portland
Xocolatl de David, Portland