A Spirited Seduction – Pairing Whisky, Rum, and Cognac with Chocolate

Cognac‘Tis the season for chocolate and seduction. Yes, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and you may be planning a wonderful meal to woo that special someone, or you may just be wondering what to drink with all the chocolate you’ll be receiving from your hordes of admirers.  Last year, I wrote a piece on pairing wine with chocolate (Wine and Chocolate – What More Could You Ask For?), and the year before that I paired beer with chocolate (Beer and Chocolate – The Perfect Pairing).  This year I’m pairing spirits with chocolate.  Cognac, Rum, and Whisk(e)y can actually make great partners with a variety of different types of chocolate, and pairing a fine spirit with chocolate at the end of a romantic meal can be an elegant and sophisticated way to cap off the evening.

Whisky with Bittersweet Chocolate

Whisky is best with dark or bittersweet chocolate with a high percent of cocoa.  This type of chocolate generally has roasted, smokey, earthy, woodsy, and/or fruity flavours – similar to whisky.  The smokiness of a Single Malt Scotch, for example, can pair magicallyValentine's Chocolate with the smokiness in some bittersweet chocolates and the combination can even enhance the Scotch’s fruit flavours.  Even Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey can be a great pairing with subtle cherry fruit flavours adding complexity and interest to dark chocolate.

Rum with Milk Chocolate and Caramel

Both sugarcane and cocoa are grown in the Caribbean, so it’s no wonder that rum (made from sugarcane) and chocolate complement each other so beautifully.  Think of a deconstructed rum ball.  Milk Chocolate is the sweetest of all chocolate as it contains the highest amount of sugar and cocoa butter, giving it a rich, creamy texture and sweet vanilla flavours.  Rum is rich and mellow (especially an aged rum) with flavours of caramel, molasses, creamy almond, tropical fruits, coconut, and honey, which pair perfectly with caramels and milk chocolate.  Aged rums and amber or darker rums work best.

 CognacCognac with an Assortment of Artisanal Chocolates

Pairing a good Cognac with an assortment of high quality artisanal chocolates can be a simple, yet delicious, way to end a meal, or to have as a romantic treat in front of a gently crackling fire.  Cognac is aromatic and complex, with rich flavours of fruit, spice, vanilla and toffee, which can match similar flavours in the chocolates.  The full body and smooth texture of the spirit also match the creamy, luxurious texture of the chocolates.  Try the Cognac with a variety of different chocolates to determine your favourite pairing.

Have fun and don’t be afraid to experiment with chocolate and spirits.  I’d love to know your favourite pairings.

Wine with Food – Wine for Roasted Turkey

It’s hard to believe that it’s Thanksgiving already!  Yes, Canadian turkey day is just around the corner.  Many of you may already have the menu planned out for a big feast for family and friends – turkey, stuffing, gravy, and all the fixings – but, have you thought about which wine to pair with the food?  Well, fear not…turkey is actually quite wine friendly and there are many wine styles that will pair wonderfully with a roasted turkey dinner.

The rule of serving white wine with turkey is always a safe bet, but don’t turn your back on all red wines – there are some great red wine options for turkey that play the same role as a spoonful or two of cranberry sauce.  But, no matter what colour of wine you choose, it should be relatively high in acid, low in tannin, and lighter in weight, with moderate alcohol, and little to no oak.

Sparkling Wine

Sparkling wine is a great way to start off the evening, instantly putting everyone in a celebratory mood.  However, it should not be forgotten that not only is sparkling wine an excellent way to toast the holiday, but it is also very versatile with food and pairs beautifully with a number of dishes, including turkey, so don’t be afraid to pair it with the main course! Read, “Sensational Sparkling Wine from Ontario,” for more information about Ontario sparkling wine.

Chardonnay

A good Chardonnay (especially cool-climate Chardonnay) is always a crowd pleaser at my house, and who can blame us…full of ripe fruit, creamy vanilla, and cleansing citrus and minerality.  When choosing a Chardonnay for your turkey dinner, look for ones that do not have too much oak.  Ontario produces many fine Chardonnays.  Read my post, “Seriously Cool Canadian Chardonnay”, for more details.

Riesling

Riesling is another great white wine choice for Thanksgiving dinner.  I like the dry and off-dry Rieslings with roasted turkey.  The wine’s zippy acidity cuts through the richness of the meat and gravy and leaves the palate feeling refreshed.  For information on Ontario Rieslings, please read “A Riesling Experience – Part 2 – Riesling in Ontario”.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is one of my all-time favourite grapes because it is so versatile with so many foods.  Its lighter tannins and aromas and flavours of red berries act in the same way a spoonfull of cranberry sauce works, adding a different layer of flavour to the dish.  My favourite Pinot Noirs come from the grape’s ancestral homeland of Burgundy, France, but Ontario, with a similar climate, also produces some great examples.

Gamay

Soft and fruity, Gamay is another great red to serve with Thanksgiving dinner.  The Gamay grape and is naturally light in tannins and body, and is bursting with fresh berry flavours. Beaujolais is made with Gamay and hails from the southern part of Burgundy in France.  Beaujolais labelled with the name of one of ten recognized villages known as Crus Beaujolais, are typically bigger and fuller than regular Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages, but are still good partners with roasted turkey.  The Gamay grape is also very successful in Ontario where it makes fuller, spicier versions, with the typical Gamay fruitiness.

Blends

Don’t forget about blends!  The wine you serve with Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t have to be a single varietal wine.  There are many delicious Ontario wines on the market that are blends of two, three, or more grapes varieties.  Stratus Winery is known for its premium blends – Stratus White ($44) would be a good wine for Thanksgiving.  Look for their Wildass ($19.95) label for good value blends.  Other great value blends to try are Flat Rock Cellars Twisted ($17.15) and Seriously Twisted ($23.15) whites and 13th Street White Palette ($14.95).  These wines are not only easy to drink, they are easy on the wallet too.

Leave a comment and let me know if you have any other wine ideas that you think would be a good match for Thanksgiving dinner.

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Great Ontario VQA Wines to Serve with Easter Lamb

Great Ontario VQA Wines to Serve with Easter Ham

Three Wines to Pair with BBQ’d Burgers

Canadians’ love affair with the barbecue is so deep that many of us will don huge, over-sized parkas, stand outside in the blistering cold of January, risk frost-bitten noses, and patiently wait for the perfect level of doneness of whatever we’ve thrown on the grill, as the icy wind constantly threatens to extinguish our precious flame.  All this just for a taste of summer – the charred smoky flavours of grilled meat.  But, thankfully those frigid days are behind us, for another year anyway, and barbequeing is so much easier in the warmer months.  In fact, summertime screams BBQ!

Many people may associate beer with the barbecue, but statistics show that Canadians may, in fact, be reaching for a glass of wine instead.  Sales of wine in Canada have increased in the last decade, while sales of beer, still our ‘national’ beverage, have declined.

So, what wine should you serve with a beautifully barbecued beef burger?  Well, the wine should be full and flavourful, and have the structure to stand up to the beef’s boldness.  Ripe fruit flavours, spice, and a hint of smokiness from judicious ageing in oak, will complement the flavours in the charred meat.  The wine should also have sufficient acidity to match the usually more acidic toppings we like to heap on our burgers, such as mustard, ketchup, and relish.  I prefer red wine with my burgers.  There are many red grape varieties that fit the bill, but three of my favourites to pair with bbq’d burgers are:

Malbec:

Since the Argentine’s are probably more in love with grilled meats than even Canadians, it’s not surprising that their favourite grape, Malbec, is a great match.  Most of the Malbecs we see in the LCBO are, in fact, from Argentina (and 90% of those are from Mendoza), but if you look you may be able to find a few from the French region of Cahors.  You may even find the odd bottle from Chile, California, and Canada, but these are much more rare.  Velvety, approachable, and full of fruit flavours, Malbec is very versatile with a number of grilled meats and most bottles are very reasonably priced.  Read “The Argentine Malbec Experience” for more information on Argentina’s flagship grape, or read “French Malbec” to learn more about Malbec from it’s original homeland.

Shiraz/Syrah:

Wines made from Shiraz/Syrah often have an inherent smoky, meaty character, which along with spice and black pepper notes, can be a perfect match for grilled burgers.  Many regions around the world grow great Shiraz/Syrah.  Great examples from Australia, California, Okanagan Valley, and of course, the northern Rhone (look for the appellations of Cote Rotie, Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Cornas) can easily be found. In the Southern Rhone, Syrah is generally blended with other grapes, mainly Grenache.  There are also a few good examples in Ontario and BC.  In Australia, the wines will be labelled as Shiraz, and these wines, coming from a warmer climate, are big and oozing with ripe fruit flavours, spice and chocolate.  In the cooler Rhone Valley in France, the grape is called Syrah, and will show a more floral, smoky, herbal quality.  Other places, such as California, the Okanagan Valley (BC), and numerous other regions may use either name to label their wines.

Zinfandel:

DNA fingerprinting at University of California at Davis has proven it’s the same as Italy’s Primitivo, but it is in California where Zinfandel really shines.  When say Zinfandel, I am speaking of quality red wines, not the mass-produced, bland, slightly sweet pink version.  Red Zinfandel is relatively low in tannins and high in fruit flavours, ranging from red berries to black currants, plums, prunes, and raisins.  Spice and floral notes are also very common.  Zinfandel pairs wonderfully with Burgers, especially Chili Burgers!  Zinfandel in California has become so popular that it has created a resurgence of the variety in Italy.  Many Italian versions are even labelling their wines with the grape name Primativo to make it easier for consumers to recognize.  I’ve even seen a few Italian bottles labelled as Zinfandel.

There are many other wines you may enjoy with your bbq’d burgers – leave me a comment and let me know your favourites.

Chill Out with Cool Red Wines – Beaujolais, Barbera, Pinot Noir, etc.

Next Tuesday officially marks the beginning of summer and you may be wondering what wines to stock up on for your drinking pleasure. Many of you are probably thinking about cool whites, but red wine doesn’t need to be forgotten. Here is a list of light, refreshing red wines that can even be served slightly chilled.  This article was first published on Suite101.com last summer.

When the mercury rises, many of us reach for a chilled beverage such as white wine or a cold beer to quench our thirst, reserving red wines for the cooler months. While a full-bodied, tannic Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah, or a high-alcohol Zinfandel or Amarone, may seem soupy and unpleasant in the hot summer sun, there are some reds that can be quite thirst quenching.

When choosing a red wine to enjoy in the summer, look for lighter bodied versions that are low in tannin, higher in acidity, and full of fresh fruit flavours. And don’t be afraid to stick these wines in the ice bucket, as wines with this profile have structures similar to that of white wine, making them suitable candidates for chilling.

Beaujolais

Hailing from the southern part of Burgundy, Beaujolais is the quintessential summer red. Beaujolais is made with the Gamay grape and is naturally light in tannins and body, and a method of production, called carbonic maceration, helps make wines bursting with fresh berry flavours. Look for wines labelled as Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages, or Beaujolais Nouveau, although the latter will probably be very difficult to find by the time summer roles around. Beaujolais labelled with the name of one of the ten villages known as Crus Beaujolais, are typically bigger and fuller and won’t be as refreshing in the heat.

Barbera

Wines made from the Barbera grape in the Piedmont region of Italy can also be light enough to enjoy in the heat. There are two styles of Barbera; the young, light, and fruity version, and the dark and serious version. When choosing a summer wine, choose the former. If you’re unsure of what to choose at the wine store, look for the less expensive versions as these are usually the younger versions that have not seen much time in oak, if any at all.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir comes in a myriad of styles from light and refreshing to deep, dark, and brooding. When choosing a Pinot Noir to enjoy in the summer, look for the lighter styles with lots of cherry and red berry flavours. Pinot Noir can also be found at a huge range of prices. Don’t put an expensive one in the fridge as these are typically more complex and chilling it will only dull some of its character.

Many wine regions around the world produce good quality Pinot Noirs. Keep an eye out for some good value ones from countries such as Chile and Argentina. The lesser-known French wine region of Languedoc also makes some good examples of lighter Pinot Noirs. Don’t forget about Ontario where some excellent Pinot Noir is produced.

Cabernet Franc

Care needs to be taken when choosing a Cabernet Franc, as this grape also makes a range of styles of wine. The Loire Valley in France produces very tasty, lighter-styles of Cabernet Franc. Look for the reds from the appellations of Chinon and Bourgueil for some cool options.

Cabernet Franc is also very successful in Ontario where it can make some big, full-bodied wines, and some lighter versions as well. Ask the product consultant at your local wine store for recommendations or lighter-bodied versions if you intend to chill them.

Valpolicella and Bardolino

Valpolicella and Bardolina both come from the Veneto region in Italy and are made with a blend of the same grapes: Corvina, Molinara, and Rondinella. Valpolicella is the better known of the two and can be readily found in wine stores throughout Canada. When purchasing a refreshing summer Valpolicella, avoid the ones that say Amarone, Recioto, or Ripasso on the labels as these are the more robust versions, and Recioto happens to be a sweet wine.

Bardolino is made with less of the Corvina grape and a higher proportion of the more neutral Rondinella grape, producing an even lighter-bodied wine than Valpolicella.

Pairing Light Red Wines with Food

Light-bodied red wines, such as Gamays and Pinot Noirs, that are full of fresh fruit flavours are the perfect pairing with picnic foods such as ham or turkey sandwiches, cold cuts, fresh cheese, fish, and even hot dogs.

Cabernet Franc tends to have more body and tannins and are great when paired with barbecued hamburgers and even grilled steaks.

Serving Reds Chilled

If you are chilling a red wine, serve it slightly warmer than you would a white wine – ideally at about 12 to 14 degrees Celsius. About an hour in the refrigerator or half an hour in the freezer should chill it enough. When putting wine in the freezer, be sure to set a timer to avoid cleaning up a big mess if you happen to get distracted and the bottle explodes.

Putting the bottle in an ice bucket filled with water and ice for about 20 minutes will also bring the wine’s temperature down to a nice chill. Adding a good dose of salt to the ice and water mixture will cool the wine even faster.

It isn’t recommended that you put ice cubes directly into the wine as this will only dilute it. Dropping a couple of frozen grapes into the wine will help keep it sufficiently cool on a hot summer day.

Asparagus and Wine – Not an Impossible Pairing

The bounty of fresh asparagus in the spring signals the end of a dark, dreary winter and the beginning of a bright and hopefully prosperous growing season for our local farmers.  Asparagus is one of my favourite vegetables and I always look forward to freshly picked asparagus and try to incorporate it as much as possible into my meals during the spring.  For more information on Ontario asparagus and some tasty recipes go to http://www.asparagus.on.ca.

Asparagus is a notoriously difficult vegetable to pair with wine.  Certain compounds found in asparagus are responsible for its grassy, sometimes sulphurous aromas and flavours (and the mysterious asparagus pee), which along with its natural vegetal character can clash with wine, turning it metallic and bitter.

Make Asparagus More Wine Friendly

There are a couple of ways to cook and serve asparagus to help make it more wine friendly:

* Grill it so it has a degree of char to help soften and round out some of its grassy, vegetal qualities.

* Serve it with a creamy sauce or dressing – cheese, hollandaise, etc.

* Combine it with other, more wine friendly ingredients – Proscuitto, mushrooms, cheese, etc.

Wines to Pair with Asparagus

While it is possible to find wine to pair with asparagus, there are some wines that should definitely be avoided.  Big, oaky Chardonnays and tannic reds are not good partners with asparagus.  I recommend serving a light, crisp white wine, but if you must serve a red, it’s best to choose one that is relatively light in body and very low in tannins.  Pinot Noir or Gamay would probably be your best bets, especially with grilled asparagus.

Here are my favourites:

Sauvignon Blanc:  This is my favourite pairing with asparagus.  This grape typically produces crisp, refreshing and mouthwatering wines full of aromas and flavours including gooseberry, grapefruit, fresh green grass, and minerals.  The wine’s green fruit flavours and grassiness make it match and not clash with the dish.  There are a few different styles of Sauvignon Blanc (oaked versions should be avoided with asparagus).  Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre or Pouilly Fume from the Loire Valley in France have slightly more subtle aromas and flavours than the pungent Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand.  I like both versions with Sauvignon Blanc, but some people feel New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc combined with asparagus gives a bit too much of that green grassy flavour.  Crumble a little goat’s cheese over the asparagus to really make this pairing work.

Pinot Gris/Grigio:  Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the same grape but called different things depending on where it was produced.  This grape made in Alsace, France is called Pinot Gris and is generally a more full and aromatic version.  In Italy, it is called Pinot Grigio, and is typically lighter with more delicate flavours.  When produced in other wine regions, it can be known by either name.

Grüner Veltliner:  This is the most widely planted grape in Austria.  The wines are dry, medium-bodied, and have crisp acidity with aromas and flavours that include mineral, herbal, floral, white pepper and spice.  Grüner Veltliner is very versatile with food and not only pairs well with asparagus, but another notoriously difficult vegetable – the artichoke.

Riesling:  Another crisp, zippy wine that is very food friendly, especially lighter fare like fish, pork, chicken, duck, and yes…veggies.  I prefer the dry or slightly off-dry versions to pair with asparagus.  Great examples of Riesling are made in Ontario, Australia, Alsace, and of course, Germany.

A few other wines that were recommended in my survey were:

Semillon:  Good examples are made in Australia and a small amount in Ontario.

Chenin Blanc:  Good examples come from the Loire Valley in France and some from South Africa.

Great Wines for Mother’s Day Celebrations

Now that we are well into spring and Mother’s Day is fast approaching, you may be wondering how to celebrate this special day. What better way to honour your mother than treating her to a nice meal served with a well-chosen bottle of wine?

When choosing a wine for Mother’s Day, you may want to look for lighter styles. As the weather starts to get warmer in the early days of May, we tend to crave more refreshing lighter-bodied wines. Lighter wines also generally pair better with the types of foods traditionally served for Mother’s Day brunches and lunches.

Below are 4 different styles of wine that would make any mother happy.

Champagne/Sparkling Wine

Champagne is always a great choice, not only because it is the ultimate celebratory wine, but also because throughout history there have been several powerful women who played significant roles in making Champagne the famous wine it is today.

Two women in particular, the Veuve (widow) Clicquot Ponsardin and Louise Pommery, defied all odds, breaking into the male dominated business world to create two of the most celebrated Champagne houses ever. Both women changed the way Champagne was made and marketed, and many of their ideas are still in use to this day. Veuve Clicquot blazed a trail for the mass production of Champagne by inventing a quicker and easier way to disgorge the wine (remove the sediment) that is still used in the production of fine sparkling wine around the world. Madame Pommery was first to make the drier Brut style of Champagne that is now so popular. Later, in the middle of the 20th century, another woman, Lily Bollinger, headed the famous house of Bollinger.

Champagne is a great pairing with numerous dishes including eggs and egg-based dishes such as frittatas, quiches, and omelets, which are commonly served at Mother’s Day brunches. French toast and pancakes also go well with Champagne. Try a pink Champagne for an added festive flair.

Sparkling wine made using the traditional method (the same method used to make Champagne) can be a slightly less expensive, but still tasty, alternative to Champagne.  Traditional method sparkling wines are made all over the world.  In France they may be labeled as ‘Cremant’.  Ontario also makes excellent sparkling wines.

Another great way to serve sparkling wine at brunch is to make it into a sparkling wine cocktail. Mimosas are a fun way to jazz up plain orange juice.

Gewurztraminer

Does your mother love the fresh aromas of blossoms on a springtime day? Why not give her an aromatic Gewurztraminer to match that exquisite perfume?

Gewurztraminer is a green grape that makes beautifully scented white wines reminiscent of fresh rose petals and lychee fruit. Lilac, cinnamon, orange blossom, honeysuckle, bergamot, and citrus peel are other common descriptors for these wines. Great Gewurztraminers can be found from Alsace, France and Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula, among other places.

Dry wines made from Gewurztraminer would be a great pairing for brunch where pancakes topped with tropical fruit are served. If you prefer to treat your mother to a light lunch then Gewurztraminer works wonderfully with just about any kind of seafood. Or, if you want to give her the night off from cooking and treat her to take-out, Gewurztraminer is one of the few wines that pairs well with Chinese, Thai, or Indian food.

Gewurztraminer can also be made into an intoxicating sweet wine. There are many excellent examples of Gewurztraminer Icewines from Ontario. Alsace also makes wonderful sweet Gewurztraminers which are can be labelled as either vendange tardive (which can also be dry so you’ll need to ask at the store), or the much more rare and lusciously sweet sélection de grains nobles. Sweet Gewurztraminers make an excellent partner with fruit tart desserts.

Pink Wines

Rosés are usually light- to medium-bodied pink wines made from red grapes. They get their pink colour by spending minimal contact with the grape skins where all the colour pigments are located. Red wines are a darker colour because they spend a much longer time macerating with the skins.

Any number of red grapes can be made into a pink wine and just about every wine region in the world makes at least some. Pink wines typically have a fresh fruity character and are very pleasant to drink. They can range in style from dry to very sweet.

Rosé or pink wine always adds a nice burst of colour to a spring or summer table and are a great match to a number of dishes. Dry rosés pair well with quiche, paté, ham, salmon and other seafood, prosciutto, and even hamburgers and hotdogs.

Pinot Noir

If your mother prefers red wine then Pinot Noir may be the answer.  Pinot Noir is made throughout the world and can be elegant and sophisticated – just like your mother.  The grape is relatively low in tannin with fresh red, sometimes dark berry flavours that pair well with salmon, ham, proscuitto, and even lamb or hamburgers.  Look for Pinot Noir from Burgundy (France), Central Otago (New Zealand), Oregon (USA), Chile, or Ontario for some good examples.

This article was slightly altered from an article I wrote last year and published on Suite101.com.

Survey Question: What Wine Do You Serve with Asparagus, Fiddleheads, and Ramps?

Every Spring I look forward to nature’s bounty of fresh asparagus, fiddleheads, and ramps (wild leeks) and try to incorporate them as much as possible into my suppertime meals.  The season for these delicious fresh vegetables grown in our own backyard is very short so it always seems like a special time of year.

Unfortunately, these vegetables can be quite unfriendly with wine, turning the combination into something that just…well…doesn’t taste good.  But, there are some wines that do, in fact, pair well with these troublesome veggies, so  I thought it would be fun to ask you, my readers, for your favourites.  Fill out the survey below and let me know what wines you like to serve with asparagus, fiddleheads, and/or ramps.  If you would like to add more information then leave a reply in the comment area below.

For more information on wines that pair well with asparagus read my post, “Wine and Asparagus – Not an Impossible Pairing”.

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