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WINE BANTER by John Haggard - February 2015


WINE BANTER by John Haggard
February 2015

by John Haggard

Whether you are going out for dinner or preparing a meal at home, you may well be considering chocolates in the month of love as a gift. Why not elevate the chocolate further by pairing it with the perfect wine.

My first experience of such a pairing was with chocolate truffles and cabernet back in 1984 when a friend, Gloria, invited us over for a food and wine pairing. The highlight of the evening was the Cabernet Sauvignon chocolate truffles paired with a 1976 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon. The truffle center was made of flourless chocolate cake which had been infused with the Cabernet. The exterior of the truffle was coated in dark chocolate. The pairing was truly spectacular. Since then, I’ve found that chocolate can be paired with varietals other than Bordeauxs and the Bordeaux blends such as a Late Harvest Zinfandel, for example.

Dark berry characteristics pair best with dark chocolate. A perfect such pairing would be the Thumbprint Cabernet 2010 Lisa’a Vineyard, Knight’s Valley (ret $54).  If you’re considering a wine with a red fruit characteristic it’s always best to have chocolate that is flavored with red berries: raspberry, strawberry, red cherry. Choose a wine such as Philip Staley Grenache 2012 Russian River Valley (ret $30) or Harvest Moon Late Harvest Zinfandel 2013 (ret $32, 375ml).

Milk chocolate typically calls out for a smooth and silky red wine with a little less new oak, a great pairing for milk chocolate being Portalupi Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2013 (ret $28).

And then there’s white chocolate – my favorite pairing with white chocolate are the tawny ports; barrel-aged between 5 and 50 years and fortified over those years, continually being topped up with an alcohol that ranges between 19 and 20.5. Every bottle of tawny will have a number on the front in which it denotes years 5, 10 or 15, meaning everything blended into the tawny is at least 5, 10 or 15 years of age. However, they are also able to blend older vintages into the tawny to create consistency for every year the tawny has been released. The 5 through 15 tawnies tend to be much spicier which comes from the cask (barrel).The spiciness in those tawnies works exceptionally with white chocolate, however, when you start getting into the older tawnies, 20 to 50 years, there is much less spice and far more caramel candy flavors as well as hazelnut and golden raisin. The hazelnut is accompanied by a subtle almond-paste quality, and, of course, with age comes expense. The good news is, with this extra expense comes a beautiful silky palate feel. A wonderful aged tawny is the Krohn 30 year Tawny Port from Portugal (ret $85.00).  Older tawnies, which will pair with white chocolate also make a delicious pairing for desserts such as peach tartin.

All tawnies have slowly oxidized over the years with continuous fortification of grappa (also known as brandy) allowing the tawny to age gracefully. Once the tawny has been opened, it can remain on your counter for a decade. Very little will change in its characteristic provided it will not go over 70 degrees. One trick to extend its life even further is to refrigerate, pouring the wine twenty minutes or more prior to consuming it, allowing the tawny to come to room temperature.

The final perfect part of a chocolate and wine pairing is LOVE – I’ll leave that up to you!

37th Annual Barrel Tasting March 6-8 & March 13-15, 11am - 4pm each day

There are two weekends of Barrel tasting in three of Sonoma’s larger appellations, the Russian River Valley, Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys. There is an opportunity to buy futures and wines at a discount. Attendees are encouraged to pack a picnic as most wineries will not have food for this event. For more information, visit Make a weekend of it: check out for lodging information.


John Haggard is owner of Sophie’s Cellars, Sonoma Wine Tasting in Duncans Mills, California. Sophie’s Cellars is open Thu, Sat, Sun and Mon: 11am – 5pm, Fri:  11am-7pm (Local’s Night, Friday, 4-7pm, and you don’t have to be a local to join us).