Chocolate Truffle Tart and Sparkling Wine – An Odd Couple?

I truly enjoy it when my adventure through “Winedom” takes me to unexpected places, particularly when it comes to wine and food pairings.  Such was the case when a friend suggested I give Rosa Regale a try after reading my post about our wine club’s blind Champagne Tasting.  He didn’t say much about it other than it was “great” with chocolate.  Better yet, the next day he gave me a bottle.  Yes indeed – action does speak louder than words!

After receiving the bottle, I was intrigued because Rosa Regale is a red sparkling wine.  I’m no stranger to red sparkling wine, having enjoyed one for Thanksgiving, but a red sparkling wine that would pair well with chocolate, I had to know more!

Here what I found out – Rosa Regale is produced in Italy’s Piedmont region in the Brachetto d’Acqui DOGC – Denominazione Di Origine Controllata e Garantita, which is a specific geographic area in Province of Alessandria. It’s a spumante (which means foaming) made from the Brachetto grape sourced exclusively from a single vineyard known as La Rosa. The Brachetto, is a red grape used to produce both still and sparkling wines.  It tends to produce light bodied, highly aromatic wine with a distinctive strawberry aroma.  And to my surprise I also discovered that Italy produces more sparkling wines from more different grape varieties than any other country in the world!

I decided to try the Rosa Regale with a Chocolate Truffle Tart for our Christmas Eve dinner.   The Chocolate Truffle Tart is dense, rich, intensely chocolate dessert with soft, almost gooey center abounding with bits of chopped bittersweet chocolate on top of a flaky chocolate crust that contains a touch of cinnamon.  The filling is topped with unsweetened cocoa that contrasts beautifully with sweetness of the filling.  And since up to this point whenever I’d thought of a wine to enjoy with chocolate, I thought of Port, I decided to also pair the dessert with a 1997 Dow’s Colheita Porto I had on hand.

I tried the dessert with the Rosa Regale first, and it was a wonderful pairing indeed!  The Rosa Regale was sweet enough to stand up to the sweetness of the Chocolate Truffle Tart.  I picked up raspberry flavor when I tasted the Rosa Regale, and that raspberry flavor was fabulous with the dessert.  And the two together brought to mind a bittersweet flourless chocolate cake topped with a raspberry coulis.  But what I really enjoyed about the Rosa Regale was how the acidity and effervescence inherent in a sparkler cleansed my palate for the next bite.  When pairing food and wine, options include mirroring the food, or setting up a contrast.  For me the Rosa Regale was more of a contrast because it wasn’t as sweet as the dessert, but the fruitiness was a delightful compliment to the dessert.  On the other hand, the Porto more so mirrored the sweetness of the dessert. The Porto also paired well with the dessert, but I enjoyed the Rosa Regale more.  Not only because of the contrast, and effervescence, but also because of the versatility of Rosa Regale.  Flexibility is an important consideration for me when pairing food and wine, and I can easily see how the Rosa Regale would work not only with dessert, but as an aperitif,  appetizer, or with a variety of entrees, (Spicy ethnic foods come to mind – for other pairing suggestions with Rosa Regale click here).  It easily trumps Porto for food pairing flexibility.

Yes indeed…the more I learn, the less I know…and thankfully so!

Sunday Italian Gravy – Wine Pairing Smackdown!

We invited some friends over for dinner and decided to make the classic Italian-American dish Sunday Italian Gravy (Hearty Italian Meat Sauce) from Cook’s Illustrated (click “Watch the video” at this link) .  Its a dish I made earlier this year in February for Open That Bottle Night.  We enjoyed it with a bottle of  2005 Rosenblum Cellars Kick Ranch Reserve Syrah.  It was a fabulous pairing (click  here for my blog post)

Though the Syrah was fabulous with Sunday Italian Gravy, I wondered if an Italian wine might pair even better with this hearty Italian Meat-A-Palooza comprised of six different types of meats simmered slowly in a robust tomato sauce for a few hours.   Ah yes…time for a wine pairing smack-down!

The smack-down contestants were the reigning champ – the 2005 Rosenblum Kick Ranch Reserve Syrah, and two Italian challengers  – the 2004 Pio Cesare Barolo, and 2008 Gabbiano Chianti (a last minute entry courtesy of a friend who doesn’t like to come to a dinner party empty handed – my favorite kind of friend!)

It took me about 3 hours to prepare the dish (about half the time that’s typically spent making the dish), and it turned out wonderfully! We served the hearty meat sauce with spaghetti, an Italian salad, and homemade garlic bread.

Sunday Gravy

The rules for the smack-down were simple:

  1. Get the wines ready to drink (i.e. decant the wines – 7 hours in the case of the Barolo, and 3 hours for the Syrah).
  2. Sip, savor, and tell me which you like best with the dish.

We started with the exalted Italian challenger, Barolo.  Breathing therapy seemed to help sooth the surly tannins of the brooding Italian, as the Barolo wooed the judges with its seductive aromas, complexity, balance, full body, and a staying power.  The judges were duly impressed and several asked for an encore performance all the while commenting about how well it harmonized with the Sunday Italian Gravy, and its remarkable balance.   Next up was the reigning champ hailing from California, the Kick Ranch Syrah.  Unfazed by the impressive showing of the Italian Barolo, and knowing its strengths, it quickly pounced on the judges with more vivid, though overall less complex aromas, gobs of extracted, dark, rich Sonoma fruit, sultry spiciness, and matched the body of the Italian challenger. While it didn’t have the staying power of the Barolo, it too flaunted its pairing proclivity with Sunday Italian Gravy.  Lastly, and sadly least, was the Chianti.  It should have sat out this competition of heavyweights. It was clearly the 98 pound weakling of the bunch, and the judges politely, but swiftly bounced the Chianti from the competition.

The judges conferred, and in a close, but unanimous decision avowed their preference for the… (drum roll please)

Pio Cesare Barolo!! (clickhere for my review).

Related stuff you might find interesting:

Sunday Gravy with Ween (Benito’s Wine Reviews)


Ripe Sauvignon blanc grapes.

Image via Wikipedia

We’re in the habit of bringing our own wine to restaurant, all kinds of restaurants in terms of cuisines, and price ranges. We’ve been doing it for a while.  Our motivation for doing so is to save money.  A perfect illustration of benefits of bringing your own wine (B.Y.O.W) happened when we went to a very nice restaurant in San Francisco for my wife’s birthday, the Waterbar, a seafood-centric restaurant with spectacular views of Bay, and Bay Bridge.  We took a look at the menu ahead of time, and decided to take a  bottle of  2009 Merry Edwards Russian River Sauvignon Blanc, one of our favorites.  (Click here for my review).

We were advised there would be a $25 corkage fee (A corkage fee is the amount a restaurant charges the customer to open and serve a bottle of wine brought to the restaurant. The fees can vary greatly depending on the restaurant, but they typically start at about $10).  Wow!! –  The corkage fee was almost as much as the wine, which was $30.  So you might ask, didn’t I just turn a $30 bottle of wine into a $55 bottle of wine …well yes, but as fortune would have it, when I looked the wine list, I saw another Sauvignon Blanc that a) I recognized (it was one of three memorable Sauvignon Blancs we’ve enjoyed over the last 12-18 months), and b) I considered to be comparable to the bottle of wine we brought to the restaurant.

The comparable wine (price-wise, and how much we enjoyed it-wise) was the 2009 Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc.  It was $67 per the wine list.  So, even paying the corkage of $25 we saved $12 on a bottle of wine we know we would have enjoyed as much as the wine we brought along.

Generally, when your order a bottle of wine in a restaurant, it’s 2-3 times the retail price.  The Duckhorn, for example retails for $27 on their website  (I also checked – the best price I found there for a bottle was $23).  I also saw another bottle of wine we’ve enjoyed on the wine list for $37.  I bought a bottle for $14 at  K&L Wine Merchants.

In my experience, the B.Y.O.W. philosophy works even better at more moderately price restaurants because the corkage tends to be less, and their wine list is worse, meaning you’re more likely to be charged 2x-3x for what is likely to be lower quality wine ( think White Zinfandel for $10-15/bottle, you know you can buy at your local grocery store for $5).  On the other hand,  you’re also more likely to have the wine mishandled at a moderately priced restaurant  so don’t expect a table-side bucket of ice keeping that white wine at the proper temperature to be automatically made available – you may have to give some “guidance”).

With the expensive vs. moderately priced restaurant trade-off between the lower corkage fee vs. the risk of mishandling in mind, we tend to bring wines more moderately priced wines to moderately priced restaurants, and more expensive wines to more expensive restaurants.