Sunday, December 23, 2012

Chocolate Pairing Perfection: Smokey Blue Truffles and LBV Port

Last year at this time, I was riding the "through train" south from Mainland China into Hong Kong to meet an Englishman of roughly Ecuadoran extraction whom I referred to affectionately as my "gentleman friend."  This Christmas I'm staying a little closer to home and the aforementioned fellow no longer occupies the same position, though he is still a gentleman and a friend, and I would still refer to him affectionately as each of those things.  He's also responsible for introducing me to one of the great symbols of British holiday spirit (and of one of the world's first modern bilateral trade agreements): Port and Stilton.

I'm inclined to repeat the experiment.  But this year, I'm shifting my focus away from the catch-all emporium of Anglo items known as the Marks and Spencer food store (a haven during my expatriate days in Asia) and toward artisan products with which I've been lucky to become familiar.  That means an American blue cheese and a bottle of famous fortified wine from one of the distilleries along the Douro in Oporto (or more accurately in Vila Nova de Gaia, just across the river from the city that gives the wine its name).  And -- because I'm the one writing the story -- the tasting also includes an inventive addition of chocolate.

I'm talking about the bizarre, sultry, palate-mesmerizing Smokey Blue truffles made with a blend of west-coast blue-veined goodness and Costa Rican couverture by the charming, long-haired Jeff Shepherd of Lillie Belle Farms in Oregon.  And my glass of choice is a late-bottled vintage from the Sandeman Cellers, since I'm lured in by the brand's 85-year-old silhouetted caped crusader (an image that adorns every bottle).

The hints of cherry and raspberry in a ruby port make that young version of the Portuguese dessert wine the first choice for chocolate pairings.  But many a sommelier will steer you closer to a stronger, taller, and nuttier tawny port when it comes to blue cheese.  The LBV I settled on -- a slightly older and wiser wine that takes on the characteristics of dried fruits and even chocolate itself, lingering longer after the first sip -- can suit both the chocolate and the cheese.

Perfect matches take work.  It's worthwhile to ask for a little help.  In Oporto, you could turn to the wine book at the stately Yeatman Hotel or to the extraordinarily delightful family owners of O Arco da Ribeira at the river's edge ("you're traveling alone?" they said to me when I visited, "sit down for a glass of wine and some roast chicken").  I worked closer in this weekend and called Eric at the Winery on 116th and Broadway in Manhattan.


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