What to drink… Master of Wine Richard Hemming suggests three wines to get you in the Christmas spirit
Chocolate is a tricky ingredient to match with wine. Only a few really do it justice. In Roussillon, they have been quietly producing the sorts of sweet wines that make ideal bedfellows with chocolate for many centuries. Three villages lend their names to the appellations contrôlées that appear on the labels of: Maury, Rivesaltes and Banyuls.
Technically, they are classified as vins doux naturels, which determines the specific methods that must be followed in their production. The most pertinent is known as mutage, whereby distilled alcohol is added to a wine shortly after it starts fermenting. The effect is to instantly kill the yeasts, stopping them from consuming all the sugar, as they would for a normal dry table wine. The resulting concoction contains both plenty of sugar and plenty of alcohol, all thanks to the fortification process.
Sound familiar? Port from the Douro valley in Portugal is the world’s best
Pouderoux, Seriously Plummy NV Maury £10.99/half Waitrose The best of the supermarket offerings, this is fiery and rich with plenty of sweet, dark fruit flavour. Try serving it very slightly chilled to mellow that fiery character. known example of this style, and French vins doux naturels share many similarities. One main difference, though, is in the grape varieties used.
Vins doux naturels come in two colours. The reds are based mainly on Grenache, the key ingredient of the Rhône Valley stalwart, Châteauneuf-duPape, while Muscat is the main grape for whites.
For this recipe, I’d favour the red versions. Their rich, ripe berry flavour has a natural affinity with chocolate, and often displays a nutty sort of character that would match the chestnut purée. Plus, the spirit used for fortifying these wines is brandy – nicely echoing an essential part of the bûche de Noël. Specialist wines such as these can be tricky to track down. Many supermarkets don’t stock them, and those that do, tend to offer cheap versions that are best avoided. There is one notable exception, from Waitrose, which I have listed below along with two others that are worth making a special effort to find.
Fontanel 2011 Maury £17.50 stonevine.co.uk Exemplary stuff: overripe red fruit, with great intensity and a lovely smoky scent – full on but not overbearing. A gentle giant that will bring some wow factor to your Christmas celebrations.
Cazes 2010 Muscat de Rivesaltes £9.95/half WineTrust100.co.uk and independents nationwide If you fancy trying white instead of red, this is a classic example of sweet, fortified Muscat from a producer in Rivesaltes, with a spirity kick.