Wine columnist R. VERONIQUE FITZGERALD is a wine consultant and writer based in New York City.
Updated March 2009
Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Wine
Chocolate Molten Lava Cake
Page 4: Wines To Serve With The
Cake ~ Muscat, Banyuls & Lacrima
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Muscat is a family of grapes,* widely used in various wine styles around the world—from Asti in Italy, where it makes a sweet bubbly that is a mere 5.5% alcohol, to the southern Australian state of Victoria, where it is vinified and fortified to upwards of 16% alcohol by volume. No matter where it shows up, one can always identify it by its heady aroma. When it’s sweet, it is the one wine grape that actually tastes like grape. When it is dry, it is decidedly floral and coy, particularly reminiscent of lavender and bergamot.
- Rutherglen Estates Rutherglen Muscat NV ($22.00, 375ml). Rutherglen is a fortified Muscat from Australia. This Victorian standard was a great match for the Molten Lava Chocolate Cake. At 17% alcohol by volume, it was not too hot to combat the temperature of the cake, and its rich caramel and nutty flavors created a match made in heaven.
*It’s a big family. Muscat Blanc is used to make Asti, Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise and some Tokaji wines; Moscatel de Setúbal and Moscatel de Favaios are the most widely-grown varieties in Portugal; Muscat of Alexandria or Moscatel, is used for sherry, moscatel or muscatel wines; Muscat Ottonel is used for dry wines in Alsace and Hungary and for dessert wines in Austria and Croatia; Orange Muscat is used for dessert wines in California and Australia, among others.
Banyuls is a vin doux naturel from the Languedoc-Roussillon. A vin doux naturel is a lightly fortified wine typically made from white Muscat grapes or red Grenache grapes. In the case of Banyuls, it is the latter, and by law the wine must contain at least 50% Grenache (although the grape varieties are not usually listed on the label). Despite the classification “doux,” the wine is not naturally sweet, as it is fortified in much the same way as Port, to retain residual sugar. Because the spirit is added while the skins are still in the vat, a great variety of flavors emerge in the wine.
- Ey Vigne d’en Traginer Banyuls 2000 ($28.00, 375ml half bottle size). This southern French charmer is rich with aromas and flavors of ripe berries and tangerine and a hint of intentional oxidation. The wine flavors complement the flavors in the cake beautifully, as do a hint of earthiness in the wine. We would have also loved to taste a Maury with this cake, as there are a few rather old ones around (I’ve seen vintages 1925 and 1965 in retail stores—these were held in barrels over the years and bottled only very recently to sell) to be had for a mini-fortune. With age, these wines take on lovely walnut and caramel flavors that might have been great with the Molten Lava Chocolate Cake.
Our Wild Card
We found a wine that is a wild card because it’s new, different and most people haven't heard of it. We check all of the wines in Wine-Searcher.com: If it shows up, then it is generally available, so we hope you’ll seek it out. It’s grown in the Grown in the Marche, one of Italy’s 20 regions, on the Adriatic coast. Marche is not one of the better-known regions such as Apulia (Puglia, the heel of the boot), Piedmont, Tuscany, Sardinia, Sicily or Veneto; even its capital city, Ancona, isn’t well known. But it’s immediately east of Umbria and south of Emilia-Romagna (home of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and Parma ham). The producer of our wild card wine, Luciano Landi, is the grandson of the man who began planting the Lacrimi vines there in 1964, before Marche wines qualified as a D.O.C. (Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata, analogous to the French A.O.C.), which guarantees that the wine is produced in a well-defined region, according to specific rules that preserve the traditional wine-making practices of that region. Enjoy this relative newbie!
Map courtesy of Wikipedia.com.
- Luciano Landi Lacrima di Morro d’Alba Passito 2002 ($40.00, 500ml). This is the only wine we tasted that was not fortified, with only 13.5% alcohol. This turned out to be the favorite! This deep purple, decidedly sweet treat is made from the grape Lacrima di Morro d’Alba. Passito refers to the way the wine is made. Freshly-picked grapes are hung or laid out on mats in the sun (or in a cool, well-ventilated room) so they can partially dry and lose moisture and concentrate their sugar. This way, the resulting wine can be both sweet and of an alcohol level that is on par with dry wines. The wine is long on the palate with well-balanced acidity and alcohol. We had it in glasses, but it would have been just as delicious poured right over the cake as a sauce; its lovely dried cranberry and black cherry flavors would have happily completed the dish.
One of the most popular desserts, chocolate molten lava cake, has found some friendly bottles in the wine world. While you may like it best with a glass of milk, an espresso or a cup of tea, you can keep the buzz going with some of these favorite “stickies,” as sweet wines are called in the trade.
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