Port and Chocolate | Together Forever
Port | An English Tradition in Portugal
Teresa MacDonald, Area Representative, Oakville, ON
Fortified wines are made around the world. The most popular examples include sherry, vermouth, madeira and our beloved port.
When I first travelled down the Douro River, I was amazed at just how steep and beautiful the vineyard terraces were. Indigenous Portuguese grapes have been grown on these rocky slopes since pre-Roman times, but it wasn’t until the 7th century, when frequent wars cut off the British from French wines, that the English turned to import wines from these lovely hills in Portugal.
At the time, wines from the Douro didn’t travel well, so brandy was added to stabilize or “fortify” them on the long voyage to England. This did more than merely stabilize the wine—it resulted in the luscious, decadent wine that became port.
In late September the many local grapes used to make port are picked by hand, since the vineyards are so steep. They are then brought to the winery, where even today they are often stomped by foot in stone tanks called “lagares”. While many other methods have been tried, including mechanical replicas of feet, the human foot is still deemed the best method of gently extracting the juice.
Traditionally, the wine was taken downriver in flat-bottom boats from the vineyards to Vila Nova de Gaia in Oporto on the Douro. However, in the 1950s and 1960s, several hydroelectric power dams were built along the river, ending this traditional conveyance. It’s possible to still see these unique ‘barcos rabelos’ at the mouth of the river and you can imagine them loaded with barrels, fresh from the Quintas, the estates that produce the grapes to make port wine.
It is at the port houses in Vila Nova de Gaia that the wine is fortified about halfway through the fermentation process, leaving the natural sweetness of the grape in the finished product. Over time, the combination of brandy and wine gives it a subtle complexity and unique flavour.
There are several different types of port with distinctly different characteristics. Opimian has been fortunate in being able to source some excellent examples. Soneto LBV 2009 and Soneto Reserva Especial are both ruby ports. Worldwide, the biggest consumers of ruby port are French women—and me! I love to sip it with a plate of good strong cheese at the end of a meal. Soneto’s Tawny Reserve can also be enjoyed with the same cheese plate, but you may want to add some dried fruit, chocolate and a good cup of coffee. Drink all of these ports now or lay them down for any number of years. Saude!
The Art of Chocolate Tasting
We would like to thank Dr. Jordan LeBel, PhD, ASC, CDir., Associate Professor, Concordia University for his expertise in chocolate.
Much like wine, cocoa is grown from different plantations, or domains, and goes through a fermentation process. Tasting techniques for wine and chocolate can be quite similar, and wine lovers and foodies alike have embraced the art of chocolate tasting. Follow our guide to experience chocolate like never before!
Choose Your Chocolate
Select a variety of premium chocolates from your local chocolatier or get a bean-to-bar chocolate—chocolate that has been processed entirely in the same place, by a single artisan. You can also find a good range of quality chocolate at the grocery store; verify cocoa content and country of origin. A tasting should include no more than six types of chocolate with different cocoa percentages, from milk chocolate (with at least 35% cocoa) to dark chocolate (70% to 76% cocoa). You can also include chocolate with 85% cocoa, or similarly concentrated chocolates from two different countries. Just like wine, chocolate from Ghana will taste different from one from Peru.
Prepare to Taste
Each guest should receive about 1/2 to 1 oz of chocolate. It should be eaten at between 19˚C and 25˚C in order to reveal its flavours, so do not keep your chocolates in the fridge before a tasting.
Similar to a wine tasting, when blind tasting chocolate, you can prepare a tasting sheet which should look like a table with columns for aroma, flavour, texture, finish. Start with the highest cocoa percentage and work your way down.
Taste with Your Senses
Cleanse your palate before and after each chocolate: Keep a palate cleanser ready, such as plain bread or crackers, and water at room temperature to reset your palate (cold water will numb your taste buds).
See: Place the chocolate on a white napkin and observe the colour. Just like with red wine, you will see different nuances of brown and black shades. This is due in large part to the cocoa butter and the skills of the chocolate maker. Chocolate should be shiny, smooth and free of scratches, bubbles or swirling.
Smell: Inhale your chocolate closely and deeply. It will reveal its personality and aromas such as vanilla, nuts, fruits and even caramel.
Snap: Texture plays an important role. The “snap” is the feel and sound of a piece of chocolate when you first break it or bite into it. Good quality chocolate should break cleanly, creating two crisp edges.
Attack: Taste a nickel-sized piece to fully coat the inside of your mouth. The aromas will reveal themselves as the chocolate begins to melt.
Evolution: Carefully chew your piece so that the inside of your entire mouth is coated with chocolate. At this stage, the taste should be easier to identify.
Finish: Swallow the chocolate and absorb the aftertaste. Breathe in from your mouth and exhale through your nose. The retro-nasal olfaction will allow you to perceive different flavour dimensions. Aromas, texture and bitterness may have changed throughout this process.