Dry Wines Get Their Just Desserts
After a whirlwind tasting tour of San Francisco, we caught our breath at Madera, where Pastry Chef Mellisa Root rejuvenated us with her fanciful sweets. The sheer complexity and whimsy in her Celebration of Plums, Tea-Smoked Maracaibo Chocolate Ganache, and Raspberry Gin Fizz would cause anyone to pause in childlike wonder.
Celebration of Plums: Friar Plum Fool, Candied Fruit-Pistachio Tea Cake, Compressed Plums, Golden Plum Cream, and Santa Rosa Plum Sorbet
Expecting a sugar high, we cautiously asked Sommelier Paul Mekis if we could taste dry wines with the desserts, and in pro-somm style, Mekis quickly consulted with the chef and brought us his pairings. For the plum and chocolate dishes, he served a Syrah from Saint-Joseph, J.L. Chave's 2008 "Offerus." The pairing highlighted the earthy, jammy compressed plums and brought out the lavender and blueberries in the wine. Smoke notes made the chocolate and tea flavors jump, which in turn highlighted the campfire smoke and bacon flavors in the Syrah.
A 2010 Hallgartener Jungfer Kabinett Riesling from Fred Prinz in Germany's Rheingau showed us parallel flavors of lime and tangerine in the wine and the Gin Fizz. The blue slate and red volcanic minerality are a highlight from this coldest of wine-making regions and cut through the rich lemon créme fraîche, cleansing our palate and ensuring that we'd finish all the desserts.
Having previously discussed pairings of smoky Rhône Valley wines, and the acid-hound's favorite, Riesling, when we saw Root's Rice Pudding paired with an organic Chenin Blanc from Carmel Valley in California, our sugar-addled brains began to whir. Chenin Blanc typically has so much acid it can be vinified into sweet, dry, moelleux, or sparkling styles, we could hardly wait to see what Mekis had in store for us.
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Mekis chose the Chenin Blanc for its rich and creamy vanilla notes, but the green apple tang in the rice made that crispness stand out in the wine. In contrast to Loire Valley Chenin Blanc, the California version is dryer on the finish and has more subtle minerality, but it remains classically refreshing. Nutty custard notes with flecks of honey rounded out the brightness of the wine, lightening the earth notes in the dessert. And, we realized, our spirits.