Top Pair: Sweet Wine, Magic with Chocolate

top pairing
by Jeff Harding with photos by Antoinette Bruno
Vol. 22
March 2012   

Always on the lookout for the perfect wine to drink with chocolate? We found it at Restaurant Sat Bains, in Nottingham, England, a little more than two hours north of London. Michelin-starred Chef Sat Bains, has an illuminating take on desserts, and and his restaurant features one of our favorite chocolate and wine pairings ever. For stateside pros less acquainted with him, Bains gained fame by winning the popular British television show “The Great British Menu.” But the real fame is in his food. All aspects of service are built around the food, including thoughtful custom-made caddies for utensils and wine glasses—less table marking and glass re-setting means less interruption tableside.

Bains isn’t shy about letting his staff get a little of the limelight, too. He describes his Head Chef John Freeman as having “a forte for desserts,” and we couldn’t agree more (although maybe he’s understating it a bit). And Bains certainly appreciates the hard work the pastry team puts in, recognizing that “the pastry [team] is the most-under appreciated [part of the kitchen crew]. They are the first ones in the kitchen and the last ones out.”

We tasted desserts with Chef de Partie Euan Peach (all the chefs are trained in pastry), and Chef Bains who explained that after the crescendo of a main course, especially during a tasting menu, dessert must reignite the palate. And this philosophy holds that dessert can be salty, sour, acidic, or fresh, not just sweet, to continue the diner’s journey through the end of the meal.

Sommelier Laurent Richet

The two sommeliers at Restaurant Sat Bains are equally appreciated team members, and we found out why during a recent tasting. The wine pairings and wine list are put together by both Laurent Richet and Arpad Szabo, but it was Richet who guided us through our tasting. We knew we were in good hands; Master Sommelier Richet comes to Sat Bains after having worked for three years with Gérard Basset (world-renowned sommelier and owner of Hotel TerraVina in England). Richet won the rare and coveted Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle Cup, an honor given to somms who pass all three portions of the Master Sommelier exam on their first attempt.

Domaine Jean Bousquet Malbec Dulce Natural, 2009
Chocolate, Yogurt Mousse, Chocolate and Coffee Crumble, with Coffee Caramel and Salt
Pairing Note

A chocolate dessert at the end of the meal can sometimes make for a heavy finish, but not this one. With a dish described simply as Chocolate, Coffee, and Salt, you immediately know you’re getting a variety of flavors, lively enough to keep the palate refreshed. Providing a tangy contrast is a yogurt mousse, aerated with an iSi Whipper. Chocolate and coffee are a natural pairing, made lighter by the yogurt. The salt adds extra smoothness (you do know the old French trick of adding a pinch of salt to coffee to remove its bitterness, right?). Already an engaging dessert, excitement on the palate builds when the sweet Malbec joins in.

Wine maker Jean Bousquet is from Carcassonne, France, where the classic wine pairing for chocolate is Banyuls, generally made from the Grenache grape. When Bousquet moved to Tupungato in Mendoza, Argentina, he discovered he could make a similar fortified wine from his organic Malbec grapes. The result is a silky and rich dessert wine that falls somewhere between Port and Banyuls—a wine for pairing. Here it both contrasts and complements the back-and-forth nature of a great pairing: vanilla from the wine’s oak barrel aging brings out chocolate hints in the wine and redirects your attention to the chocolate dessert. Salt and tangy yogurt accents highlight the fruit in the wine. Prunes, chocolate, and clove on the wine’s long finish recall a similar spectrum of flavors in the dessert, making even one bite just enough. Almost.
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