Region: Douro, Portugal
Composition: Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Francesa
Background: Even though I often like them, I don't drink a lot of dessert wines. Sometimes, when I am out, I will order a glass, but mostly, I don't buy them. I never have occasion to drink enough of the stuff to warrant opening a bottle or even a half-bottle at home. And even though I enjoyed this Port, I also learned that Port is killer (just like frog is killer) and will give you an evil headache a few hours after you drink it.
I had to learn a lot about Port when I took the WSET exam two months ago. There are many different varieties: white, tawny, ruby, reserve ruby, late bottled vintage, vintage, single-quinta, colheita. Like most wines, the main differences are grape quality and aging. Oh, yeah, and price. Port producers, like Champagne producers, only declare vintages in the best years, so vintage Port and single-quinta Ports (vintage Port from a single estate) are expensive indeed. Port is often handpicked (it often has to be since the slopes on which the grapes are grown are so steep) and trodden in stone lagares, since the foot crushes the grapes more gently than any machine. Many Port houses have attempted to move away from the stone lagares, but with limited success. Fermentation is arrested through the addition of a neutral grape spirit (think brandy) when the wine has about ten percent residual sugar, and the result is a sweet but fairly alcoholic fortified wine. The wines are thten usually shipped to Vila Nova de Gaia (across the river from Oporto at the mouth of the Douro River, and away from the hot Douro Valley) where they are aged, since aging in the valley results in baked wines.
This port, the Quinta do Noval "Raven" is a humble ruby Port, albeit a "special reserve" ruby of higher quality than the usual stuff. It was also aged a in oak four years, about twice as long as is the norm for ruby Ports. This doesn't make it on par with the vintage Port that Quinta do Noval (who have, by many accounts, made the single greatest vintage port of the 20th century, the 1931) makes, but it is still fairly tasty, and a lot cheaper.
Since this whole thing was for Wine Blogging Wednesday 13, and, since the whole concept this time around was pairing wine and chocolate cake, I hauled the Port and the chocolate cake (in this case, a chocolate merlot cake) to a Labor Day get together, since sharing cake is way more fun than just eating it yourself. Same goes with a bottle of Port. It may not be the most creative pairing in the world, but it seemed right at the time. I debated a lot of Zinfandels before settling on Port, but couldn't find one that seemed like it would work (although I was wishing for a good late harvest Zinfandel at one point).
I have been curious about this particular cake recipe for a long time, and I made the cake as the recipe indicates since it was the first time I made the recipe. The Merlot I used was a 2003 McManis Merlot (cheap and fruity but okay, just what I wanted). I made a raspberry/blackberry coulis for the inbetween layers and tossed some fresh raspberries on top. The recipe suggests having the cake with the Merlot used in the recipe, but I really thought that would be pushing it, since I subscribe to the "dessert wine should be sweeter than dessert" concept and figured both the wine and the cake would taste like crap if I tried Merlot with it, even if it is a good way to get rid of the whole bottle.
Notes: This was tasty enough that my pregnant friend had a tiny nip of it and then gleefully announced "the baby likes it!" since the baby started moving around. So babies, they are on the Port train. This has a plummy, raisiny nose, with mostly fruit in evidence. In the mouth it is sweet, velvety, and alcoholic. Fruit dominates at first-- cherry, strawberry, and plums. Then spice cake flavors, caramel, with a little dark maple syrup show up on the tongue. It's simple but enjoyable, and went pretty well with the cake, I think.
The cake was not overly sweet, and although I think it was a little drier than it could have been (I probably left it in the oven about three or four minutes too long), it was tasty. It was definitely a better pairing than the cake with the Prosecco we also had out with dessert, since the Prosecco was not sweet enough to carry the cake. And while the cake has some sweetness, it isn't sickeningly sweet overall. I was also pleased with the recipe since while you can taste the Merlot in the cake, it isn't overwhelming. I hate alcohol-fueled cakes that taste like sponges soaked in rum or brandy.
In the end, other than the headache I got later in the evening (and the Zinfandel I had been drinking all afternoon probably had as much to do with that as the Port), I have no regrets about this pairing. We finished the bottle that night, and that means I got a couple of beer drinkers to switch over to Port for a while. Victory! I also just now tried a bit of leftover cake with the Merlot I used to make it to see how that goes, and I have to say, I don't love it, but it isn't so bad, and I can see the merits. The cake is sweeter than the wine, but brings out the mocha and chocolate flavors in it. With some tweaking, I could see it working out.