Let’s begin at the end…the end of a meal. Dessert is a special occasion in our house reserved for when we entertain, or celebrate a birthday or other special occasion. We recently received a bottle of Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port as a tasting sample, which set me to thinking about sipping it after a meal. But my thoughts quickly drifted to possible dessert pairings. I came up with one and I tested the pairing on my girlfriends. They liked it. The other I stumbled upon by accident.
A Bit About Port
Port is made only one place in the world: the Douro River Valley of Portugal. Port takes its name from Oporto, the Portuguese city that lies at the mouth of the Douro River.
Port is made in many styles and those listed below are the Port styles you are most likely to encounter. Blending of grape varieties, and in some cases vintages, is standard practice. Grapes are crushed, traditionally by foot treading, and left to ferment in tanks. Then, fermentation is stopped early, at about the halfway point, with the addition of neutral grape spirits (clear brandy). The high alcohol content of the grape spirits kills the yeast resulting in a sweet wine (because so little of the grape sugar has been converted to alcohol) with relatively high alcohol (from the brandy).
The maturation and aging of Port comes next and is what determines the style of Port wine being made. Tawny Ports are aged for years in barrel and are blends of several vintages. Tawny Ports are labeled 10, 20 or 30-year and have been so classified based on the flavor of the wine.
Reserve Port is a blend of very good quality wines that are aged four to six years in barrel before being bottled and released. These wines are accessible and affordable.
Late-Bottled Vintage Port (LBV) are moderately priced Ports made from a single vintage. They are made every year and spend four to six years in barrel before bottling.
Vintage Port is made only in years that are declared to be exceptional by Port shippers. It is expensive, made from only one vintage and aged only two years in barrel before being bottled. But Vintage Port then ages for a decade or more in bottle gaining complexity with time.
Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port — dense ruby in the glass with generous aromas and flavors of ripe red and dark fruit, chocolate, earth and spice all nicely balance with bright acidity. The flavors are concentrated, rich and sweet. The finish is very long with fruit, spice, tannins and warmth. 19.5% abv. SRP $24
Six Grapes takes its name from the symbol used by Graham’s to mark the barrels of the very best quality wine from their Douro Valley quintas or estates. Six Grapes is made from a blend of grapes from Graham’s five mountain vineyards and typically aged between one and two years in “seasoned wooden casks”. Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port is part of the highly-regarded Symington Family Estates portfolio of wines.
Young, fruity Ports generally pair well with chocolate and cheese, so those were the inspiration for my pairings with the Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port.
A Sweet Pairing
I love panna cotta. It is easy to make and can be made ahead of time, so it is perfect for entertaining. It can also be made in a variety of flavors. I had a chocolate paring in mind for the Six Grapes Reserve Port, so I modified my favorite panna cotta recipe accordingly. Because we have beautifully-ripe navel oranges at the moment I added orange to the recipe as well. I tested the recipe on a group of friends who gave it a thumbs up.
Chocolate Orange Panna Cotta
- 1 envelope unflavored gelatin (about 1 tablespoon)
- 2 tablespoons cold water
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/3 cup sugar
- zest of two oranges
- 4 oz dark baking chocolate, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Lightly coat ramekins with flavorless oil.
- In a very small saucepan sprinkle gelatin over water and let stand about 1 minute to soften. Heat gelatin mixture over low heat until gelatin is dissolved and remove pan from heat.
- In a large saucepan bring cream, milk, orange zest, and sugar just to a boil over moderately high heat, stirring. Remove from the heat and steep for 10 minutes. Strain mixture and return to the pan. Re-warm just to the boiling point and add chocolate. Stir until melted and fully incorporated. Remove pan from heat and stir in gelatin mixture and vanilla. Divide cream mixture among eight 1/2-cup ramekins and cool to room temperature. Chill ramekins, covered, at least 4 hours or overnight.
- Dip ramekins, 1 at a time, into a bowl of hot water for 3 seconds. Run a thin knife around edge of each ramekin and invert ramekin onto center of a small plate.
- Garnish with Orange Whipped Cream and Candied Orange Peel. Recipes follow.
ORANGE WHIPPED CREAM
- 1/2 cup whipping cream
- 2 tsp icing sugar
- 1 tsp Grand Marnier or Cointreau
- Add all ingredients to a bowl and whip with a hand mixer on high speed until mixture thickens to whipped cream consistency.
CANDIED ORANGE PEEL
- 1 orange
- 1 cup sugar
- Sugar for dusting orange peel
- Cut off the top and bottom of the orange.
- Peel the orange, include the pith, with a vegetable peeler.
- Slice peels thinly, lengthwise.
- Cover with water and simmer in a small saucepan for 15 minutes. Drain.
- Bring equal parts water and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan. Add orange peels, reduce heat and gently simmer until soft (30 – 45 minutes). May take less time. Watch the pan to be certain water does not evaporate.
- Drain and place orange peels on a rack to dry slightly.
- Toss with sugar and return to rack to dry.
A Cheese Pairing
My Aunt Maggie taught me to make this cheese ball. She was the consummate entertainer. She had all of the dishes, glassware and silverware needed to entertain a large group and she enjoyed doing so. I always looked forward to family gatherings at her house. She also introduced me to Jack Daniels and Maker’s Mark. Aunt Maggie used them in recipes and she sipped them. She wasn’t much of a wine drinker, but I never held that against her.
This is a bit of an old fashioned recipe. Aunt Maggie would frequently make this recipe using whatever cheese she happened to have. Almost any combination will work. Use the cheese you prefer in addition to the cream cheese, which acts as a binder. Add a bit of cayenne pepper and some Jack Daniels and it will taste marvelous.
Aunt Maggie’s Cheese Ball
- 1 wedge of Brie, rind removed. Allow Brie to come to room temperature and cut into small pieces
- 6 oz blue cheese, crumbled, at room temperature
- 8 oz cream cheese, cut into small pieces, at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon Jack Daniels Whiskey
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 3/4 cup chopped pecans
- Combine all ingredients, except chopped pecans, in a bowl and mix until creamy.
- Roll into one large cheese ball or two smaller cheese balls. You will need more chopped pecans if you make two cheese balls.
- Put chopped pecans in a plate and roll cheese ball(s) to cover with nuts.
- Wrap cheese ball(s) in plastic wrap and refrigerate.
- Remove from refrigerator 15 minutes before serving.
- Serve with crackers.
I made this Cheese Ball recipe for my friends the same night I tested the Chocolate Orange Panna Cotta recipe on them. This recipe makes two cheese balls about the size you see in the photo. I served one that night as an appetizer, it pairs beautifully with Champagne, and we enjoyed the other cheese ball several nights later. That’s when I discovered how delicious it is with a glass of Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port after dinner. Why didn’t I think of this sooner?
If you’re looking for something special to end your Valentine’s Day meal, either of these would be delicious. Both are easy, make-ahead recipes. Choose whichever suits you and your valentine.
Thanks to the ladies at Calhoun & Company Communications for the taste of this sweet elixir. My friends thank you too!
Reference: The Wine Bible, Karen MacNeil, Workman Publishing, pages 511-522.