2010 Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon ($15)
2008 Benziger Family Winery Sonoma County Merlot ($19)
2009 Craggy Range “Te Kahu” Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Merlot Blend ($21)
2009 Napa Cellars Syrah ($22)
2009 Charles Krug Napa Valley Merlot ($24)
2010 Benessere Holystone-Collins Zinfandel ($40)
2009 Napa Cellars Stagecoach Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($45)
2009 Charles Krug Family Reserve Napa Valley Generations ($50)
2009 Chateau Montalena Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($50)
2008 Benessere Phenomenon ($50)
Updated: March 14, 2013 6:09AM
You could be really precise at the end of a meal you have prepared at home, matching an exquisite, hand-crafted dessert with the appropriate dessert wine. That would show that you care, and that you know what you are doing when it comes to the pleasures of the table.
But really, what could be cooler or more romantic, or make your guests feel more comfortable, than a platter full of chocolate chunks and a new bottle of robust red wine? We are talking candy bars here, but they do not have to be the 99-cent kind. Get some good, artisanal chocolate in different cacao percentages and break them into crude chunks. Pile those chunks on a platter or cutting board and add a stack of salted almonds.
Throw a candle into that mix and you have the most high-end Bohemian dessert known to humankind. If an amazing conversation does not ensue in the presence of chocolate, after-dinner wine and candlelight, then something is wrong and it is a much deeper problem than the lack of a formal dessert.
You can stew over your menu and guest list for weeks if you want, but your dessert decisions will be easy if you choose chocolate and wine. Classic dessert wines that bring chocolate alive, even more alive than it already is, include Banyuls from France, ruby port from Portugal and Pedro Ximenez sherry from Spain. But with a nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon on the table, or Merlot, Syrah or Zinfandel, you cannot go wrong. You do not need dessert wine in the presence of some nice robust reds.
Refill each other’s glasses, find just the right-sized chunk of chocolate and pop it into your mouth. Marvel at the dark brown goodness illuminated by candlelight. Put on some music, have another chunk, try a different wine with it. Tell everyone your stories, and listen to theirs. Have some more chocolate and follow it with another big sip of red wine from a big glass, not a tiny sip of concentrated dessert wine from a tiny glass. There is nothing wrong with the great dessert wines of the world — they are amazing — but sometimes you just want a big swig of red.
Leave the chocolate sitting out, reminding yourself of the bounty before you, the sweet beauty of life. Celebrate the awesomeness of not having to clear dessert plates and forks. You are done with that for the night. From now on it is nothing but sweet dreams, intoxicating music and fancy talk.
Souffles, mousses, cakes, pies and fragile flaky towers are all good, and they each have a wine counterpart to make them even better. But what is the last thing that a fancy French restaurant brings to you, after you’ve had your dessert? Mignardises — those one-bite post-desserts desserts that make you go, OK, now I am satisfied. You know why? Because a plate of mignardises almost always includes at least one little chocolate — a plain and simple chocolate.
At the end of dinner I find myself thinking that the fancy dessert was amazing, and the wine pairing was flawless, but you know what I could really go for right now? Just a nice piece of chocolate and big ol’ glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Why not make that the dessert? This is all about shooting at a wide target. You do not have to put much thought into this spread, except that you should stay away from milk chocolate for the most part. You want deep rich, dark chocolate — a much better complement to hearty wines than the oversweet milk chocolate. Pair that on another night with a huge glass of ice cold 2 percent.
Get the best dark chocolate you can find, and do the same with your red wine. Do not worry about which specific wine might match with which specific chocolate. Match your wines to the savory dishes you are serving — your steak, your chops — and let the wines show their versatility when the chocolate comes out. Sometimes the less you fuss over something, care, the better the outcome is.
Michael Austin is a Chicago free-lance writer. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.