Fancy a drink? Our drinks columnist Sam Wylie-Harris discovers the joys of viognier, and suggests some irresistible tipples to pair with chocolate ahead of National Chocolate Week
A tasting adventure with chocolate
For melt-away moments when only something deliciously decadent will do, National Chocolate Week (October 8-14) is a great excuse for wine lovers to indulge in the sweeter side of life.
Whether pairing dark wine labels with chocolate, or a fun fizz with dessert, profiling the different flavours of wine with cocoa is sure to enhance a drinker's chocolate experience. And it gives you an excuse to make the most of a double helping.
Thanks to the rising popularity of moscato, a lightly sparkling, sweet white wine from northern Italy, entry-level versions such as Asda Asti, Italy (£5.13, 7%abv, Asda) have wide appeal for those with a sweet tooth who like a grapey-style sparkler to accompany their chocolate dessert. Refreshing, fruity and crisp, all in one sumptuous glass, it's perfect with a slice of sacher torte, the famous Viennese bittersweet chocolate cake.
Alternatively, for an Italian beauty that can stand up to a bitter chocolate tart, try Vigna Senza Nome, Moscato d'Asti DOCG, Giacoma, Bologna, 2010, Italy (£12.20, 5.5%abv, www.tanners-wines.co.uk). It's a delicate sparkling wine with a lemony mousse, a basket of summer fruits that evolves in the mouth and some clean, balancing acidity that rounds off the peachy notes.
For a double sugar hit if you're partial to sweet with sweet, dessert wines such as Vistamar Late Harvest Moscatel 2011, Chile (£6.49, 37.5cl, Majestic) taste magical when served well chilled with milk chocolate puds. Pure nectar, it's a little drop of sunshine with a fragrant nose and delightful apricot and honey flavours, a hint of blossom and dried figs on the silky finish.
Down Under in the land of plenty, De Bortoli produces one of Australia's most famous dessert wines, Noble One. A rich, complex semillon, sweetie lovers with smaller purses can always treat themselves to Finest Dessert Semillon 2008, Australia (£6.49, 37.5cl, Tesco). A gold medal winner, De Bortoli produces this little gem for Tesco, voted Supermarket of the Year 2012 by the International Wine Challenge (IWC). A classic golden fortified wine with an inviting orange blossom nose, apricot and cream flavours layered with honey and nuts for extra richness and depth, there's even a touch of spice on the finish. It's delicious served well chilled with white chocolate truffles.
Red wine lovers who like a heart-warming Rioja with 70% dark chocolate bars, or a luxurious tray of dark chocolate ganache, should try pairing Pena Aldera Rioja Reserva Bodegas Jalon 2007, Spain (£12.50, www.goedhuis.com) with their guilty pleasure. A total treat for the senses, the violet nose, savoury mulberry fruits, spiced vanilla edge, firm tannins and long finish create the perfect balance for this terrific wine.
Alternatively, artisan chocolatier and cocoa grower Hotel Chocolat knows a thing or two about creating chocolates and wines that chime.
For a chocolate masterclass, try Chateau Chocolat red wine, Portugal (£22, Hotel Chocolat nationwide) with a chocolate-inspired menu of dark chocolate and hazelnut brownies, dark pralines or its 66% Purist bars from St Lucia. An opulent, full-bodied red from Alentejo in the south of Portugal, it's made from four native grape varieties, and the dense plum and blackberry fruit with ribbons of spice and hint of espresso glides along gracefully on the long, lingering finish.
Port and chocolate make natural bedfellows, and Hotel Chocolat Special Reserve Tawny Port (£16, 37cl, Hotel Chocolat nationwide) is quite dreamy. Light, simple and easy to drink, with delicate hints of orange peel, it's flavoursome but not too overpowering. Try to do it justice by serving it lightly chilled with a simple melt-in-the-mouth bar of classic milk chocolate... yummy.
Richer and fuller bodied, Grant Burge 10 Year Old Tawny, Barossa Valley, Australia (£20, 75cl, 19% abv, www.slurp.co.uk) is the cat's whiskers with a black forest gateau. The velvety smooth, sweet dried fruit and spicy notes complement the black cherries, kirsch and cream for a sinfully indulgent treat at the end of a meal.
Let's drink to a sweet ending!
:: Best buy
The sun may be setting on European Summer Time, but that's no reason to shy away from a delicious rose. Marks & Spencer Le Froglet Rose 2011, Maison Virginie, France (£5.52, Marks & Spencer) was voted Great Value Rose at this month's International Wine Challenge 2012 (IWC), and this pretty pink certainly deserves a place in your ice bucket.
:: Liquid news
Thirsty for more... Simon Hoggart's Life's Too Short To Drink Bad Wine has been revised and updated for his legions of fans who tune into the Spectator magazine's wine club. With 10 new wines to tempt tipplers, and a myriad of interesting features, you don't need to be a wine anorak to enjoy this entertaining read by the journalist, wine critic and witty raconteur. Life's Too Short To Drink Bad Wine, 100 Wines For The Discerning Drinker by Simon Hoggart is published by Quadrille, priced £12.99. Available now from all good book shops.