I’ve said it before, I like the silly sweetness of Valentine’s Day — commercialized, greeting card holiday, or no. (And significant other, or no, for that matter.) Any tradition that demands some combination of chocolate, flowers, dinner, wine, “be mine” or “kiss me” sweetheart candies, candlelight, and throwback valentine cards is okay by me.
And to that list of traditional ingredients, I happily add Port, a wedge of Stilton, and port-poached figs.
Pairing Stilton with Vintage Port is an English tradition that dates back generations, and it’s become a classic pairing, on par with Muscadet and oysters, Champagne and caviar. And while I never turn down an offered glass of Vintage Port, I’m much more likely to have a Tawny (or late-bottled vintage) Port around that I’m willing to open without having to ponder the price vs. optimal drinking time equation that Vintage Ports create for me.
But no matter which type of Port I’m drinking, there are three go-with pairings that never fail: Stilton, port-poached figs, and chocolate. I’m not suggesting you mix the Stilton and chocolate in one bite — though I’ve been known to start with Stilton-fig-Port and eventually move to chocolate-fig-Port before the end of an evening. But I am saying that something in this array of ingredients will not only match whatever Port you open, it also offers something to please everyone. Your sweetie doesn’t care for blue cheese? No problem, he can focus on the chocolate. You get the idea. (Though, honestly, I would question the wisdom of dating someone who doesn’t like blue cheese. Something to consider…)
Port-poached figs are a breeze, by the way. Add a cup or two of an inexpensive Ruby port to a small saucepan, along with some aromatic whole spices — like a cinnamon stick, a clove or two, maybe a star anise. Bring to a simmer, add a handful of dried figs and poach, over low heat, until the figs are softened and infused with port and spice flavors — about 15 minutes. Remove figs to a serving dish or storage jar; increase heat and reduce liquid by about half. Use some of that syrup to drizzle over the figs for serving. (These also keep well in the fridge for about a week.)
As for what chocolate to choose? I’m currently obsessing over Prestat chocolates. I think I’d seen their truffles here and there — and maybe even tasted them — but I hadn’t really tuned-into the brand until a friend brought me a bar of their milk chocolate with Earl Grey tea and lemon from his recent trip to London. It’s a knockout — really pretty with bright hits of lemon and layers of flavor that completely evade that cloyingly sweet milk chocolate thing. I was delighted to find a varied selection of Prestat bars and truffles and other goodies at my local Central Market, and I’ve since tasted the 71% dark chocolate (intense and dreamy) and the dark sea salt caramel truffles (overwhelmingly decadent).
The beauty of this mix-and-match pairing, is that you can pretty much open any Port that suits your fancy. Here are a few I’ve enjoyed lately:
Quinta do Noval 2007 Vintage Port Silval ($50). Here’s a fantastic deal on a very good Vintage Port — buy some now and open one bottle every winter for the next decade or so! With a powerful core of blackberry, dried cherry and dried plum fruit, and layers of aromatic carnation, baking spice and heady vanilla. Very sweet, with fantastic balancing, fresh acidity and mouth-filling tannins. Should age nicely, but is pretty darn appealing now. (Decant first.) Should continue to evolve nicely for 10-20 years. Find it!
Warre NV Tawny Port 10 Year Old Otima ($26). Gorgeous value, offering layers of dried fruit, candied citrus peel, honeyed fig, cream and savory notes. Toffee on the finish. Lovely. Find it!
Graham’s NV Tawny Port 10 Year Old ($34). Fresh and pretty, with bright fruit flavors (apricot, red berry) and smoky spice notes. A light touch of caramel sweetness. Find it!
Graham’s NV Tawny Port 20 Year Old ($57). Prune, caramel, toasted almond and deep spice aromas and flavors linger on an intense, concentrated finish. Find it!
Dow 2007 Late Bottled Port ($22). Concentrated red berry and currant fruit, orange zest, spice, dark chocolate and espresso notes. Still showing plenty of youthful freshness — should age nicely for another decade. Find it!