An unexpected risotto and deep chocolate cake that's secretly "healthy" make for the perfect Valentine's Day meal when paired with the sparkling, sweet Brachetto d'Acqui.
Welcome to the Wine Pairing Weekend group! Each month, the group chooses a different theme for bloggers to choose their own interpretation of a good wine and food pairing. February's theme is Valentine's Day. If you want to follow the conversation online, use the hashtag #WinePW.
It’s hard to think of a more fitting wine for Valentine’s Day than Brachetto d’Acqui. It’s delicate and bubbly, intensely aromatic, and has the most beautiful, luminous rose red color. It pairs especially well with the Valentine’s Day dessert of choice: chocolate. And even Cleopatra believed that the “vinum acquense,” as she and her ancient Roman pals Marc Anthony and Julius Ceasar called it, had aphrodisiac powers.
I picked up a bottle of Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG from Tre Secoli, a winery cooperative located in the Alto Monferrato in Mombaruzzo in the heart of sparkling wine country, next door to where Moscato d’Asti and Asti DOCG are made in abundance. Brachetto d'Acqui grows mostly around a town named after its own natural hotsprings, Acqui Terme, which is located east of Asti and Moscato territory (with some overlap).
I was interested to see that their Brachetto d'Acqui DOCG had won 93/100 points from Wine Enthusiast for its 2012, and a Douja d’Or prize for its 2014 (Douja d’Or is an annual national wine competition for DOC and DOCG wines).
I noted this in particular because it seems that sweet wine has fallen out of favor with many drinkers, even if they’re not cloying or syrupy, but in fact are bottles of pure, sparkling goodness like Brachetto d’Acqui. This might be because it is easy to make a bad sweet wine and cover up its imperfections with sugar (thus making the drinker also feel rather crummy after a glass or two). This is unfortunate, because Italy makes some fantastic sparkling, sweet wines that are especially perfect for lunch, due to their low alcohol content (or for breakfast!), and with dessert.
A good Brachetto d’Acqui like this one from Tre Secoli falls in that fantastic-sparkling-wine category. It is aromatic with pure, pulpy scents of fresh strawberries and raspberries, floral scents like rose, and a zing of acidity to balance out the sweetness in the end. The sweet-sour taste of raspberries was especially noticeable in this wine, making it markedly different from Moscato d’Asti (also around 5% alcohol, though Moscato has more notes of white flowers and peaches).
The food and wine pairings
I found a risotto recipe on the Consortium of Brachetto d’Acqui's website (it also uses rose petals, which admittedly adds a unique and romantic touch, but can you imagine the pesticides?), which uses Brachetto wine in place of classic, dry white wine. I only made minor adjustments and was blown away with the resulting dish. I had been hesitant, wondering how a sweet wine would taste in a dinner dish; and also unwilling to use too much of a good wine in cooking.
Every drop in the creamy risotto was worth it. Like a pinch of salt in cookies and cakes brings all the flavors together, the light sweetness made the risotto seem even more savory and flavorful. The wine matched perfectly, emphasizing Brachetto's flavors in the glass and dish. With the light risotto, which only has Parmigiano added at the end, and the low-alcohol wine, it was a satisfying but light meal.
Inspired by my success with the unusual risotto, I took it to another level with chocolate cake. The deep red of beets spoke of Valentine’s Day to me, and because adding them to a cake potentially meant a healthier yet rich dessert, I was game. But, many of the recipes I found had just as much butter as a regular chocolate cake. Why bother with beets at all? I finally found one on The Minimalist Baker. Here, I was definitely hesitant. I didn’t want the cake to scream BEETS or even whisper it; I wanted a deceptively sumptuous chocolate cake.
With some modifications (such as adding chopped chocolate on top), it turned out nearly perfect. It was moist, light, and incredibly fluffy. It had a deep chocolate flavor, did not taste of beets, and looked divine. But ironically, while I was discovering that a touch of sweetness makes a savory dish better, I had forgotten to add the salt to my sweet dish. This may be why the cake felt like it was missing something. Okay, so it was clearly good enough that I ate a slice and a half at lunch, but next time I will a) add the salt and b) maybe add ¼ cup more sugar or c) use melted chocolate in place of some of the cocoa. (NOTE: I later discovered I accidentally halved the amount of sugar, so that is probably what went wrong...and yet it was still quite good!).
Sometimes you hit upon a perfect food and wine pairing and you finally get why there are so many recommendations, articles, and blogger groups dedicated to discovering the perfect wine with any number of dishes and dinners. Brachetto d’Acqui and chocolate is one of those great pairings, and definitely a recommendation for Valentine’s Day.
Valentine's Day Risotto with Brachetto d’Acqui
Ingredients for 2 people:
1 small onion, chopped
¾ cup Carnaroli rice
1 cup Brachetto d’Acqui
Vegetable broth, as needed
1. In a saucepan over medium heat, sauté the onions in olive oil until they’re soft, about 5-10 minutes. Add the rice and stir it in the onions and olive oil, turning the heat up a tad, until you start hearing it crackle. Pour in the Brachetto d’Acqui and let the rice soak up the wine. Add a half cup of broth. Mix until you see the bottom of the pan, then add another.
2. Continue adding half cups of broth and mixing until the rice is cooked through but al dente, about 17 minutes (look at the time on your rice box). Finish with a dusting of Parmigiano on top.
Dark chocolate beet cake
Ingredients for one, round 9” pan:
1 large beet, cooked (not pickled!)
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
¾ cup (170 gr) raw cane sugar
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
120 gr white flour
Scant ½ cup (155 gr) cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/3 to 1/2 cup chopped chocolate pieces (70% if you can find it)
1. Preheat oven 375°F. Process the beet until it is very smooth, almost creamy, adding a teaspoon or two of beet juice, water, or orange juice to help. Measure out ½ cup and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, add the milk and vinegar. Let sit to curdle while you prep the rest of the ingredients.
3. Add the sugar, beets, oil, and vanilla extract to the milk, whisk or beat until foamy.
4. Sift in the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and whisk or beat until no lumps remain.
5. Pour into buttered, round 9” pan. Sprinkle the chopped chocolate over top and bake for 40 minutes. Let cool half an hour before cutting into.
Cantina Tre Secoli
Via Stazione 15 - 14046 Mombaruzzo (AT)
Tel: +39 0141 77019
Don't forget to check out all the other pairings for Valentine's Day, and use the hashtag #WinePW to follow the conversation:
Diana from Wine Pass (that's me!): Valentine Risotto and Rich Chocolate Beet Cake with Brachetto d'Acqui
Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla: Cherry-Glazed Chicken with Hahn’s Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, Barley Stuffed Acorn Squash & Zesty Crayfish with Landmark Vineyards’ Overlook Chardonnay, Wild Boar Mushroom Pot Pies with Landmark Vineyards’ Overlook Pinot Noir, Seared Venison Medallions with Justin’s Cabernet Sauvignon, Rosé-Cured Salmon with Balletto Vineyards’ Brut Rosé, and Epoisses, Crackers, & Cremant de Limoux
Christy from Confessions of a Culinary Diva: Valentine’s Day Steakhouse Dinner at Home, 50 Oysters a Day & Other Tales of Seduction, Pick a Picpoul de Pinet for Your Valentine, Smokin’ Duck & Pinot, Valentine’s Take-In Dinner, Apple of My Eye Pork Chops & Pinot, and Lobster, Corn Fritters & Balletto