2018-02-14 / Featured / Taste

The last sip: Wine specialist talks sweet pairings


ASH DANIEL ASH DANIEL It was just a candy bar and some wine. But it was a dessert Mark Sompayrac would never forget.

Once in a blue moon, Sompayrac and a half dozen friends would gather for a meal that would have pleased the Roman wine god Bacchus – replete with rich foods and carefully paired wines.

At the close of one such dinner, the chef emerged from the kitchen carrying not a lavish dessert tray, but two bottles of 20-year port. He placed them on the table, then drew Heath candy bars from the pockets of his chef’s coat, handing one to each guest.

To Sompayrac’s surprise, the toffee, chocolate and semi-sweet nuttiness of the tawny port blended beautifully, creating a vivid burst of flavor.

“We were all blown away by that,” he says.

That was six years ago. Sompayrac filed away the experience – one of many from his 21 years in the wine industry. During that time, he’s worked in restaurants, as a wine representative and portfolio manager for Robins Cellars, and served as a wine judge for the Virginia Governor’s Cup and the State Fair of Virginia. These days, he’s the wine specialist for Publix in Midlothian, and enjoys dispensing these anecdotes alongside his favorite bottles at the grocery store.

Mark Sompayrac, wine specialist at Publix in Midlothian, draws on his 21 years' experience in the wine industry when recommending bottles and pairings to customers. 
ASH DANIEL Mark Sompayrac, wine specialist at Publix in Midlothian, draws on his 21 years' experience in the wine industry when recommending bottles and pairings to customers. ASH DANIEL Desserts and wines take center stage on Valentine’s Day, but knowing how to pair the two is part preference, part experience. There are general guidelines – the darker the dessert, the darker the wine, for example. But for a more personal take, the Observer asked Sompayrac to share some of his favorite sweet couplings.

Taittinger Prestige Brut Rosé with red fruit tarts

Founded in 1734, Taittinger is one of the best-known champagnes in the world. Made from pinot noir and pinot meunier, Sompayrac says the non-vintage brut rose has great acidity, strawberry and cherry flavors and a slight bread dough aroma. For these reasons, he recommends pairing it with a traditional red fruit tart, which layers berries on top of custard.

“You want something that’s going to have a nice high, bright, acidity to it,” he says. “That acidity is going to refresh and cleanse your mouth with every bite of the custardy tart filling.”

At about $70, Taittinger isn’t cheap. For a more economical alternative, Sompayrac recommends the non-vintage Mumm Napa Brut Rose. Grown in California, Mumm has many of the same flavor attributes as the Taittinger.

Compared to the Taittinger, Mumm “can be a little heavier, and you can actually see it in the color,” Sompayrac says. In addition to red fruit tarts, he recommends pairing it with tiramisu for an end of meal pick-me-up.

2015 Chateau Ste. Michelle Harvest Select Riesling with creme brulee or Asian pears with blue cheese

With the taste of ripe peaches and a crisp acidity, Sompayrac says this riesling has a taste that lingers.

“This is just decadent with creme brulee,” Sompayrac says, adding that he also recommends it with strong, blue-veined cheeses. He enjoys a glass with cold Asian pear slices smeared with room temperature gorgonzola or cambozola.

“It makes for a very interesting combination” with the cheese, he says. “It’s kind of sweet and salty.”

Dow’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port with fruitcake or toffee

Heath candy bars aren’t the only sweet Sompayrac recommends with port. A good fruitcake – and yes, he insists, they do

exist – is perfect for a port pairing.

“It’s a fortified wine. It’s going to be a little darker, little heavier in the mouth, a little bit of sweetness to it,” Sompayrac says. “You want something with dried fruits, nuts and brown sugar in the mix.”

2016 Horton Viognier with melon

A prime example of Virginia’s signature grape, Horton Viognier is a full-bodied white that tastes of honey and tropical fruit.

“It smells like you’re at a tropical buffet in Cabo with guava, starfruit, flavors that you don’t normally smell in other wines,” Sompayrac says.

For this wine, he recommends letting it breathe for a few minutes before pairing it with honeydew melon. His recipe? Melon balls tossed with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar, a squeeze of fresh lime juice and a couple sprigs of spearmint.

“It’s refreshing,” he says. “It cleanses your palate.”

2016 Barboursville Cabernet Sauvignon with chocolate chip cookies

For lovers of red wine and chocolate, Sompayrac recommends another Virginia bottle. Barboursville’s complex cabernet sauvignon tastes of ripe dark berries with notes of chocolate and currant. Sompayrac says chocolate chip cookies and tiramisu go well with it.

“Anything with a little chocolate in it,” he says.

2017 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rose with red velvet cake

This bone-dry South African cabernet sauvignon rose delivers strawberry, raspberry, dried roses and a hint of watermelon on the nose and a long, complex, slightly spicy finish.

“I’m a big fan of it,” Sompayrac says. “This is serious wine. This is not white zinfandel.”

Sompayrac says red velvet cake is the perfect complement to the rose’s spiciness.

2013 Zenato Amarone di Valpolicella with chocolate fondue

Amarone is made by drying, pressing and aging late-harvest grapes to yield a full-bodied, raisiny wine with a higher alcohol content and higher price tag. Because of this wine’s complexity, Sompayrac recommends decanting for a minimum of 30 minutes to let it breathe.

“You can continue to sip off this wine for three, four days and you’ll get different flavors,” Sompayrac says.

He says the richness of chocolate fondue matches the richness of the chocolate and red berry flavors of the Amarone, especially if cherries and red berries are used in the fondue.

For those who prefer a more savory dessert, he recommends Abbot’s Gold Cheddar with caramelized onions.

“It’s rich, it is decadent, but it matches this wine perfectly.” ¦

Return to top