At P.S. Cellars, there is always an option to enhance your tasting experience by upgrading to a tasting flight of 5 wines paired with 5 gourmet bites. The pairings change often.
This past weekend as part of the Wine 4 Paws fund raiser for the local Humane Society, the tasting room went with a birthday theme in honor of the winery’s dog’s birthday. That meant cupcakes for the humans as the dogs enjoyed peanut butter treats. The cupcakes were mini so it was easy for guests to enjoy all five as part of a tasting.
Pairing sweets with dry wine can be a challenge. In general if the food is sweet it will make the wine seem bitter, so the old school rule is the wine should always be sweeter than the food (I have successfully challenged this rule on occasion). I modified my typical cake and icing recipes to make them more wine-friendly. Across the board, I would have to say all the pairings for the weekend worked well and guests raved about the tasting experience. One went so far as to say it was the best wine tasting experience they had ever had, while another said they found it an educational and eye-opening experience since they did not expect the pairings to work.
Here are the pairings with a few tips for tweaks in case you want to try this on your own.
Eat Lemon Cupcakes with P.S. Cellars Arneis
The Arneis is a crisp wine with a nice acidity. Clearly a difficult wine to pair with a dessert. The first tweak to the lemon cupcake recipe was to skip the icing (normally I would do a buttercream with a little lemon juice) and instead decorate with a little preserved lemon. The batter itself had less than half the normal amount of sugar, plenty of freshly squeezed lemon juice and lots of lemon zest. To make sure these were moist, I used olive oil instead of butter in the batter. These were so fun and paired so well that they will be included in future pairing flights!
Eat Cherry Cupcakes with P.S. Cellars Barbera
It is hard not to think cherry as soon as you mention Barbera. I decided to go with the obvious pairing and make cherry cupcakes. Once again to help the pairing I decided to skip the icing and for decoration I added some chopped cherries coated in flour to the top of the muffin batter just prior to putting them in the oven. The batter itself had about 1/2 of the normal amount of sugar and the cherry juice from a jar of maraschino cherries added some sweetness as well as that pretty, pink color. While these worked well, the maraschino cherries were a tad too sweet — next time I’ll use dried Bing cherries instead.
Eat Vanilla Berry Cupcakes with P.S. Cellars Grenache/Syrah
Clearly a vanilla base is an easy pairing with a red wine, a little less sugar and high quality vanilla makes a simple cupcake. To make the pairing even better, I decided to go with a berry “icing” and a fresh raspberry topping. I used a package of unsweetened, frozen, mixed berries and stirred/simmered until the berries broke down and the juice thickened – no sugar was added to keep the nature tart flavors of the berries. Once the berries had cooled down they were added to whipped cream cheese – without the icing sugar, the texture was not what you would expect in an actual icing; however, the flavor was perfect and the color was lovely. This was the winning cupcake in terms of looking pretty.
Eat Carrot Cupcakes with P.S. Cellars Aglianico
Carrot cake with cream cheese icing is one of my favorites, so I had to try that with a wine. I used plenty of carrots and olive oil to make sure the cakes were moist. I reduced the sugar in the base and used maple syrup in the cream cheese icing. To cut the sweetness of the icing, a dusting of ground walnuts was added. The rich body of the Aglianico helped the pairing, and the wine was able to hold up to the creamy icing. I would say that although this worked, it was least successful of the pairings …but those cupcakes were yummy!
Eat Chocolate Cupcakes with P.S. Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon
You can’t have a birthday party without chocolate cupcakes with icing and sprinkles on top! I enjoy chocolate with cabernet, so the only tweak here was to reduce the sweetness. I cut the sugar in batter and added hot coffee to boost the chocolate flavor. The icing had double the normal amount of cocoa, half the sugar and more coffee. This was a very good pairing and a true crowd pleaser. It was a good thing I made a double batch, since several people couldn’t stop at just one…they were tiny after all.
The P.S. Cellars tasting room is open Friday – Sunday 11-5. Be sure to stop in and try a gourmet bite pairing flight on your next visit to Paso Robles Wine Country. The winery is located at 13350 River Road, San Miguel on the Pleasant Valley Wine Trail.