There is no German wine that pairs with chocolate - this is what I have been told at a recent event on matching German wine with food. Whether you agree with this statement depends on what type of wine you would pair with chocolate of course. If you are amongst those who believe that sweeter red wines might work, well, then that statement is wrong. After all not only is about 40% of all wine made in Germany red, some of these do come in sweeter style too.
"Avantgarde", a semi-sweet Mosel red wine in an, er, avantgardistically shaped bottle is one of them. It is also a wine I have been scared of for a long time.
Scared? Well, Germany makes some of the best wines in the world, in particular the Mosel region. However, Germany also produces a lot of cheap bulk wine, in particular of the semi-sweet type that the UK market sucks up in large quantities. Avantgarde does not rank in the cheapest section, but it does come from a grower co-operative that is so large, they have about three orders of magnitude more vineyard land than the average Mosel producer. Now, that does not mean to say all their wines are plonk, but looking at the bottle I found it very hard to assume anyone would be willing to fill any half decent wine into a 1980s kitsch bottle nightmare. And while I don't like bad, sweetish white wine, I dread bad sweetish red wine even more.
So for two years I have lived in fear of Avantgarde until it was clear I could no longer wait - and opened the bottle. As I did not dare face the wine alone I brought my trusty childhood friend bolognese sauce along to help me over the worst.
When you take the Avantgarde out of the bottle it does not look so bad - a dark, ruby red colour looks more substantial than what you would expect from a German red. This comes from the Dornfelder grapes that went into the wine - a dark skinned, German variety that can produce quite substantial wines. To my surprise the bouquet wasn't so bad either: leather polish, blackcurrant, baked fruit with a touch of boozy cherry, all spiced with rose hip tea, faint cocoa-vanilla and a sharper herbal note that vaguely reminded me of cleaning agent. Mostly smooth, but not as substantial as you might believe - which is not bad as otherwise it may have become too jammy.
The drinking experience more or less matched the bouquet. A fairly smooth, medium body with currant juiciness and sweetness. There is not much depth at first, mid-palate suddenly the fruit kicks in and towards the finish the sweetness makes a prominent, gum-coating appearance that is only partially balanced by the Dornfelder tannins on the tip of your tongue. Avantgarde does have a certain quaffable quality, I cannot deny it, at least if you like your wines red and sweetish. It is easy to drink and as long as you can live with the sweetness and don't expect much precision or depth it might work.
For me it was too warm and sweet, lacking elegance and structure, but with bolognese or a lighter chocolate dessert it might serve if nothing else is to hand. At least now I know there is no reason to fear semi-sweet Dornfelder as such; the bottle, well, that's another story...