« Back to Articles

Jelly Belly

By Debra Meiburg MW

Despite having been gone for years, the Krispy Krème outlet that once occupied the Chek Lap Kok arrivals hall still haunts my every time I arrive home. But in the wine world, donuts are more than just Homer’s favorite food (and I don’t mean the man responsible for the Odyssey). It seems even wine connoisseurs can’t resist this deep-fried ring-shaped cake because the term is often used to help explain the character of a grape variety and its role in a blend. For example, malbec is often described as a donut variety because it has a flavor “hole” in the centre of your tongue.

What tasters mean is that a donut wine enters the mouth bursting with flavor that seems to disappear momentarily only to emerge again with plush richness after swallowing. Most famous of the so-called donut varieties is cabernet sauvignon, which is why it is usually blended with other varieties, such as Merlot, “to put jelly in the hole.”

Varieties that offer subdued flavor as they enter the mouth but seem to explode with luscious fruit a few seconds later are often slangily referred to as “the jelly in the donut.” Bordeaux producers use merlot as the “jelly variety” that rounds out the mid-palate austerity of cabernet sauvignon. Australian producers often blend shiraz into their cabernet sauvignon wines, relying on this opulent variety to provide a blackberry mid-palate. Italy’s Veneto region produces a friendly cherry-perfumed wine called Valpolicella as well as an elegant raisin and brown-spice scented wine called Amarone. Both are both made from a blend of three varieties, rondinella, molinara and corvina, with corvina providing the cherry-flavored jelly-fill.

Hong Kong’s favorite sparkling wine, Champagne, is mostly based on a blend of three varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir. Chardonnay provides the delicate front-palate lemon flavors, Pinot Meunier acts as the “jelly in the donut” and Pinot Noir provides the final flavors. Cava, a sparkling wine from Spain somewhat styled along the lines of Champagne, but produced from three indigenous — virtually unpronounceable — varieties Xarel Lo, Parellada and Macabeo relies on Parellada to fill its middle.

Blending isn’t solely about injecting fruit into the palate. Blends have another pragmatic justification. Because many famed wine regions are in marginal climates, some varieties have trouble ripening in cool years. Grapes that can ripen earlier, such as merlot, are there to fill in the gaps during these difficult years. Filling in my own middle doesn’t seem to be much of a problem, so it’s probably just as well the Hong Kong Krispy Krème is no more.

* Wine in China Conference 2014 * November 5 * Hong Kong * Get Your Tickets Here *

Leave a Comment
Name (required) Mail (will not be published) (required) Website Your Comment