Recently, as I rushed through the green 'nothing to declare' lane at the airport, I was greeted by an intensely seductive bouquet: the new Krispy Kreme outlet at Chek Lap Kok. Doughnuts and wine are an unlikely pairing, but the word does arise in wine circles. It seems even wine connoisseurs can't resist this 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 doughnut variety because it has a flavour 'hole' in the centre of your tongue.
What tasters mean is that a doughnut wine enters the mouth bursting with flavour that seems to disappear momentarily, only to emerge again with plush richness after swallowing. The most famous of the so-called doughnut 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 flavours 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 doughnut'. 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 taste mid-palate.
Italy's Veneto region produces a cherry-perfumed wine called Valpolicella as well as an elegant raisin and brown spice-scented wine called Amarone. Both are made from a blend of three varieties: rondinella, molinara and corvina, with the latter grape providing the cherry-flavoured jelly filling.
Hong Kong's favourite sparkling wine, champagne, is mostly based on a blend of three varieties: chardonnay, pinot meunier and pinot noir. The first provides the delicate front-palate lemon flavours, pinot meunier acts as the jelly in the doughnut and pinot noir provides the final flavours. Cava, a sparkling wine from Spain styled along the lines of champagne, is produced from three indigenous varieties - xarel-lo, parellada and macabeo - and 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 I suppose I'll need to look for another justification for the box of Krispy Kremes on my desk. Like this column on doughnut varieties.