Uncorking the Cupcake

When the News-Press contacted Red, White & Bleu’s James Roth about pairing wine with cupcakes from the Northern Virginia area, he was up to the challenge.

Though admitting that he “never honestly would have expected” to be coupling his shop’s vino with the bite-size cakes that seem to be sweeping nation’s entrepreneurial consicousness, Roth stuck with his motto: “If you can eat it, you can pair it.”front-page9281

When the News-Press contacted Red, White & Bleu’s James Roth about pairing wine with cupcakes from the Northern Virginia area, he was up to the challenge.

Though admitting that he “never honestly would have expected” to be coupling his shop’s vino with the bite-size cakes that seem to be sweeping nation’s entrepreneurial consicousness, Roth stuck with his motto: “If you can eat it, you can pair it.”


RED, WHITE & BLEU’S co-owner, James Roth. (Photo: Natalie Bedell, News-Press)

A business investor himself, Roth moved to Falls Church from New York City, where he,  at one point, found himself working as Kevin Zraly’s assistant at Windows on the World.

“When it comes to wine tasting, the nose’s olfactory senses are what helps us decipher the nuances as far as delicate flavors, or even robust flavors,” said Roth, adding the five S’s of a proper tasting: Sight, swirl, sniff, sip, swallow … or “spit, depending on whether you want to tie one on or not.”

Though, somewhere in between the swirling and the sipping came the sniffing of chocolate ganache, the shameless chomping of a pink fondant pearl and a flavor epiphany so intense, it was enough to make even this writer a believer.

It’s true; a good wine pairing really can uncover flavors otherwise disguised in almost any food.

Up on the chopping block (or the wine shop’s cheese cutting board for that matter) were eight flavors total from Fairfax Corner’s Cupcakes Actually and Tyson Galleria’s Cake Love.

Like most wine and food pairings, the same rules applied when it came to cupcakes.

“The beauty here is being creative, honing in on one flavor component and saying, ‘Let’s work with that right there,’” said Roth.

Keeping in imaginative tone, wines were paired left and right, often unpredictable in flavor compared to the ingredients of each cupcake. When it came to Cupcake Actually’s Apple Streusel flavor, Roth threw a curveball with a 2006 Robert Hall Rhone de Robles – a red blend of Syrah and Grenache, along with a little Cinsaut and Counoise – playing up the hints of cinnamon instead of its obvious apple notes.

Two cupcakes in, an orange curd was a citrus explosion after a hit of Sauvignon Blanc, and a sugary-sweet cream cheese frosting got a little creamier after picking up on the butterscotch notes of the California Chardonnay slid across the table just in time for the second bite. And so the Willy Wonka-esque flavor experimentation continued without any convincing needed.

“It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it right?” smiled Roth.

Read on to reap the fruits – and cupcakes – of Roth’s sweet, sweet labor.

• Red, White & Bleu’s tasting room is open Friday 5-8 p.m., Saturday noon-8 p.m. and Sunday 1-5 p.m. For more on Cupcakes Actually, visit www. For more on Cake Love, visit


Simply Red, Cupcakes Actually



(Photo: News-Press)

A classic red velvet cupcake, Roth’s pairing focused on the shop’s signature cream cheese icing instead of the cake itself.

“I’m going to go with a Chardonnay, specifically from Sonoma, Calif. Though it sounds like something super oaky, it’s actually very gentle,” said Roth.

With characteristics of caramel and butterscotch, the lightly-creamy white – though a dry wine – has a sweetness that shows through its fruit factor.

“The wine itself is creamy. It’s round and full-bodied, so the icing is much sweeter than the wine itself,” said Roth, who went on to note that the Chardonnay actually tones down the sweetness of the icing.

“Here, we’re taking a very sweet and a very dry and showing a happy medium between the two. It’s quite nice,” said Roth.

• Cherry-on-top Wine: Wild Oak Chardonnay


Almond, Cake Love



(Photo: News-Press)

Smothered in sliced almonds, this vanilla cupcake comes iced with an amaretto-esque buttercream, offering up hints of a nuttiness and toffee.
Paired with a fortified Spanish Sherry from organically-grown grapes, the cupcake immediately takes on the wine’s fig and caramel notes.
“Once you take a sip of the wine, the first 10 seconds is on-the-spot, sweet raisin. Then, it slides into a mellow, nutty note,” said Roth.
What began as simply an almond and vanilla cupcake transforms into rich, coffee-esque dessert two bites – and two sips – in.

“Here, we also have prune notes from the Sherry that are being underscored by the almonds in the actual cupcake,” said Roth.

• Cherry-on-top Wine: Don P.X. La Noría Pedro Ximenez


Dark Chocolate, Cake Love



(Photo: News-Press)

Probably one of the richest of the bunch, Cake Love’s Dark Chocolate cupcake is definitely one for the chocolate lover.
The chocolate cake comes packed with a chocolate-ganache center. On top of that, it’s dipped in a chocolate fudge and chilled in a fridge before being served at room temperature.
Focusing on what Roth classified as the cupcake’s “earthy, cocoa tones,” it was an Argentinian red that came to rescue.
A 2006 Malbec from Mendoza, with its sweet toast aromas, brought out hints of the cupcake’s coffee and mocha attributes that weren’t as present before the pairing. The wine itself brought complementary plum and boysenberry notes to the table.

“The robust flavor of this wine plays off the natural flavor of the cocoa and earthy soil tones,” said Roth.

• Cherry-on-top Wine: Familia Mayol Malbec


Champagne Taste, Cupcakes Actually



(Photo: News-Press)

Described as a cupcake version of a mimosa, this champagne cake is filled with orange curd, then topped double time with a champagne buttercream.
“I’m not going to pair this with a champagne,” Roth said almost immediately. Instead, he went with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, narrowing in on the citrus notes of the cupcake’s filling.
Choosing the island country specifically because the region’s  reputation for citrus-pronounced Sauvignon Blancs, Roth said, “The natural citrus notes in the wine mixed with a bite of the curd actually makes the wine become more herbaceous.”
“That was a cool pairing. I did not expect that to happen,” he added.

• Cherry-on-top Wine: Fairhill Downs Sauvignon Blanc


Vanilla, Cake Love



(Photo: News-Press)

An American favorite, this vanilla cupcake slathered with vanilla buttercream needs no bells and whistles. That’s what the Chardonnay’s for.
“There’s a rich and dense cream present with this cupcake that Chardonnay, especially, is going to pair well with, given its creamy note,” said Roth. Much like Cupcake Actually’s cream cheese icing on the Simply Red, once again Chardonnay proves it’s a diverse pairing option.
Uncorking a 2007 from Sonoma, Calif., the cupcake’s vanilla-bean undertones became more apparent when mixed with a swig of the toasty, French oak flavors.
“[The cupcake] is also being underlined by the apple and lemon zest from the wine,” said Roth, going on to note that the wine should supplement, not dominate, the pairing.

• Cherry-on-top Wine: B.R. Cohn Sonoma Chardonnay


Port Vino, Cupcakes Actually



(Photo: News-Press)

Tailor-made for a pairing, this fudge cupcake, filled with a port wine-infused ganache, is iced with chocolate buttercream, and topped mini chocolate bottle. Sticking with a ruby port wine with raisin undertones, Roth picked up on the cupcake’s filling first.
“The ganache has a bitter component because it’s a dark chocolate, which actually makes the wine seem sweeter than it really is,” said Roth.
Port wine itself is a fortified wine, which means not only have the grapes been crushed, but that a distilled beverage has been added, leaving a residual sugar behind. Therefore, though classified as a red, the taste of the is rather sweet.
One sip of the port and suddenly, the subtle buttercream and sharply-hinted ganache sweeten a bit. “The ganache inside is a cool surprise, which is what makes for the pairing. It’s funky in a great kind of way,” said Roth.

• Cherry-on-top Wine: Quinta de Portal Fine Ruby Port


Raspberry, Cake Love



(Photo: News-Press)

A luscious raspberry, mousse-like buttercream tops this classic chocolate cupcake. And if that wasn’t enough, it gets a little help from a fresh raspberry on top.
“I’m going to pair this bad boy with a Merlot,” said Roth, noting that it wasn’t so much the raspberry he was honing in on as much as it was the merger between the chocolate and berry flavor.
When the cupcake and wine come together, Roth described the result as “more plum-like” with “smoky notes.”
“This Merlot is very soft and mild, so keep in mind it’s not going to dominate the icing or the cake itself. I like to go with something that doesn’t have the exact same component as the raspberry the cupcake already has covered,” said Roth.

• Cherry-on-top Wine: B.R. Cohn Sonoma Merlot


Apple Streusel, Cupcakes Actually



(Photo: News-Press)

Roth decided to pay this cupcake’s cinnamon card. Though not a screaming flavor component, the scent wafting off this crumb-topped apple cake was undeniably cinnamon-spiced.
And everything nice came one sip into the paired glass of a Rhonde blend.
“This particular wine is spicy and there are actually hints of cinnamon in the wine itself. The cool thing about this is to pair something that has a little bit of cinnamon with something that has a pronounced cinnamon component actually boosts the marriage of flavors between the wine and the cupcake,” said Roth, followed with a sip, a bite and a “Wow.”
He added that this would also pair well with an un-wooded Chardonnay, as well as a Sauvignon Blanc with green apple notes.

• Cherry-on-top Wine: Robert Hall Rhonde de Robles