“Death by chocolate” might be a better title to this article!
The other night we ran a Wine and Chocolate Tasting. Not an obvious marriage as, on the whole, chocolate kills most wines. However I like a challenge and thought it only fitting to get into the Easter spirit!
Whilst researching the subject it became more and more apparent that chocolate, much like wine, is a hugely complex subject. The type of bean used differs in much the same way that the range of grape varieties differ. The soil, climate and location are equally as important.
We kicked off the tasting learning how to taste chocolate – as opposed to the usual stuffing of chocolate that most of us (myself included) are more familiar with. Look, smell, listen ( I have only ever had one student do that to wine, he used to listen to the bubbles of Champagne!), then let the chocolate melt in your mouth and with your tongue coat the insides whilst you search for the chocolates’ characteristics. Fabulous stuff. We tried a 75% Trinidad Grand Cru and then a 75% Ivory Coast Grand Cru. It was fascinating to see how different they both were. From fruity and acidic to smoky and toasty. I think that night 16 people had their perception of chocolate permanently changed.
So to the wines. What makes pairing chocolate with wine so difficult is not necessarily the sweetness but the cloying, coating character that numbs the tongue and deadens the senses. Hence the fact that fortified wines work so well, they have both the sweetness and weight from the alcohol, required to lift the palate and withstand the chocolate.
However the night was not all about sweetness, we also looked at using chocolate in savoury dishes. There are many French and Mexican dishes that use chocolate, it can add spice and a depth to sauces. The chocolate that I used for these dishes was a 100% Cacao from Peru – Willy’s Peruvian Black. Outrageously dark and bitter, this is not for munching on, but delicious as a cooking ingredient.
The first dish was duck coated in a balsamic and chocolate sauce, wonderfully rich but not at all sweet. This we partnered with the Domaine du Petit Causse, Cuvée Andréa, AOC Minervois La Livinière 2007. The wine was intense with hints of cinnamon, nutmeg and dark cherries which complimented the richness of the duck and sauce.
Next up an authentic Mexican Chili with plenty of spice, the chocolate added a glossiness to the sauce and a smoky spiciness. This we served with the Wolf Blass Yellow Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2007. Cabernet often has notes of bitter chocolate, in fact many enjoy a glass of New World Cabernet with a bar of chocolate. The Wolf Blass was rich, ripe and powerful. Plenty of fruit, ripe tannins, balanced acidity and it worked beautifully with the Chili.
This was followed by a light chocolate and orange mousse served with the lightest and frothiest of Asti’s! As Matt said, if a wine was to get points for fun then Asti would be at the top of the class. Muscat is the grape that works best with chocolate, it is highly adaptable and has the right balance of sweetness and acidity. The mousse was light, frothy and and not too sweet, the chocolate used was a Javanese milk chocolate with 65% cocoa solids. The wine had the perfect balance of lightness, sweetness and orange blossom that complimented.
The 4th dish was an incredibly rich, chocolate cake – the River Cafe’s Chocolate Nemesis, no flour, just chocolate, eggs, butter and sugar and lots of each! This required something with weight as it would overpower a Sauternes so we turned to Australia and a Rutherglen Muscat from Campbells. Intensely sweet, notes of toffee, dates, caramel and fruit cake. The chocolate used to make the cake was a mix of Madagascan and a premium cooking chocolate by Michel Cluziel which gave notes of coconut and toffee.
The next dish was an unusual combination of Tawny Port, Dominican Republic chocolate and Bleu de Gex cheese. My take on Paul.A. Young’s chocolate and blue cheese truffle. A very rich truffle that had a gentle after taste of blue cheese, it was rolled in toasted praline to give an added ‘crunch’. This was served with a local wine, Domaine Cazes Ambré 1996 made from Grenache Blanc and left on ullage to gently oxidise. The wine was superb, nutty, intense, not overtly sweet, a great combo with the blue cheese and with just enough weight for the chocolate.
Last but not least were Agen prunes soaked in Armagnac and dipped in 3 types of chocolate, Peruvian Pralines Noir, 64% Noir and 72% Noir. The prunes were alcoholic, chewy and very naughty! The wine, 2008 Maury from Domaine des Soulanes. A wine that is a perfect balance of sweetness, fruit, acidity and tannin. If in doubt serve Maury with chocolate as it is always a good match.
Our conclusion, wine and chocolate can and do match. Muscat is a good match as is Maury (fortified Grenache). Next time you are buying cooking chocolate look out for specific regions, and remember that if the chocolate is black in colour it is because inferior beans have been used and over roasted, it should be a rich brown or red/brown colour.
By Emma Kershaw
06 46 48 59 57
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Les Collines de l’Hirondelle – Douzens
Librairie Le Nom de L’Homme – Lagrasse
Boutique Eppo Dekker – Lagrasse
L’Atelier des Vignerons – Limoux