Creating an experience where chocolate and wine, when tasted together, create a whole new flavor sensation is my ultimate goal. Remember my tasting advice: sip of wine, bite of chocolate, another sip of wine? While the wine alone is lovely and the chocolate by itself is delicious, the two together are simply sublime.
And sharing how we get to sublime is all part of the fun. I recently designed chocolates for a private wine and chocolate tasting party and wanted to share why I designed a certain chocolate for a particular wine for those palates that are curious. Intellectually curious, that is….
Tasting Notes for Wine
I love to taste the wines before designing chocolates, but sometimes, time doesn’t allow me this luxury, so when I know the selected wines, I do research online to discover the tasting notes for each.
Tasting notes about wines tell you a lot about them: how sweet or dry they are, what aromas and flavor tones are most predominant, which varietals make up the wine, and how acidic or tannic the wine is. All those hints about a wine are so important when it comes to designing or selecting a chocolate that pairs perfectly with it.
My design notes on the pairings that we enjoyed that evening may just satisfy your curiosity.
Roederer Estate Brut paired with the Salted Caramel in dark chocolate sprinkled with French sea salt
Our first wine, the effervescent Roederer Estate Brut, was described in its tasting notes as “crisp and elegant with complex pear, spice and hazelnut flavors.” Aged sparkling wines (“Estate”) also often have a slightly toasted or brioche flavor to them, so I immediately thought of my salted caramel. I have to admit that I was also motivated by the fact that the hostess of the party specifically requested it (she’s a big fan)!
The bubbles of sparkling wines work well with contrast: foods with different textures are absolutely beautiful with them. In this case, the smoothness of the caramel and the pop of the sea salt created the contrast in texture and a tactile, almost sensual, experience in our mouths. As well, the high acidity of the wine made it a perfect match for the salty, creamy and buttery flavors of the caramel. Triple yum.
Since the Roederer Estate is Brut or dry, it needed a darker more intense chocolate couverture (coating). I chose high quality, French chocolate with 70% cacao in this case, but if the wine had been a demi sec or a sweet wine, I would have used a sweeter chocolate (one with less cacao and more sugar).
2009 Rubicon Estate Pennino Zinfandel paired with the Mayan Chile Pepper truffle rolled in cocoa powder
The tasting notes for the 2009 Edizione Pennino Zinfandel were beautiful (just like the wine): “ a concentrated nose of fresh boysenberry and raspberry fruit along with vanillin and mocha notes mingling with nuances of clove and nutmeg spice. The rich berry fruit flavors are generously followed into the mouth and continue into the finish with vanillin and spice notes. The texture is juicy and round with silky soft tannins providing both structure and a rich creaminess that lingers – enticing yet another taste.” Amazon.com (they sell wine too!)
Which flavor to choose for the chocolate? I simply had to go for the spice! And yet I didn’t want to overpower the soft elegance of the wine, so I chose a 61% cacao with a lovely, nutty flavor for the ganache, which would softly envelope the smokiness of the chile pepper from Guatemala I so love. I was very delicate with the chile pepper, so the spice of the wine and chocolate had a long, gorgeous finish. Rolling the ganache gently in cocoa powder with a hint of chile pepper, kept the texture soft as well. No hard outer coating to bite through on this delicate wine and chocolate pairing!
A Trio of Cabernets
The evening got even livelier as we moved on to three very different and extraordinary Cabernet Sauvignons.
Cabernets are known for their black fruit and can also have nutty or mocha undertones. A few, which are deeper and sweeter, even have caramel, maple and brown sugar flavors. My chocolate challenge was to make three distinct chocolates that complemented the wines and didn’t overwhelm our guests with too much chocolate (usually a wine and chocolate pairing has four wines matched with four chocolates).
A winery client recently asked me to design six mini truffles for its wine and chocolate tasting on Valentine’s Day. “Mini truffles,” they said. Hmmm. “Just the ganache and no coating.” Even more hmmm on my part. I was used to making whole chocolates and enrobing them in couverture for gorgeous finish and texture. I was intrigued.
The mini truffles were not only just the right amount of chocolate, they also allowed the guests to taste the ganache with no distractions. Hmm, I thought, this might just work for the party. The chocolates won’t be quite as beautiful and won’t be my signature look and feel, but they will be the pure heart of the chocolate. So, I made mini truffles for three gorgeous wines from Blue Rock (well, in the end two wines…).
2006 Blue Rock Cabernet paired with Black Cherry mini truffle topped with dried cherry
The 2006 Blue Rock Cabernet, as described in Tastingroom.com’s notes, has “a nose of dark cherry and mysterious floral notes. In the mouth the wine brings blackberries and cherries and is surprisingly light on its feet, medium bodied, and beautifully balanced. Typical of Blue Rock Cabernet, it has nice juicy acidity and faint powdery tannins that lift the dark fruit flavors.”
I knew from having designed a Bialla Cabernet chocolate for their harvest party last fall that it was full-on blackberry, so I took a chance, knowing that the Blue Rock Cab was lighter on its feet, and focused on the dark cherry. So as not to overwhelm the light and beautifully balanced wine with too dark of a chocolate, I chose a 61% cacao.
Seems I got this one really right as several guests approached me and said it was their favorite, and even one guest who shared that she normally doesn’t like chocolate with fruit, but she loved this!
2009 Blue Rock Baby Blue Cabernet with Black Raspberry hand-dipped chocolate square AND the Cinnamon-Glazed Walnut mini truffle
And then there was the added challenge of competing tasting notes and the disappearing wine….
According to KensWineGuide.com, the 2009 Baby Blue: “opens with fragrant black raspberry bouquet with a hint of dried cranberry and cherry. On the palate, this wine is medium bodied, balanced, and smooth, yet juicy. The flavor profile is a tasty cherry cola and blueberry blend with hint of mild oak. The finish is dry and its moderate tannins are bit sticky and linger for quite some time.”
While Winehouse.com finds that the” innovative 2008 blend called Baby Blue, made of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, 18% Syrah, and 6% Merlot, has a floral nose of red and black currants as well as spice box. Its seductive aromatics are followed by a silky textured, medium to full-bodied wine with loads of personality and soul.” Love the part about soul.
I found myself intrigued by the mention of black raspberry, which is sometimes all I need to be inspired, and I had a sense that the Cabernet Franc was bringing this fruit forward in the wine, so black raspberry it was!
To add to the complexity of this pairing was a lone chocolate without a wine…. Right up until the night of the party, we were going to taste Blue Rock’s Syrah, but alas, it was totally sold out (good for them!), so we decided to be adventurous and try the chocolate designed for the Syrah with the Baby Blue. Syrah has nutty undertones and a little bit of spice, so I chose to go with walnuts to bring out the nuttiness and cinnamon to balance the spice.
The Syrah in Baby Blue came rushing forward with a big hug to meet the cinnamon-glazed walnut truffle. Wow. This little truffle got a lot of attention from guests, let me tell you!
2009 Bialla Vineyards Cabernet with Blackberry ganache in a decadent dark chocolate dome
Deeply seductive (so much so, it warranted Vito Bialla’s analogy of a perfect “kiss”), the Bialla Cabernet is a classic, big Cab with lots of full-bodied blackberry and complexity.
Wine Spectator raves about it being “deliciously dense, pure, rich and polished… beautifully focused…tiers of supple currant, red berry, blackberry and red and black licorice, with a long, gliding finish where the flavors are woven together in a seamless fashion. “
This “bigness” and its “firm tannins” had to be met with a bigger, more tannic (bitter) chocolate, so the ganache, infused with luscious blackberry, and the couverture were 70% cacao, which has a lot of complexity and holds its own with the chocolate. The beautiful glossy finish and gorgeous crunch of the chocolate coating, only added to the experience. In a wine and chocolate pairing, a big sensuous wine needs to be held firmly in the embrace of chocolate.
Vito and Linda Bialla smiled, and Vincent Valverde of Rubicon Estate said it was the best pairing of the evening. High praise from two wine and chocolate lovers!
The Long Finish
As I slipped away into the evening air, guests were still talking about their favorite chocolate. A chocolatier with a curious palate couldn’t ask for a better long finish….