In need of a lift from the winter blahs? Two things always work for me: wine and chocolate.
Born of fat, juicy grapes or dark brown cocoa beans, kissed by the rays of a hot sun, wine and chocolate have the power to bring a little warmth to a cold winter day. And they can make glorious partners with the right pairings. So why not have a party dedicated to finding those pairings?
Choosing wines that can marry with the strong flavour of chocolate is definitely a challenge.
“The wine needs to be as sweet as or sweeter than the chocolate with which you match it,” explains Anne Martin, wine consultant and one of Canada’s foremost sommeliers. “The fat content of chocolate makes it complex and mouth filling, which is what we love about it, but it’s important not to let it overwhelm the wine, so it has to be full-bodied and high in alcohol.”
Start, as we did, with six different 100-gram bars of Green & Black’s organic chocolates. In order to pair each with a wine, you can either choose a wine that has the same flavour notes, or look for different, but complementary, flavour notes. You get to decide what you like best.
Some chocolates simply won’t pair, however. I wondered about Green & Black’s Maya Gold — a dark chocolate with orange and spices — and Martin promptly opposed.
“It’s just too strong a flavour, which does neither the chocolate nor the wine any favours,” she said.
Start with the lightest chocolate and finish with the strongest dark chocolates with flavourings. Allow two squares per person.
“You don’t need accompaniments,” Martin said, offering a single exception. “But between each tasting, you can cleanse the palate with a small piece of French baguette and a sip of water.”
Take a small piece of the chocolate and smell it. Now pop it into your mouth and let it fill your palate. Don’t chew!
Pinch your nose and allow the flavours to develop in your mouth. Pinching your nose lets your tongue and mouth truly experience the tastes and other sensations perceived in the mouth, as opposed to flavour, which is perceived by the olfactory gland in the nasal canal.
Stop pinching and take a deep breath. You’ll find the aromas are strong when you do this. Allow the chocolate to melt slowly on the tongue. As the cocoa butter melts, it releases the volatiles and you’ll find the nuances.
Repeat with another small piece of chocolate and have a sip of the wine and roll it around in your mouth. What happens to the chocolate left in your mouth? Is the combination pleasant? Compare notes with others.
Wine and chocolate pairings
There are a couple of rules before you start. Ask your guests to refrain from wearing after-shave or perfume, as these will interfere with your appreciation of the aromas. Put the red wine in the refrigerator for 15 minutes before serving, Martin suggests, so it’s at the right temperature.
White wine should be removed from the refrigerator 15 minutes before serving. Icewine needs to be icy cold. Chocolate should always be served at room temperature.
The following pairings were suggested by Martin for Green & Black’s chocolate varieties. I like these because they’re organic and Free Trade.
Milk Chocolate: J. Lohr Riverstone Chardonnay California $18.85.
White Chocolate: Cave Spring Indian Summer late harvest select Riesling $24.95.
Milk Chocolate and Almond: H.M. Borges Medium Sweet Madeira $17.95.
Dark 70 percent Chocolate: Taylor Fladgate 10 year old Tawny Port.
Dark Chocolate with Ginger: Gonzales Byass Solera 1847 Oloroso Dulce (medium dry) Sherry $15.95.
Dark Chocolate with Cherry: Mas Janeil Maury $15.70.
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