From Chocolate to Wine: A British Columbia Adventure

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I was enticed into writing this article after a passionate twitter discussion about pairing wine and chocolate. In my experiences I have found chocolate and wine pairing to be an extremely tricky affair and I tend not to agree with a lot of the ‘classic’ pairings, such as port and chocolate (in which I find the chocolate overwhelms the port). My discussions led me to a visit with Pamela Clarke of Vancouver’s Xoxolat where, in anticipation of an event Xoxolat is planning, she graciously donated a few chocolates to the cause of finding a good wine and chocolate pairing. The samples included some chocolates topped with dried fruit and nuts, a rock salt and peppercorn chocolate bar, a cherry and chili chocolate bar and a wildcard lavender chocolate bar, all of which Xoxolat makes in house.

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After my meeting with Pamela I walked down to Liberty Wine Merchants on Granville Island and picked up four wines, all from BC:

1. Venturi Schulze Brut Naturel 2006

2. Mount Boucherie Summit Reserve Pinot Noir 2007

3. Elephant Island Orchard Wines Framboise (fortified) 2008

4. Venturi Schulze Brandenburg No. 3 2007

My general philosophy has been that it is nearly impossible to pair dry reds with chocolate, and that many sweet wines are killed by the intensity of heavy dark chocolate. Thus, my philosophy in this pairing was to consider how the secondary flavours infused in the chocolate would pair with the wines and build off of these flavours as a base.

I started by pairing specific chocolates with specific wines and then experimented from there – but the wildcard lavender chocolate proved the hardest to get right. Otherwise, the results were pretty interesting and this experiment was a good lesson in how hard chocolate is to pair, but also how innovative combinations often serve to bring out the best in both a wine and a food better than many of the ‘classics’. Accordingly I rated both the wines themselves and the pairing. On to the tasting!

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1. Venturi Schulze Brut Naturel w/ Chocolate Topped with Dried Cranberry

This sparkling wine had a nose with yeasty bread notes and apple. The palate had nectarine, apple, apricot, clay, earth, and lemon. Overall I was reasonably impressed with this BC Brut and its acidic lift. I did find, however, that the alcohol was a bit out of balance.
Very Good
$25 / 375ml at Liberty

Enter the chocolate: the acidity in the dried cranberry complimented the acidity in the sparkling wine and actually balanced out the alcohol. The wine enhanced the brightness of the fruit and brought out its contrast with the rich chocolate very well. In the end, this was a very surprising pairing that to me worked extremely well.
Pairing Rating: Very Good+ to Excellent

2. Mount Boucherie Summit Reserve Pinot Noir 2007 w/ Himalayan Rock Salt and 3 Peppercorn Chocolate

A nose of big burnt fruit, rich cherry, pepper and strawberry. The palate is surprisingly respectable – lots of light red cherry, a bit of cola, and a light dust of baking spices with a hint of pepper. There is more complexity here than I was expecting and I was hoping that the spice in the wine would marry with the peppercorns in the chocolate.
Very Good
$24 at Liberty

Pairing this with the chocolate proved my fears to be valid. The sweetness in the chocolate (which was not severe at 71% cocao) overwhelmed the fruit and soured the wine. The pepper did not compliment the finish at all, which is too bad because the chocolate really is outstanding. Nonetheless, this isn’t an undrinkable pairing, it just does not enhance either partner.
Pairing Rating: Fair

3. Elephant Island Orchard Wines Framboise (Fortified) 2008 w/ Dark Chocolate Topped with Cacao Nibs

Strictly speaking this is not ‘wine’ per se, but liqueur – aka raspberry syrup. Don’t get me wrong, this is very tasty alcoholic syrup, but it doesn’t have the complexity of a real wine. But, this is perhaps the secret to its versatility with pairing.
Good+
$25/375ml at Liberty

Speaking of versatility, who doesn’t love raspberry and chocolate? This is a classic pairing and works with all of the chocolates on offer except for the lavender, which clashes brutally. Best with a simple bitter chocolate, many people will nonetheless enjoy this with many dark chocolate offerings and this would make a great treat at a dinner party either in a glass, or poured over a dessert.
Pairing Rating: Very Good

4. Venturi Schulze Brandenburg No. 3 2007 w/ Chocolate infused with Cherries and Chilies

Perhaps the most interesting wine of the experiment, this was made with Sylvaner grapes and has a surprising nose of pear, prune, dried asian plum and flowers. The palate is also unique and is distinctly pulling out the strange dried asian fruit characteristics with a good dose of pear. This is fairly syrupy and sweet on its own and not really worth the price. However, the pairing is where this wine came alive.
Good
$40/375ml at Liberty

I paired this unique dessert wine with the cherry and chili chocolate and the result was beautiful. The heat of the chilies punched through the sugar and tempered the syrupy quality of the wine, making it livlier, fresher and far more balanced. The chocolate also became even more interesting with the wine bringing out the cherry considerably and mellowing the spice in the mouth. This was not only the best pairing, but the most unique and it demonstrated how sometimes very specific unique flavours are what create that harmonic marriage of food and booze.
Pairing Rating: Excellent

In the end, pairing wine and chocolate proved to be extremely difficult but also very fun. The most surprising pairing was the Brut and the cranberry chocolate, and the most unique without doubt was the Sylvaner with the chili chocolate. I suppose wine and food pairing is somewhat like an human relationship: despite apparrent compatability, it is often the strange and quirky qualities that bring people together in the most passionate and inspired ways. And, if wine is meant to enhance our appreciation of life, perhaps pairing should share a similar philosophy and expose us to the truly unique and wonderful.

Full Disclosure: I received the chocolates as a sample from Xoxolat.
I purchased the wine on my own dime.

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