Thursday, February 14, 2013

Skip dessert and try chocolate wine for Valentine's Day
Chocolate and wine: Some say it's a pairing you should skip, but we'll admit, we love a chocolate wine when it's done right.
By Linnea Covington, TODAY contributor

Pairing chocolate with wine is nothing new, but some wine makers have been pairing them in the bottle. The result, a rich, dessert-like beverage that, when done right, tastes similar to a smooth port – a perfect treat for Valentine’s Day.

Of course, wine geeks aren’t eager to push this vino.

“I think it's just as bad as wine coolers,” said Jonathan Cristaldi, a wine educator and consultant at The Noble Rot. “It creates more unfortunate associations for wine. Sweet and chocolate? Who needs this? Drink chocolate milk or Bailey's.”

Maybe wine snobs don't approve, but hey, some of them taste pretty good. For example, coming out of California is ChocolatRouge, a wine made with chocolate flavors sourced from cacao beans. There, the owners sampled chocolate from across the globe to pick the ones they thought paired best with their wine, and in the end, their Dark Red blend tastes like a slightly sweet velvety dessert wine rather than an overly cloying drink.

Trentadue’s Chocolate Amore is a delicious port that uses Merlot grapes to create the base, and then, includes a natural chocolate extract to finish the blend. Another port-based option to try is Joseph Filippi Winery’s chocolate-infused Fondante Ciello, which is produced in the Cucamonga Valley in California. Want something more exotic? Try Vinedo De Los Vientos Alcyone Tannat, an Uruguayan wine made from the tannat grape. It’s a perfect fill-in for dessert – it’s rich, smooth and like drinking the center of a molten chocolate cake.

There’s also chocolate wine that looks and tastes like chocolate milk. New Jersey-based Opici Wines produces their Cocoa di Vine, which when served chilled, tastes like a Nestle drink with a little buzz. Unlike its dark counterpart, this vino is made with the Pedro Ximenez grape, or Spanish sherry.

Owner Don Opici writes on the website that, “We tried several different chocolate formulas using a red wine base and didn’t find an appealing flavor profile. It wasn’t until we combined the chocolate with a white-wine base that the delicious aromas and flavors jumped out of the glass.”

Of course, you can always skip the bottled combinations of chocolate and wine and instead enjoy them separately. Cristaldi says that the combination generally doesn’t go well together because “the sweetness and bitterness and acid of chocolate tends to heighten the same characteristics in the wine.”

He isn’t alone in this assertion. At Lakewood Vineyards in New York’s Finger Lakes wine region, winemaker Chris Stamp said he has struggled to find the right pairings for the annual Seneca Wine Trail’s chocolate and wine event happening at around 30 wineries this coming weekend.

“It took me a lot of long and hard searching to find these, but I have been surprised a few times that some things can go together,” he said. “You want to use higher cocoa and less sweet chocolates, and try to pair with a fruit that has some acid.”

Juliette Pope, beverage director at Gramercy Tavern, shared her tips for pairing the two.

"If you have chocolate with berries or other fruit, go for a vintage port," she said .

She suggests trying Dow’s Vintage Port 2007, or, for a less expensive option, their ruby port. For a more exotic and expensive option, Recioto della Valpolicella is a good bet.

"If [you’re eating] chocolate with nuts and/or caramel and/or anything else in that vein, go Malvasia from Blandy’s or Leacock’s, or a sweeter style of Oloroso sherry," Pope added.

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