March 30, 2012

Wine & Chocolate A Perfect Pairing

Everyone knows about wine and cheese, but wine and chocolate? Now there’s a match made in heaven.

BY JOHN SCHREINER

Daniel Poncelet, the president of Daniel Le Chocolat Belge, admits that he usually consumes wines and chocolate separately. But with the rising interest in wine and chocolate pairings, he offered a selection of his creative chocolates for a fascinating wine pairing trial. Most pairings we tried succeeded; some were pure magic.

Why pair wine and chocolate in the first place? Dr. Nicholas Proia, a professor of clinical internal medicine in Ohio, argues that the pairing is healthy. Chocolate is known to lower cholesterol and reduce blood pressure. Proia is a wine drinker who often consumed wines with cheese but became increasingly concerned about the high fat content of cheese. When he turned to chocolate instead, he found that some were either too sweet or too bitter for wine. So a few years ago, he developed the Brix brand of chocolates (milk, dark and extra dark) specifically for wines. These are now widely available in wineries and wine stores.

These high quality but rather unadorned chocolates are supporting actors to the wines: milk chocolate with port, icewine, pinot noir or rosé; medium dark chocolate with zinfandel, merlot and syrah; and extra-dark with cabernet sauvignon, barolo and Bordeaux reds.

We wondered what would happen when pairing wine with Daniel’s creative chocolates, made with whipped cream, natural fruit fillings and spices. Daniel, who was a computer consultant in his native Belgium, switched careers dramatically to open his first chocolate store on Vancouver’s Robson Street in 1981. Now he has nine stores and a growing range of innovative chocolates.

We tested six different chocolates with a variety of wines. Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 was a good pair with Intense Ganache (72 per cent cocoa chocolate with cream). Mt. Lehman Pinot Noir Reserve 2009 paired with ganache (64 per cent cocoa). Even better was Sandhill Osprey Ridge Vineyards Viognier 2009, a rich, golden wine whose honeyed apricot flavours paired seamlessly with either chocolate. Some of our panel also liked Nk’Mip’s 2008 Qwam Qwmp Chardonnay with these chocolates.

We enjoyed Hester Creek Reserve Merlot 2008 with cardamom truffles. Hester Creek’s Reserve Cabernet Franc 2009 paired with raspberry chocolates because the natural raspberry purée picked up the wine’s brambly flavours.

John Schreiner is the author of The Wineries of British Columbia.

Daniel’s Orangette (candied orange peels covered with dark chocolate), his passion fruit chocolate and his sinfully creamy sea salt caramel were almost over-the-top indulgence with Mission Hill’s Reserve Riesling Icewine 2010.

However, the finest pairing with every one of Daniel’s chocolates was with Quails’ Gate’s Optima Late Harvest 2010, a dessert wine with just the right degree of sweetness, but not too much, to complement the chocolates. This is a wine made, like sauternes, with botrytis-affected grapes. The subtle honey and tobacco flavours are delicious with chocolate.

You should stay away from tannic young red wines, which taste bitter with dark chocolate. You should also avoid bone-dry whites which lack the flavour intensity that chocolate pairings demand. Those cautions aside, chocolate and wine pairings will refresh your appreciation of both.

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