Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Heart-Winning Combination: Wine, Chocolates and Roses

Red wine, a heart-shaped box of chocolates, and a dozen long-stemmed red roses are the perfect ingredients for a romantic Valentine’s Day!  

While the tradition of Valentine's Day dates back to Roman times and Cocoa beans have been harvested for millennia, the tradition of chocolate gifts only started in the 1800s.  Fine chocolates are a natural progression beyond those chalky little conversation hearts, and in the Conejo Valley there are plenty of wines available that will pair nicely with them.

Many of the chocolates consumed in the United States are milk chocolate, but dark (semisweet) and extra dark (bittersweet) chocolates are quickly becoming popular; especially those from a single source. These tropically-grown chocolates have the complexity of a fine wine and the impact of terroir that makes them very unique and delicious. 


I checked with Tifa Chocolates in Westlake Village for some ideas about which chocolates to pair with local red wines and bought these four delicious bars.
Amedei – Toscano Brown Cioccolato al Latte, 32% cocoa, milk chocolate is a rich and creamy milk chocolate with a vanilla-like flavor.

Michel Cluizel – Plantation, Vila Gracinda, São Tomé, 67% cocoa, semisweet dark chocolate has an aroma of molasses, licorice, tobacco and espresso with a taste of fennel, raspberry jam and a hint of fresh fig.  Coffee, tobacco and oak spices are prominent with a finish of anise and a back note of fig.

François Pralus – Madagascar, Crillo, 75% cocoa, bittersweet very dark chocolate has fruit and crisp acidity top notes from raspberry to red wine, continuing through more caramelized richer flavors to a golden syrup-like finish.

François Pralus – Trinidad, Trinitario, 75% cocoa, bittersweet very dark chocolate has aromas of spice, tobacco, and dried herbs with smoky and dark flavors.
If your are looking for more variety than just chocolate bars then try some chocolate bon-bons from Tifa Chocolates or Chocolatine in Thousand Oaks. They both sell very good chocolate bon-bons. The ones available at Chocolatine are made by Chocolats du CaliBressan—an excellent chocolatier in Carpenteria and Santa Barbara.

To enjoy a wine that complements your favorite chocolate best follow this basic rule—pair light to dark chocolates with light to dark wines. This guideline was generally true for the following wine and chocolate combinations I tasted. 

Local Wines with Chocolate
Every year there seem to be more wineries in the Conejo Valley and surrounding areas. The following wines represent some of these (but not all) local wineries. The chocolate bars that paired well are listed after each wine.

Aldabella 2013 Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills with cherry, red berry plus hints of tobacco and licorice, pairs well with all chocolates, especially the Trinidad 75% bittersweet cocoa.
Amedei – Toscano Brown Cioccolato al Latte   
Michel Cluizel – Plantation, Vila Gracinda, São Tomé
François Pralus – Madagascar, Crillo
François Pralus – Trinidad, Trinitario

Alma Sol 2012 Almazan Dessert Wine, Paso Robles pairs very well with the 67% dark and 75% bittersweet cocoa. This Portuguese Port-style wine uses both Tempranillo and Touriga Nacional grapes from the east side of Paso Robles. The nose is cherries and cranberries and follows through with a very fruit forward, elegant mouth feel. The finish is long with a touch of fortified wine.
Michel Cluizel – Plantation, Vila Gracinda, São Tomé
François Pralus – Madagascar, Crillo
François Pralus – Trinidad, Trinitario

Eagles Landing is a private label of the head winemaker at Herzog Wine Cellars, Joe Hurliman. His 2013 Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills presents black raspberry and black cherry notes, complimented by hints of rose petal and orange blossom. A rich and full mouthfeel leads a layered finish of vanilla and dark chocolate. Eagles Landing is sold through Herzog's wine club.
Michel Cluizel – Plantation, Vila Gracinda, São Tomé
François Pralus – Madagascar, Crillo
François Pralus – Trinidad, Trinitario

Four Brix 2012 Petite Sirah, Russian River, Sonoma pairs well with the 67% dark chocolate and pairs even better with both 75% bittersweet cocoa, which matches the light to dark rule. The nose is dark fruit with dominant blueberries and dark fruit on the palette with blackberries and blueberries. The intense, inky color is a good match with chocolate.
Michel Cluizel – Plantation, Vila Gracinda, São Tomé
François Pralus – Madagascar, Crillo
François Pralus – Trinidad, Trinitario

Herzog Cellars 2014 Camouflage paired perfectly with the 67% dark and both 75% bittersweet cocoa. This wonderful field blend of 12 varietals tastes of red and black raspberries, espresso, and nutmeg.
Michel Cluizel – Plantation, Vila Gracinda, São Tomé
François Pralus – Madagascar, Crillo
François Pralus – Trinidad, Trinitario

San Vicente Cellars 2010 Full Circle is a blend of 65% Syrah  and 35% Sangiovese that paired very well with the darker chocolates. The winemaker brings two experiences from his career together with this Syrah and Sangiovese "Full Circle" blend. It is a full-bodied wine with notes of berry, cherry, and dark chocolate.
Michel Cluizel – Plantation, Vila Gracinda, São Tomé
François Pralus – Madagascar, Crillo
François Pralus – Trinidad, Trinitario

Sunland Vintage Winery 2013 Teroldego is a unique varietal that was a perfect match with all of the chocolates. The caramel flavor of the milk chocolate and the tobacco of the 67% dark cocoa paired especially well. Teroldego compares to Zinfandel with spicy red fruits, hints of tar, pine, and almond, but it has an acidity level that makes it versatile with most food.
Amedei – Toscano Brown Cioccolato al Latte   
Michel Cluizel – Plantation, Vila Gracinda, São Tomé
François Pralus – Madagascar, Crillo
François Pralus – Trinidad, Trinitario

Vinemark Cellars 2013 Primitivo Port Style, Paso Robles is a ruby dessert wine that has toasty almond aromas with ripe berry flavors. Cherry liquor, Cassis and earthy notes plus a hint of dried cherries and chocolate. It paired well with all of the chocolates.
Amedei – Toscano Brown Cioccolato al Latte   
Michel Cluizel – Plantation, Vila Gracinda, São Tomé
François Pralus – Madagascar, Crillo
François Pralus – Trinidad, Trinitario 

Pairing Summary
This table shows how well each wine paired with the four different styles of chocolate.
The Four Brix 2012 Petite Sirah was fantastic with the two very dark chocolates.
The majority of the wines all paired very well with the full range of dark chocolates:
  • Alma Sol 2012 Almazan Dessert Wine 
  • Eagles Landing 2013 Pinot Noir
  • Herzog Cellars 2014 Camouflage
  • San Vicente Cellars 2010 Full Circle
  • Sunland Vintage Winery 2013 Teroldego
  • Vinemark Cellars 2013 Primitivo Port Style
Aldabella 2013 Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills, Sunland 2013 Teroldego and Vinemark 2013 Primitivo Port Style all paired well with the milk chocolate, the dark chocolate, and the two very dark chocolate bars.
Photo by LP Noonan
Great Valentine’s Day pairings are easily found at wineries and chocolate shops around the Conjeo Valley. Visit them with someone special this year—and don’t forget the roses!
Happy Valentines Day!
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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Taste N Trip 2016 Festivals

The number of wine and food and beer festivals increases every year. This year I'm planning on attending these four in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

23rd Casa Pacifica Angels Wine, Food & Brew Festival 
June 5
California State University Channel Islands 
A fun venue with plenty of California wineries, gourmet food, craft beer and a live music stage. It’s interesting to see who wins the Yummies Culinary Competition and the Best in Fest Beer Competition. Plus a separate VIP entry and lounge area with live music provides a relaxing way to enjoy special foods and wine.
30th Annual Ojai Wine Festival 
June 12
Lake Casitas Recreation Area 
This scenic and accesible location, with a free shuttle from Ojai, offers a wide variety of California wineries and craft beers. An exclusive VIP area with gourmet food and fine wines is a nice location to start the festival. Everyone eventually gets hooked by the live musical entertainment.
29th Santa Barbara Wine Festival
June 25
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
This festival has a relaxing vibe and it's a great way to taste
Central Coast Wines. The food and wine are served along the banks of Mission Creek behind the Museum of Natural History. You really can talk to winemakers, bakers, and chefs under the oak trees without having to shout over live music. 
Watch the Taste N Trip video from last year on YouTube.
29th Annual A Taste of Camarillo – Wine & Food Festival 
July 31
Camarillo Ranch
The VIP area and ranch grounds are well laid out with wine, beer and food booths. Every year the Meadowlark Service League plans a new festival theme that sets the tone for musical acts and entertainment. A very good selection of wines from the Central Coast, Santa Barbara County and Ventura County are available for tasting; plus tasty dishes from many popular restaurants and caterers from Camarillo are served.

All of these festivals support charities and are a good way to explore Southern California food, wine, beer and music! You can read about past festivals (dating back to 2012) on this Taste N Trip blog.
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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

LA Chocolate Festival & Pastry Show 2015

The Sweetest Day of the Year was on December 27th at The Olympic Collection where the LA Chocolate Festival & Pastry Show was presented by JetBlue Airways.
In addition to mint drinks JetBlue also poured a very good Turley Zinfandel.
JetBlue celebrated Mint, which is refreshing new take on a premium coast-to-coast experience.

The show benefited the St. Baldrick's Foundation, a childhood cancer charity that funds the most promising research to help find cures for kids with cancer. They are also known as the crazy head-shaving people.
Kathleen Ruddy, Chief Executive Officer of St. Baldrick's Foundation
One of the first tables in the large ballroom was hosted by Moreno BHLV, where they poured some great big sparkling wines.
Chef Natalie Pukasemvarangkoon, a graduate of UCLA, served a variety of tasty chocolate treats. Paleo Collective is her culinary start-up that emphasizes the Paleo diet. It focuses on nutrient-dense foods with vegetables, nuts, seeds and proteins that help the body to operate at maximum capacity.

QKabob set up a very nicely decorated table of food. Vazgen Ghahremanians founded Q Kabob as a source for Persian food and since then has expanded to Party Rentals, Waiters, Waitresses, Bartenders, Valet Parking, Security Guards, Fruit Designs, DJ, Flowers, and much more.

The gumbo and jambalaya are awesome from Chef D.J. Seals Catering, but she also makes a flaming good meatball (about 120 Proof) that pairs well with the chocolate from the fountain.
Krave Jerky was a good starter snack. I tried the Grilled Sweet Teriyaki Pork and the Sweet Chipotle Beef.
Rustic Foods makes artisan breads, natural foods, and homemade desserts. Their cookies and chocolate pastries were great!

Jean-Marie Auboine Chocolatier had some very interesting and colorful chocolates! I especially like the golf ball ganache.

Choctál makes high-quality product with the most delicious, single-origin chocolate and vanilla flavor profiles the world has to offer. Wow!
Chef Keven Lee boogies out some Chocolate Pot Du Blue. The Columbian Coffee Chipotle Short Ribs looked good too!
Chef Damien Bagely & Chef Angela Sweetser with Chef Robert Teddy, M. Antoinette Cakes, winner of Food Network’s Halloween Wars and also on Cake Wars Christmas. Their New Year’s Eve Glitter Balls were festive looking. (It’s OK the FDA has approved this edible glitter!) They were yummy, but you had to watch out for the glitter traces.

Mark Lewis Owner/Chef at Marco Paolo Chocolates is one of the few chocolatiers to make two-layered paired ganache truffles. The Lakers Girls seemed to be very interested in Mark’s chocolates.

Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel & Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel created some great chocolate treats by Executive Chef Oliver Rousell. Chocolate Napoleon bites are at the top.

Chocolate mousse from Kriss Harvey, executive pastry chef of SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills. It was fantastic display of desserts; they don't monkey around.

Chef Matt Dhillon’s Bruschetta was just the start of his 5 course pasta tasting, it was all outstanding!
Fattoria Del Vicario Gorgonzolla Cream Spaghetti.
Chef Matt Dhillon contemplating his Fattoria Del Vicario Gemeli with Roasted Bone Marrow Sauce finished with Cashel Blue Cheese & Toasted Herb Breadcrumbs and his Chocolate Rotini.
Chef Matt Dhillon's team serving his very popular pasta.

Kerrygold USA uses milk from grass-fed cows to make Kerrygold butters and cheeses.
I always stop for a Nature’s Bakery On-The-Go Snack, they're crafted with thoughtful ingredients and they stack well!
SavanaLilly Jewelry with necklaces, earrings, bracelets and rings for casual or elegant wear. Ask Sharon for a deal!
Chef April of Kreative Made Kreations told me, "We're out of food, because it was sooo good!"
The team at the Academy of Culinary Education, started by Cecilia M. de Castro, served up some decorative chocolates.

Marsatta Chocolate serving their Bean 2 Bar artisan hand-crafted chocolates and selling some very good dark chocolate bars.

Brandy Wong’s Sweet Temptations were expertly arranged and looked delicious. I wonder if anyone tried to warm them up over the flame on the plastic spoons?

Fresh Brothers, Pizza-Salad-Wings serving their Cheese Pizza and The Miller Special (with sausage, pepperoni, ground beef, bacon and ham).
Farm Fresh To You is a subscription community that provides organic fruits and vegetables. They're located in Capay Valley and they have beautiful looking produce.

Executive Chef Tamera Anderson of Sugar & Spyked serving some Tequila-spyked goodies.
Tiffany Swinson, founder of Something Good 2 Eat (SG2E), made some fantastic Spiced Blueberry Cocoa Chicken Waffle Bites. SG2E is a full catering service that specializes in Creole and American Cuisine cuisines.
Executive Chef Max Bobritsky was one of the chefs helping SG2E.
ABM Medical Clinic & Cosmetic Laser Service served some cotton candy bites.

Health Chef Denise Portillo makes a great taco mole! And thanks to Barry Callebaut for the donation of chocolate to the festival!

Kerrygold USA uses milk from grass-fed cows to make their great cheeses.
Customers who fly on JetBlue Mint enjoy scoops of Brooklyn-based Blue Marble, the only certified organic ice cream brand native to NYC.
My first taste of the show was this creamy mocha made by Coffee Catering LA, YUM!

Henri-Luc Martin, co-owner (with Frank Sciotto), Natasha Swords and Abel Hernandez were proudly serving their unbeatable cocktail collection. I tried the Cosmopolitan.
Photo by Turiya Wines
Winemaker Angela Soleno’s small production Turiya Wines are worth signing up for on their “List.” I liked them all, especially the "Hither" red blend. They were pouring:
  • 2009 Hither (65% Petite Verdot + 35% Malbec), Solana Vineyard, Paso Robles
  • 2009 Malbec, Solana Vineyard, Paso Robles
  • 2009 Petite Verdot, Solana Vineyard, Paso Robles
  • 2008 Syrah (Library), Camp 4 Vineyard
Sunland Vintage Winery owners Debby & Mike Giovinazzo poured an interesting varietal, a 2013 Teroldego. It pairs very well with chocolate!

DIABOLO (commonly misspelled Diablo) provided their all natural, sparkling refreshment - with a Refreshment Collection and an Energizing Collection.
Canyon Crest Winery poured their wines with a variety of flavors: toasted caramel, raspberry mocha, coffee, orange, cherry and almond.
Tatratea is a tea liqueur that starts with a molasses base from sugar beets and is combined with brewed black assam tea and botanical ingredients, fresh fruits and fermented in a revolutionary process. The alcohol levels range from 32% to 72% and they really pack a punch. I tried the Original flavor at 52%.
People loved the chocolate martinis and the blackberry & champagne from Pochteca Liqueurs.
Navarro Vineyards poured their wines from Anderson Valley and Mendocino. The 2013 Pinot Noir was popular.
Plenty of other fine drinks were available:
Schlägl Abtei Pils beer
Manuela Zaretti-Carling pouring her Ventura Limoncello.
TeQava, Sparkling Tequila made with 100% Blue Weber Agave Triple Distilled Tequila, from Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.
Godiva Dark Chocolate Liqueur and Baileys Espresso Crème were both good, but even better mixed together! And it was very good with a New Year’s Eve Glitter Ball from Chef Robert Teddy.

Brooke Lewis, Life Coach, Dating Expert and Entertainment Consultant, hosted the event.
The Lakers Girls introduction on stage was followed by an autograph session with their group picture., the big selfie booth was popular.  Smile! And write something funny that you won't mind seeing on this blog ...

Alan Semsar is everywhere, all at once; whether he's catching a selfie with VIPs or introducing them on stage, he's the man who puts it all together.
And that's a wrap!

Cheers & Happy New Year!

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