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. 

Chocolates

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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