Chocolate & Wine 6

Being a person of the male persuasion, I am sometimes told I don’t “get” chocolate. I’ll admit that I like a rich, complex truffle now and then, but I’m at a loss to understand the near-orgasmic moans some women produce when swallowing such sweet sustenance.

I understand that I am not hormonally equipped to enjoy chocolate at all levels, a limitation I accept along with not being able to play the violin, dance the tango or give birth.

Given such limitations, I thought this year, in producing my pre-St. Valentine’s Day wine-and-chocolates column, I’d call on several experts who could better explain the cocoa-cabernet connection. That, of course, meant talking to women.

“Why do women love wine and chocolate?” asks chocolate maker Gail Ambrosius.

“What’s not to love? Take a bite of your favorite deep, dark chocolate. It’s delicious on its own, but to bring out chocolate’s full decadent potential, add a big, juicy wine or the warmth of a port. Now, unabashedly, shamelessly bask in the intensity of that deep, dark chocolate coupled with liquid layers of flavor and texture.”

I stepped outside to lie in the snow and think about how else to approach this topic. Certainly, there’s a more academic way to pair wine with chocolate, if only for the benefit of the hormonally impaired.

“Most people assume that chocolate should be paired with a dry, red wine, but this tends to be the exception rather than the rule,” says Jessica Bell, founder of the Milwaukee Wine School. “Keep in mind the basic guideline for pairing food with wine: Your wine should be at least as sweet as your food.”

That’s certainly less erotic, and a lot more practical for menu planners. But why should the wine be as sweet as the food?

“When your food is sweeter than your wine, the food will steamroll the wine’s flavors, leaving it bitter, dusty and even flavorless,” Bell adds. “For this reason, the all-time classic wine pairing for chocolate is port.”

The residual sweetness of port tends to balance better with chocolate, Bell explains. Ruby ports go better with dark bittersweet chocolate, and tawny ports better with milk chocolate or any chocolate with nuts. The chocolate’s sugar subdues the wine’s sweetness, allowing fruit, floral and spicy notes to come center stage. By comparison, the wine will taste drier when compared to the chocolate.

That’s not all. Bell also suggests a sweet wine from Spain’s Jumilla region made from the grape Monastrell, particularly from producer Bodegas Olivares, that pairs well with dark chocolate.

Or try an Italian amarone, a big, often expensive red produced from Corvina grapes that have been dried in the sun. The wine’s high alcohol content and plush mouth-feel also make it a perfect dark chocolate match, she says.

“If you’re a die-hard red wine drinker, try a lower-priced zinfandel from Seghesio or Bogle vineyards,” Bell adds. “At these prices, the wines will be softer and rounder than cabernet sauvignons, both favorable characteristics for pairing wines with dark, high-cocoa chocolate.”

Are there more such matches? Wine and food writer Natalie MacLean, author of “Red, White and Drunk All Over,” falls right in line with many of Bell’s suggestions, especially those involving port and amarone. Other suggestions found at include:

* Milk chocolate and Tokaji, a sweet Hungarian wine that comes in pint bottles.

* Chocolate-dipped fruit and Canadian icewine.

* Chocolate ganache truffle and Sauternes, the sweet white chateau-bottle Bordeaux.

* Chocolate-covered biscotti and Recioto della Valpolicella, the Italian red from Tuscany.

* Dark chocolate and Banyuls, a fortified French aperitif produced from grapes cultivated on the slopes of the Pyrenees Mountains.

Those are all good suggestions, designed to make the most from the chocolate and wine pairing. But what does the chocolate maker herself think? Amarone, dessert wines and sparklers rank high on Ambrosius’ list, choices that contain recommendations from local wine experts, several of whom are men.

Here are some surprise picks:

* Alma Negra, a sparkling Argentine chardonnay, maintains a rich, creamy mouth-feel with notes of apple and citrus. With its crisp finish, the wine pairs well with Ambrosius’ Caramels with Sea Salt and Cinnamon/Cayenne Truffle.

* Saumur-Champigny, a wine made with 100 percent Cabernet Franc grapes, has rich, velvety tannins and subtle cherry overtones. The red pairs perfectly with the chocolate maker’s 99 percent Truffle and seasonal Sour Cherry offering.

* Don David Tannat, another Argentinian, is a deep, bone-dry red with an abyss of tannins and delicate raspberry character. Sip it with Ambrosius’ 99 percent gold-dusted truffle or Palette d’Or, made with 75 percent Tanzanian chocolate.

Whichever you try, Ambrosius suggests that you take the time to enjoy every mouthful, slowly and with great relish.

“Sip, savor and allow yourself to be carried away by the waves of guilt-free pleasure,” Ambrosius says. “Every combination is sensuous, lush, tantalizing, delectable and irresistible. Like the Venus in every woman!”

Time to head back to the snowbank.

For more articles on chocolate and wine pairings, click on the tag below called “Chocolate & Wine” …



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