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Making Friends with Wine and Chocolate
By Jim Clarke

I don’t know many people who would turn down chocolate - especially fine chocolate from Francois Payard. Nor do I know many who would refuse a good glass of wine, barring a hangover or (perhaps) an upcoming job interview. But try to serve the two together and people often start questioning your good intentions. A bad match can make your wine seem dry and dusty, or create unpleasant flavors on the finish. Or your chocolate can take on a lackluster, curdled quality from the acidity or alcohol of the wine. I decided to investigate and spent an afternoon eating chocolate and drinking wine until I found some combinations that brought something new and positive to both parties. It was a tough assignment, but life is hard.

Francois Payard (www.payard.com) in Manhattan graciously provided me with a variety of chocolates as well as some of their classic truffles. So well-armed I made my way to Union Square Wines (www.unionsquarewines.com), where Alexis Beltrami - one of our former wine editors, in fact - met me with several bottles of wine at the ready.


Fruits and Nuts

Payard Chocolates on StarChefs
PAYARD
1032 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10021
T el: 212.717.5252

We started with a Mas Amiel Muscat de Rivesaltes 2001. This is one of those rare things, a fortified white wine; as with port, a neutral brandy is added to stop fermentation, resulting in a strong, sweet wine. In the company of truffles and caramel-filled chocolates this wine was reduced to a bland, heavy water, but fruity or nutty chocolates brought out similar elements in the wine. The Van Gogh (Payard names most of his chocolates, appropriately, after artists) has a marzipan-like almond and pistachio filling; the wine echoed this with a refreshing almond note but kept its buoyant character. M. Payard’s Cupidon has a passionfruit interior that emphasized the tree fruits in the wine- peaches in particular. I imagine lighter dessert whites would have a hard time cutting through the richness of chocolate, but this wine managed admirably when supported by complementary flavors.


Shiraz + Chocolate = Chocolate Cake?

The monster Californian Zinfandels that emerged in the 1980’s was one of the first table wines to be matched with chocolate; for something in a similar, big, fruity style we opened a bottle of Leasingham’s Bin 61 Shiraz, 2001, from the Clare Valley in Australia. While zinfandels often hit it off with chocolate because they already have some chocolaty notes of their own, Alexis and I hoped that the toastiness and baking spices in the Leasingham would complement the chocolates as well. Shiraz + Chocolate = chocolate cake? Maybe. With the Bonnard this misfired; a pruny finish came on like a freight train and derailed on my tongue. Truffles fared better; the toast took a backseat to blackberry fruit at first, but smoothly slipped back onto my palate to bring everything together. I didn’t get my chocolate cake, but I did get blackberry jam on toast with chocolate sprinkles, which is not unpleasant.


Rioja Transformations

Cottonmouth, however, is. Our other red table wine, a 2001 Sierra Cantabria, brought this home. The real reason chocolates and wine often don’t get on well is that the chocolate’s sweetness sucks up the fruit of the wine and leaves your mouth a dustbowl. A shame in this case, because on its own the Cantabria is a refreshing quaff of red fruits with a pleasant, open quality in the mouth. The Picasso’s Earl Grey ganache was as guilty as the others, but added lots of dried herbs and earthiness - the wine started to resemble a Sardinian cannonau. The only chocolate that truly came off well with the Rioja was the Gauguin; it has a Grand-Marnier and Kirsch center that filled out the wine and gave the impression of oak-aging. A shortcut to a crianza or reserva style of Rioja.


A Pair of Jeans

Fortified wines may be the mainstay of dessert, but ruby port actually didn’t fare well here; the Fonseca Bin 27 seemed hot with most of the chocolates. But having become a fan of port while I was living in London, I had also encountered that old-school British tipple, port and lemon, and this inspired me to try the Fonseca with one of the Cupidons. They cooperated admirably; the passionfruit flavor eliciting a bright and lightening fruitiness in the wine. The Bonnard’s caramel ganache had much the same effect when paired with a tawny port, in this case the Warre’s Otima 10 Year. The Warre’s with chocolate is like a good pair of jeans - it goes with just about everything and with a few things it looks really good.


Sleeping Beauty

To wrap up our indulgent afternoon we returned to the beginning with another Mas Amiel, this time their 1980 Millésime Maury from Southern France. This is fortified, like the ports and the Rivesaltes, but is a red wine made from grenache. Often compared to port, it is a full, rich, and wonderfully smooth wine with lots of figs and dates as well as sweet tobacco and molasses elements. The winemaker ages this wine for twenty years, so this is a current release, not something I’ve been cellaring. Truffles here were a Prince Charming’s kiss; an already beautiful wine came to life, fruitier in the mouth and showing a freshness that only the best wines of this age can hope for. With the filled chocolates there was altogether too much going on; it seems a wine of this complexity dances best with a straightforward partner.

The difficulty with this couple is that there are no reliable guidelines that won’t lead you astray at some point- no “red with meat, white with fish” rule. Simpler chocolates- those without fruit or nut fillings- seem to bring out the fruit in wines that, similarly, normally lack primary fruit aromas, but ultimately each pairing is unique. With the number of possible pairings, a wine and chocolate party makes a lot of sense. How could you go wrong with a big box of chocolates together with a lot of friends - each bringing a bottle they like?


Best Friends - Our favorite pairings:

Wine   Chocolate
Mas Amiel Muscat de Rivesaltes 2001
Roussillon, France

» Van Gogh (almond and pistachio)
Cupidon (passionfruit)
Leasingham Bin 61 Shiraz, 2001
Clare Valley, South Australia

» Truffles
Sierra Cantabria 2001
Rioja, Spain

» Picasso (Earl Grey)
Gauguin (GrandMarnier and Kirsch)
Fonseca Bin 27 Ruby Port
Duoro, Portugal

» Cupidon
Warre’s Otima 10 Year Tawny Port
Duoro, Portugal

» Bonnard (caramel ganache)
Mas Amiel Millésime Maury 1980 » Truffles
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  Published: Feb 2004

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