To celebrate Valentine’s Day at our East Coast branch of Merchants this year we hosted a wine and chocolate pairing workshop with Leela Titus from Leela’s Fine Chocolates (read more about Leela here). It was a great opportunity to bring together some of our artisanal wines with a selection of hand crafted chocolates, and the results were very interesting (and tasty!).
The similarities between chocolate and wine are striking. Both require specific climates to grow the key ingredients (e.g. grapes and cocoa beans) successfully, and the flavours in the final product are heavily influenced by the region that they are grown in. Also neither are naturally occurring products – both require human intervention to make the final product – and for both the skills to create the finest wines and chocolates have taken centuries to perfect!
For the chemistry-geek, there is a whole raft of flavour, aroma and tannin compounds that are shared between the two, and there is ongoing research into the health benefits of many of these compounds in both wine and chocolate. Whatever your favourite wine or chocolate, both lend themselves to a range of styles – think subtle white chocolate all the way through to high cocoa bitter dark chocolate, and light crisp white wines through to rich reds and warming fortified wines.
One final similarity is that today we take intensely flavoured food and drink like chocolate and wine for granted, often eating or drinking without a second thought. And this is where we miss the real pleasure and true enjoyment of these complex, fascinating indulgences. Sitting down for a couple of hours to taste wine and chocolate is not only a great way to spend an afternoon, but also an opportunity to take some time to really savour the flavours of both, to unwind and enjoy without rushing. A single square of really good chocolate, or a sip of a wine that has been lovingly made can transport you to other parts of the world, or to other times of your life. The simple pleasure of letting flavours linger on your tongue and letting your mind wander is one many of us have forgotten about, so its great to reconnect with our inner self.
Returning to our event with Leela, and one of the highlights was to try some unusual flavour combinations in the chocolates themselves. Leela explained how she is inspired by fresh flavours, and recently she has created a dark chocolate with fresh basil, as well as a rosemary and olive oil chocolate. These were a revelation as the savoury notes from the basil and rosemary highlight a very different spectrum of flavours in the chocolate itself. The final chocolate of the line-up was the most anticipated of the afternoon – a dark chocolate shell filled with crispy bacon bits and gooey salt caramel. If you are wondering, it really was as amazing as it sounds! The smoky bacon flavours really lifted the dark chocolate, and the sweet salty combination of bacon, caramel and chocolate just kept evolving on the tongue after tasting.
Pairing wines with chocolate can be difficult though. The sweetness in many chocolates can make wines look sour or bitter, and the bitterness in some dark chocolates can make fuller bodied red wines look even more bitter as well. So how best to enjoy two of our favourite foods together? The key is to look for sweeter styles of wines which can match the sweetness of the chocolate, or offset any bitterness in the chocolate. Finally, for those not fortunate enough to join us for the tasting, the table below shows our favourite pairings (click on the wines to order from the Merchants online store).
|White chocolate, Dulcey chocolate||Kies Family Wines Sparkling Heysen Gold, Leura Park Estate ‘Ms Flamingo and Associates’|
|Rosemary & Olive Oil truffle, Basil truffle||Monbulk Winery Sparkling Strawberry wine, Towerhill Estate Late Harvest Riesling|
|Dark chocolate, Bacon and Salt Caramel truffle||Olive Farm Autumn Cabernet|
Merchants is a collective of small, independent and artisanal winemakers from Australia and New Zealand.