Chocolate and Finger Lakes Wine
By Annemarie Morse
Recently I spent a day exploring two of my favorite passions: wine and chocolate. After all, Valentine’s Day is a bright spot in February and what better way to celebrate it than with two of life’s pleasures? Some people say it can’t be done, which only makes it a more inviting challenge.
It was a glorious Saturday morning in January (they do exist), my friend Claudia and I started out from Ithaca to visit some wineries. The sky was sunny and a light coating of snow covered the landscape. I was reminded once again that the Finger Lakes region of New York is abundant in areas of natural beauty, including magnificent water falls, scenic glacial lakes, charming villages and classic rural scenery.
Don’t ignore exploring the area just because it might be cold outside. Well, all right, it was 11 degrees, but still worth it!
Some fun chocolate facts to be shared (besides it being delicious) is that it actually has some health benefits: Studies show that dark chocolate can contribute to lower blood pressure, overall heart health and cancer prevention. The Aztec language, called Nahuatatl, had a word for a popular bitter drink, xocolātl, a combination of the Yucatan/Mayan word “chocol” which means hot, and the Aztec word “atl” which means water. Cacao seeds were a form of Aztec money. Both chocolate and wine are agricultural products of fermentation.
We brought along a selection of delicious chocolates on our tour of Finger Lakes wineries, including Hedonist Chocolates from Rochester, which uses French chocolate and fresh, natural ingredients. Each piece is rolled, cut, dipped and decorated by hand. They’re available at some of the wineries and online. When pairing food and wine, you will hope to find a combination that enhances the chocolate, the wine or both. Sometimes you come across a pairing that results in a heavenly combination. It is also important to note that everyone’s tastes are different and these are only suggestions.
Some guidelines that will help you find great combinations are to start with a wine that is a bit sweeter than the chocolate. Sweeter chocolates, with lower percentages of cacao go well with sweet wines, but if you like your chocolate dark, you can pair them with much drier wines.
Another dimension to consider is tannin. There is tannin in many wines and chocolates: it’s the bitter character in red wines and dark chocolates. A darker chocolate can be paired well with a wine that has a good tannin structure. This can often allow the tannins to mellow and the fruit of the wine to shine. A good structure is all about a balance of bitterness with the sweetness and flavors of the wine and food. Some bitterness adds to the quality of the experience, too much and you won’t enjoy it.
When sampling several chocolates, always start with the lighter chocolates (those with less cacao) and move towards the darker ones (those with more cacao).
Some of the delicious combinations we appreciated were milk chocolate with Damiani Wine Cellars Dry Riesling, Ravines Chardonnay, Dr. Frank Pinot Noir and Swedish Hill’s Radical Raspberry. We had a dark chocolate with vanilla that went well with Damiani Pinot Noir, Merlot and the white Meleau from Ports of New York. A dark chocolate with quinoa had a great crunchy texture and was lovely with Swedish Hill’s Raspberry Rhapsody. A dark chocolate with subtle nutty notes went nicely with Ravines Cabernet Franc, Damiani Cabernet Franc, Ravines Meritage and Swedish Hill Port.
Hedonist creates a hand-rolled chocolate truffle made with a reduction of Ravines Meritage and tasting the Meritage and the truffle together is really amazing.
The best thing to do is to find your own fun combinations. So many chocolates, so many wines, and so little time. Choose some wine, a nice bar of chocolate, add some great company, and truly enjoy some of life’s pleasures!
Annemarie Morse is a certified wine judge and chair of the Finger Lakes Chapter of the American Wine Society. She holds an MPS in Enology from Cornell University and is an international wine judge, wine writer, consultant and educator.