Taking on Chocolate; Margaret Swaine and Janet Dorozynski

WineAlign’s Margaret Swaine and Janet Dorozynski delve into libations with chocolate. Based on common sense and taste chemistry Margaret arrives at desire-enhancing spirit matches, and Janet explains why she likes her chocolate sans vino, and then delivers a trio of romantic reds.

Spirited Aphrodisiacs
By Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

I’ve read that every Valentine’s Day an estimated one billion dollars is spent by the love struck on chocolate for their heart’s desire. There’s reason behind this cocoa craze. Good chocolate has mood enhancing qualities. Chocolate contains phenylethylamine – a feel good chemical found naturally in the brain. And researchers say chocolate may also boost the brain’s production of serotonin, a natural antidepressant. So chocolate is a given, but what to drink with it?

The King's Ginger LiqueurGinger has for centuries been called a powerful aphrodisiac with suggestions that it increases sexual prowess. This reputation as a natural aphrodisiac comes from its ability to increase circulation including in the erogenous zones. French comtesse, Madame du Barry who was a sensation in Paris as a courtesan and official mistress to King Louis XV, apparently made a practice of serving ginger to her lovers. It was said to achieve the desired results. On sale now in Vintages is a terrific ginger product The King’s Ginger Liqueur ($45.95).

Bols history of distilling spans over 400 years when the Bols family moved to Amsterdam in 1575. Lucas Bols, born in 1652 really put the family company on the map. He was an influential business man during the Dutch Golden Age, when Amsterdam was the world’s major trading city. Lucas Bols had first choice of the ‘new’ herbs and spices that seafaring merchants brought into Amsterdam from the West Indies. With his knowledge of distilling, he created hundreds of liqueurs, by distilling, macerating and percolating those natural ingredients.

Bols AdvocaatIn the 16th and 17th century liqueurs were made for healing illnesses, afflictions and as love potions. Names such as “Verboden Liefde” (Forbidden Love) and “Volmaakt Geluk” (Perfect Bliss) conveyed the message of miraculous effects. The only modern-day Bols liqueur still connected to love is Bols “Parfait Amour” (Perfect Love), a purple hued liqueur flavoured with flower petals, principally violets and roses, together with orange peel and almonds. Alas this isn’t available at the LCBO.

Blue Curaçao revived in 1970 from an old recipe called “Creme de Ciel” (Cream of the Skies) is nowadays known as Bols Blue. A worldwide success, it’s best mixed in tropical cocktails. This time of year and to match with chocolate, I’d go for Bols Advocaat ($21.95), with its sweet egg custard flavour. A popular advocaat-based drink enjoyed in Italian ski resorts is the Bombardino, made by mixing one part advocaat with one part brandy, served hot with whipped cream on top. Other variations add espresso, rum or whisky into the mix.

Bowen XO CognacBourbons, cognacs and armagnacs are wonderful matches with chocolate.  Just take a sip then a nibble. A deep and complex cognac like Bowen XO ($184.95) would marry well with dark, high cocoa content chocolate for a perfect finish to a romantic evening. The history of Bowen starts with romance. At some point at the turn of the 19th and 20th century, the great-grandfather of Rene-Luc Chabasse inherited a number of properties and vineyards in the Cognac region. He had a passion for travel and his voyages took him around the globe. On one of these trips that he met and fell in love with Elizabeth Bowen – a young lady whose family had a farm near Pondicherry in south-east India. Smitten, the young man poured all his efforts into creating a particularly aromatic and elegant cognac just for her. The result was a success and the beginning of a journey of a cognac brand that still bears her name today.

Wine and Chocolate: Too Much of a Good Thing
By Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

While chocolate may be a given on Valentine’s Day, and I love great chocolate just as much as the next gal, I prefer to nibble on my morsels of dark chocolate separately from my wine. Even though we hear repeatedly that chocolate and red wine is a match made in heaven, I beg to differ.

Without getting too deep into the science of taste or food and wine matching, suffice it to say that many of the flavour compounds found in chocolate are also found in wine, such as tannins (yes tannins, with chocolate containing more than black tea), flavonoids (a type of polyphenol which gives red wines its colour) and acid. Even though some red wines have hints of cocoa or mocha, because the components of chocolate and red wine are more similar than different, when tasted together, they often clash rather than cohabit.

If you are a subscriber to the classic tenants of food and wine matching, rule number one for pairing wine with desserts or sweet foods is that the wine should be sweeter than what you are eating. Since most of the red wines that we drink today are dry, the sweetness in chocolate, even bittersweet chocolate, will emphasize both the tannin and acidity in red wines and make them taste more acidic and bitter than they actually are.

Many esteemed scholars of wine and wine and food matching concur that chocolate is a difficult match for wine. Emile Peynaud, author of the classic book, The Taste of Wine, explains that although there are many, many styles of wine which will match with countless foods, chocolate, as well as chocolate desserts such as chocolate mousse, are no-no’s and one of the exceptions to this rule.

Food and wine matching goddess Fiona Beckett also views chocolate as a difficult match for wine and if you must have wine with your chocolate, steers you toward sweet reds such as fortified wines (cream sherry, Oloroso or PX; Ruby Port), vins doux naturals from the south of France (Rivesaltes, Banyuls or Maury) or raspberry liqueur. She also recommends cognac with chocolate truffles or “other hand-made chocolates”, as well as black coffee with chocolate cake, which I see as imminently sensible advice.

Loveblock Pinot Noir 2011Domaine Marcel Lapierre MorganRosewood Estates MerlotIn my mind, pairing chocolate and red wine falls under the category of difficult, or perhaps unnecessary, food matches, as is the case for artichokes, asparagus, eggs or mackerel. Anyone is of course free to drink and eat whatever they like, or that which appeals to your senses, since the bottom line with any wine and food pairing really comes down to you and what you like. I personally would prefer to savor that box of heart-shaped chocolates on their own and rather sip any of these romantic reds over a meal with my Valentine.

Rosewood Estates Merlot 2010 ($22.00)

Although I’m not always convinced that Merlot has a place in Ontario, in ripe years, and when done right, it can be very, very good. This wine ticks all the boxes with dense black fruit, hints of cocoa-mocha, grippy tannins and fresh, balanced acidity. Substantial yet gracious, with a lingering dark fruit finish. Pure pleasure and a great match for braised shorts and grilled vegetables. Drink now to 2015. Tasted February 2013.

Domaine Marcel Lapierre Morgan 2011 ($34.95) 

As a self-confessed lover of all things Gamay, I was thrilled to taste this Beaujolais Cru during a recent visit to Vancouver. With its supple, silky texture, intense red and black fruit flavours and gamey aromas, this is not your typical Beaujolais. Spritely and juicy, with soft tannins and a long earthy finish.  Pure Bliss! Drink now or over the next 2 years. #GoGamayGo. Tasted January 2013. Available in Ontario through Trialto.com.

Loveblock Pinot Noir 2011 ($28.95) 

Loveblock Vintners is the new winery of Kim and Erica Crawford, best known as founders of Kim Crawford.  This is an organic and biodynamic wine with complex red fruit intensity on the nose and palate. Well balanced acidity and structure with firm tannins and well–integrated oak. Red berries and a touch of smoke on the long finish. Sure to please lovers of New Zealand Pinot Noir. Tasted November 2012.

Happy Valentine’s Day from WineAlign!