Roses are red. Wine is red. Violets are violet. Let’s try some chocolate.
Valentine’s Day, wine, and chocolate are like a magical ménage à trois. And like that other ménage à trois I was part of, you don’t want to realize in the middle of it all that you have made a tremendous mistake. (Also, the wine called Ménage à Trois? Not a fan.) Find a quality wine. Get some good chocolate. And pick which of the two people is your perfect Valentine. My Valentine, Profesora Belmonte, and I will act as your painfully cheap dommes — I mean sommes — giving you some disciplined but consensual direction without tying up too much of that hunk of leather you keep in your pants: your wallet. Americans tend to go to extremes around this capitalist orgy of an erotic holiday. According to the National Retail Federation, last year Americans spent about $18 billion on Valentine’s Day. Around $1.7 billion on candy alone. All that averages out to close to $137 spent on Valentine’s Day per person. That is a lot of money. So, don’t blow your load.
I bought my Valentine an assorted box of chocolates from Richardson’s Candy Kitchen in Deerfield, plus some of their dark chocolate almond bark. I also picked up an Equal Exchange dark chocolate, caramel, and sea salt bar from the supermarket. This is literally the most dessert food I have ever brought into the house at one time — all for the lust of experimentation. Somehow it was less of a shocker to her that I brought home several bottles of wine.
I started with sparkling. Champagnes and other sparkling wines can be a perfect pairing with chocolate. Whether it’s Valentine’s Day or not, I have a sparkling wine fetish. But real Champagne is expensive and my Valentine is as cheap as I am. So, I went for a $20 California sparkling made from the Champagne house, Roederer. Louis Roederer are the folks behind the wine that hip-hop made famous — Cristal. Many wine snobs find Cristal overpriced and overrated. But its American counterpart — Roederer Estate from Anderson Valley — is about as delicious a $20 sparkling as I’ve found. It’s got a voluptuous bubbly mousse. The steamy scent of creme brulee in the cup. A raw acidity. And it’s bone dry. Herein lies my first sin. It’s a little too dry to be good with the chocolate. Also, my Valentine gets a headache every time she drinks sparkling wines. That is not good pain. I have been a bad boy. I deserve a punishment for not considering this.
Though most of our chocolate is on the dark side, the force of its subtle sweetness was a little too dominating for this dry sparkling wine. I love this wine so much, but it really didn’t have the chemistry to go with any of the chocolate. It’s not you, it’s me, wine. Alas, making mistakes is part of the instruction. I shouldn’t continue to torture myself. Or maybe I should? Next time I’ll get a sweeter sparkling for chocolate. Remember, when selecting a sparkling “Brut” is drier than “Dry”. Try this Roederer Estate at another encounter. Time to make another pass at finding a perfect wine and chocolate match.
I’ve had one bottle of wine trapped in my cellar for years. This is the only lonely bottle I’ve kept imprisoned in my basement. The fact is, I don’t have the kind of cash to start a true cellar, nor is my dank and musty dungeon a good place to keep wine. But seeing as I need to redeem myself for my first naughty choice of wine and chocolate pairing, I need to bring out something a little sweeter. Years ago, my friend Julia gave me a bottle of 2003 Castello di Poppiano Vin Santo (Holy wine) Della Torre Grande. This is a white dessert wine made from an Italian grape called Malvasia Bianca. According to the winery’s website, “The must obtained from dried Malvasia grapes is fermented and matured for years in oak and chestnut barrels (‘caratelli’) in the spectacular Vinsantaia (the Vinsanto winery) in the Main Tower (‘Torre Grande’) of the Castle.” At first taste, my Valentine loved it.
“Tastes like peanut brittle. Is this whiskey?”
It does have over 17 percent alcohol by volume. It’s boozy like a good dessert wine should be. I ask her in a sultry tone, “What does this wine make you want to do?”
“Rub paint all over the ceiling.”
Maybe I should find a more romantic time than 10 o’clock on a Sunday morning for wine and chocolate pairing. Especially as she has decided to paint the living room today. Also, she has eaten all of the Richardson’s almond bark on me. But this Vin Santo has endured the years in the bondage of my basement without trouble and is a perfectly sweet partner with the assorted chocolates. It’s especially good with the sultry, salty, caramel chocolate bar.
The reason behind the impassioned intercourse between wine and chocolate may have to do with the yeast used. According to a 2015 paper in Applied & Environmental Microbiology and excerpted in Science Daily, “For decades, researchers have worked to improve cacao fermentation by controlling the microbes involved. Now, to their surprise, a team of Belgian researchers has discovered that the same species of yeast used in production of beer, bread, and wine works particularly well in chocolate fermentation…‘Chocolate produced with our best yeasts is much better and more consistent than the chocolate produced through natural fermentation…Moreover, different yeasts yielded different chocolate flavors, indicating that it would be possible to create a whole range of specialty chocolates to match everyone’s favorite flavor.’” So, the reason chocolate and wine copulate so magnificently is the discipline, control, and blissful subjugation of their same yeasts during their separate fermentations. And if executed expertly, creating mutual and maybe even simultaneous pleasure for all parties involved.
And what about my attempt to “wow” my wife and seduce my Valentine into a wine and chocolate tryst?
“Were you wowing me? I was hangry and trying to figure out what we were going to have for dinner. And you wanted me to bring a hungry four-year-old into a chocolate factory?” I love this kind of sexy talk.
“I guess I’m snobbier about chocolate than I am about wine,” she says. “The only chocolate out of all of those chocolates that I liked was the almond bark.” She was also quite over the Vin Santo before she was finished with the first coat of ceiling white.
Sometimes opposites attract. And sometimes like attracts like. In this wine and chocolate experimentation, the climax was homosensual — with sweet on sweet causing titillation of the tongue. It’s not a bad bet to press into service dessert wines like Vin Santo, Port, Sherry, maybe an off-dry sparkling, or even a late-harvest Zinfandel to pair with chocolate. No matter what your preference, take a page out of the Portlandia playbook and make “cacao” your safeword. Experiment with it and maybe you’ll enjoy cacao with a consensual respect for sweeter wines-especially for Valentine’s Day.
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