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By The Glass

Richard Field

Wednesday, February 13, 2002


The right wine plays up
flavors of chocolate


Chocolate is on the minds of more people this week than at any other time of the year. And for those of us who like to pair wines with just about every course, this one presents a serious challenge.

Chocolate candies, chocolate cakes and other desserts based on chocolate have changed dramatically in recent years. The intensity of the chocolate flavor has ramped up because of the higher quality of cacao and the changing preferences of Americans. Once satisfied with "milk chocolate," we now demand Valrhona, Callebaut or Neuhaus chocolates that come in varying degrees of bitterness and richness. Some chocolate is now also varietal, made from cacao beans of a single origin rather than from several places. For example, Indonesian Valrhona Manjari chocolate, with very high percentage of cacao at 64 percent.

Many times, the intensity of the chocolate flavor is increased, while sweetness is not. These changes have influenced the wines we might have recommended with chocolate just a few years ago.

There are probably two camps when it comes to matching wines with sweets, and especially chocolate sweets: the yin-yin vs. the yin-yang.

One philosophy is to match sweet to sweet, bitterness to bitterness, and intensities. When I posed the question to Kevin Toyama of R. Field Wine Co. and John Heckathorn of Honolulu Magazine, they both immediately responded with Banyuls ($22.99). Banyuls is a fortified wine similar to the famous Port wines and produced in the most southerly part of France. It is less fiery and captures a curious "chocolaty" fruitiness. It tends toward plummy, spice, dried fruit and raisiny smoothness with a coffee-caramel flavor.

Another wine that could fall in this category include Quady Essencia (half bottle $14.76), an orange Muscat from California. Then there's Bonny Doon's Framboise, or raspberry infusion, nearly the equivalent of a decadent raspberry sauce to top a rich chocolate cake or brownie (half bottle $9.49). There's also a great Raspberry Wine from Maui's Tedeschi Vineyards that is port-like and a near perfect match for bittersweet chocolate. The raspberries were grown on Maui and the wine is extremely limited (half bottle $36).

But others believe that a wine should offer a respite from the sweetness of a dessert, while matching the intensity and bitterness of chocolate. Some point to rich, new world Cabernet Sauvignon; others offer a more elegant but equally intense Pinot Noir. Yet others point to Brut, Brut Rose or very dry Champagne and sparkling wines, the notion here being that these wines help keep the palate from fatiguing from the sugar.

Now, if you're planning to pair red wine with chocolate, you're in for a double dose of loving care for your valentine's heart. Professor and chemist Andrew Waterhouse specializes in research regarding compounds in wine known as phenolics, which may help prevent heart disease. Those same compounds are found in chocolate.

"The pleasant pairing of red wine and dark chocolate could have synergistic advantages beyond their complementary tastes," Waterhouse wrote in the medical journal The Lancet.

Ultimately, when it comes to Valentine's Day and chocolate, most of us will opt for Champagne. Not because it is the best match, but because it reflects our feeling of celebration. Some suggestions: Billecart-Salmon Rosé Champagne ($54.99), Billecart-Salmon Brut 2000 ($33.99), Cristal 1995 ($120), Bollinger Special Cuvee ($42.99), Veuve Clicquot n/v ($39.99).


Richard Field owns R. Field Food and Wine Co.




This column is a weekly lesson in wine
pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals.
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