Thursday, May 8, 2008


Two of life’s great pleasures experienced together can be full of surprise, education and even mystery.

My experience with the American Wine Society goes back to 1991, when I was invited to do a cooking demonstration for a regional AWS convention. The demo was well received and I was drawn into Society membership for what would prove to be a long and happy relationship. In 1993, AWS held their national convention in Tennessee, and I was asked to chair the food committee. This gave me the opportunity to help plan the menus and other dining activities for 500 wine enthusiasts. The chef and staff at the host hotel did an excellent job and I think the event is fondly remembered. Over the years, I’ve attended wonderful tastings and consider my experience with AWS to have been vital to the development of my palate.

The American Wine Society has functioned for over 40 years as an informational and educational organization. The AWS is a nation-wide society of amateur grape growers, winemakers, and wine appreciators dedicated to learning more about the history, production, appreciation, and use of wines. The American Wine Society Educational Foundation also provides college scholarships relating to the wine industry. There are 5,000 AWS members belonging to over 110 local chapters. It was at the East Tennessee Chapter meeting; where we recently had the opportunity to experience what has become a subject of widespread interest- the pairing of wine and chocolate.

Each distinct layer of a menu can be matched with a corresponding wine creating a glorious procession of flavors (or sometimes not). Paring wine with the dessert course offers its own challenges and exciting rewards. Traditionally this has been as simple as just serving a wine a little sweeter than the dessert dish itself. Often the dessert wine was served after the dessert without particularly trying to match them at all.

A time honored formula for pairing wine and food is to strive for flavor combinations that produce harmony, contrast or both. It is both the obvious and subtle components within food flavors interacting with the relative complexity of the wines that produce such amazing results. Some combinations seem crystal clear while others are deep and thoughtful.

I think many of us have discovered the profound complexity and depth of flavor offered by pairing wine and chocolate by accident, such as by having a bite of chocolate at the end of a meal with a bit of the remaining wine. However, amateur and professional tasting events featuring intentional wine and chocolate combinations are now occurring quite often. Highly qualified tasting panels are gathering, tasting and pronouncing judgment in a variety of contexts. Informal home events are becoming popular as well. These home editions are easy to prepare for and fun to host. It is interesting to compare your findings to those of the experts. Although, we still encourage you to respect your own opinions as well as learn from the findings of the “experts”.

For this event of the East Tennessee AWS chapter we chose the fine chocolates from Chocolats Olivier, one of the renowned chocolatiers in France synonymous with quality and excellence. Founded in 1780, Olivier is the oldest chocolatier in France producing a wide variety of high end artisan chocolates.

Olivier produces a sophisticated line of Grand Cru, Pure Origin and premium Selection chocolate bars. The Grand Cru is a collection of five different chocolate bars; each of which is made with cocoa beans from a specific plantation. These are NOT mixtures of beans from different regions or different plantations. In essence, like fine vineyards, every cocoa plantation produces beans with flavors which ultimately reflect the conditions under which they are grown and cultivated.

We tasted three Grand Crus and one flavored Selection for our affair. The three Grand Cru chocolates are derived from single plantations located in Venezuela, Papua New Guinea and Madagascar. Pure Origin chocolates are made with cocoa beans that come from one specific country and not necessarily from any one specific plantation. While a Grand Cru is more like a varietal from a specific vineyard, a Pure Origin is more comparable to a blend from an entire wine region. Premium Selection chocolates are blends of Criollo and Forastero cocoa beans from different geographical areas.

During the last year or so, we have tasted all of the Olivier chocolates with a wide range of wines. Tough work, but we persevered in order to come up with some good combinations. Tasters, beginners as well as more seasoned palates, will note the similarities utilized in tasting techniques for both wines and chocolates. Two of life’s great pleasures experienced together can be full of surprise, education, and even mystery. This experience can not only change the way you think of wine and chocolate, but can enhance the way you taste other flavors as well.

Al Porrell, a former National President of AWS and a participant at this tasting remarked that “this was a very effective experience that changes everything.” Al noted “I would not have paired chocolate with these wines but it was a new experience in which I really learned how to taste the two together.” Porrell thought that the sweeter wines were a better match, but also enjoyed the Champagne with the chocolates as well. He went on to say “this falls exactly within the objective of the AWS to appreciate wine and food together. Many food pairings have yet to be discovered, every one of us have different thresholds of flavors. The key is to trust your own palate and continue to taste.” Bob and Judy Kryter commented that they felt the Petite Sirah was their favorite “all around” wine with the dark chocolates. Bob expressed that he particularly enjoyed the Gew├╝rztraminer with the Ginger/Orange bar. Bob is the current Chairperson of the AWS Education Foundation. We do have some heavy hitters in our chapter!


As you approach the chocolate or chocolates to be tasted, notice the sheen and surface texture. Proper tempering and storage of the bars should result in a nice shiny surface
free from discoloration or “blooming.” The next step is enjoying the chocolate smell or bouquet. This is where you can really begin to experience just how similar this process can be to wine tasting. Your sense of smell is one of your most important (and fun) tools here. By all means make notes and discuss your tasting partners’ impressions, as well. After observing and smelling, we arrive at the all important job of tasting. Break off a small piece and listen for a clear snap. Place the piece in your mouth and allow it melt slowly. Take your time here because you may be surprised. Give the chocolate a chance to reveal its subtle secrets. It will be complex and delicate for sure, but clear flavors and sensations are definitely recognizable. Experience the interplay of sweetness, bitterness and richness. Expect to find some fascinating flavors in quality chocolate reminiscent of licorice, spices, nuts, citrus peels, fruits, vanilla, coffee, tea and a whole range of others. This is heady stuff for a food and wine lover!

We began our event with the Extra Dry sparkler and the proceeded through four reds specially matched with our dark chocolates. After the formal tasting we then enjoyed a host of chocolate desserts provided by the participants matched with the remaining wines of their choice.

Domaine Ste. Michelle Extra Dry N/V- WA. State (Quaffing Wine)
“… rich, golden sparkler with abundant bubbles… with flavors of pear, guava and kiwi.”

Hess Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2005- Napa paired with a Venezuela Grand Cru.
A young, simple California Cabernet showing a balance that works well with many dishes. This wine with its black cherry and boysenberry aromas and cedar, currant and pepper notes produces a sensual creaminess when matched with the earthy nut and raisin flavors of the Venezuela chocolate.

St. Francis Red 2005- Sonoma is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Zinfandel.

This wine is an easy to drink, everyday favorite with its light cherry and fruit flavors. The Papouasie (Papua, New Guinea) Grand Cru has hints of tea, citrus and a slight smokiness that seems to soften the wines tannins and offer a nice vanilla balance.

Bogel Vineyard Petite Sirah 2005- Lodi is considered to be Bogel’s heritage varietal.

It begins with a berry, black pepper and herbal nose and finishes with toasty oak and lush fruit. The Madagascar Grand Cru is one of our favorites from Olivier. It shows notes of citrus, passion fruit and cinnamon and its long delicious finish works quite well with this “jammy and inky” wine.

Robertson Winery Late Harvest Gew├╝rztraminer 2007- South Africa

The perfumed and spicy nuances of this wine are right at home with the light citrus and warm ginger notes of the Selection Dark Chocolate flavored with Ginger and Orange. From opening the wrapping and observing the deep dark color and enticing aroma to savoring the slow melting bar itself, this is a special treat. Seemingly, these impressive flavors might pose a real challenge when matched with wine. While in fact, Late Harvest Gew├╝rztraminer proves to be a stunning compliment. A warm cup of Puttabong Estate Earl Grey Tea with its aromatic orange bergamot notes harmonizes perfectly with the ginger and orange flavors as well.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Best Gift for Mom This Year.......Your Time.

Indeed, with Mothers Day looming, consider this unusual and exciting gift possibility- A combination of superb chocolates and coffees or teas. Avanti Savoia offers luscious Grand Crus, Pure Origin and Selection Blends from the Italian Chocolatier, Guido Castagna as well as Olivier Chocolates from France.

All of our wonderful new coffees from Vienna Coffee Company are excellent choices. However, for a genuine connoisseur mom, here is the opportunity to enjoy the adventure of experiencing the natural harmony of chocolates and coffees linked by geographic origin. For example, pair the bold flavors of Olivier’s Grand Cru Venezuela Dark Chocolate with the rich hints of chocolate and walnut in the Organic Peru Norte. Oliver’s Grand Madagascar is a natural with the Organic Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee. The Papua New Guinea Olivier is the obvious choice to enjoy with aromatic Papua New Guinea coffee.

A whole other world of flavor waits in matching coffees with Castagna’s Italian chocolates such as Whole Milk, Extra Fondente, Gianduja or the Granella di Fava. Having a hard time deciding? Olivier offers collections of 5, 7 or 8 different bars sure to delight a discriminating Mom’s palate.

The best Mothers Day gift of all is to be able to spend some personal time with your mom, so sit down with a cup of coffee and some chocolate and we guarantee it will be an appreciated and thoughtful offering!