September 21, 2010 / 10:11 AM / in 7 years

Vine Talk: Asian gourmands find new chocolate and wine pairings

Curtis Marsh is a Singapore-based independent wine writer and commentator with nearly 30 years experience in the wine industry. The opinions expressed are his own. His website is www.thewanderingpalate.com

By Curtis Marsh

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - Some say chocolate does not go with wine but how can you not at least try to mix two of life’s greatest pleasures?

Admittedly the flavors of wine and chocolate are not always well matched, as the sweetness of some chocolate can kill a dry red wine, and the bitterness and acidity of some chocolate, particularly darks, can play havoc with sweeter whites.

Conventional wisdom has been to bring out the fortified reds - Vintage Port, Ruby Port or old Tawny Port, Pedro Ximenez or aged rich Sherry, Banyuls or Vin Doux Naturel Rasteau -- when you pass around the chocolate.

But there could be some lessons to be learned from the Asian market where red wine is an obsession and cheese is definitely not, making chocolate the preferred post-main-course dish.

Fortified or high alcohol wines are not popular in Asia -- although strong spirits such as Cognac and whisky are liked -- so pairing red wine with chocolate has born a different fine-dining etiquette in Asia.

We are not talking about breaking open a bar of Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut here. This is serious chocolate, with serious percentages of cacao and it’s become a numbers game. The larger the number, the better. Cacao percentages are everything.

It is also advisable to be familiar with chocolate tasting vernacular and to also know your Caribbean Islands Criollo cacao beans from your lower-grade Trinitario.

CONNOISSEUR COUPLINGS

In fact the craving for chocolate has eclipsed coffee in Asia with famous chocolatiers from Europe descending on the region and chocolate shops popping up everywhere.

There is also a surge of local, market savvy boutique chocolate makers such as Awfully Chocolate, Chocolate Research Facility, and cacao7.

In fact Singaporean restaurant Iggy this year hired a new dessert chef, Andy Lara, an American who has previously worked at Bagatelle, El Bulli and Noma. Lara has a particular interest in chocolate and often makes 7-8 types of chocolates daily.

I have experienced a number of perfectly enjoyable pairings with red and white wines with chocolate.

Invited to a friend’s house who likes to drink big reds, I brought along a 2006 Rolf Binder Hanisch Shiraz from the Barossa Valley, a consummate ‘Iron fist in velvet glove’ wine.

As it turned out my host only opened it at the end of our main course, to my intrigue commenting: “Never mind, it will go perfectly with the chocolate!”

He produced a pack of Valrhona Grand Cru Caraibe/Alpaco dark chocolate that married amazingly with the wine.

Similarly, at another chocolate addicted friend’s place, the host opened a bottle of 2002 Zind-Humbrecht Ragen Clos Saint Urbain Pinot Gris from Alsace which matched beautifully with white chocolate.

But while wine and chocolate pairings start to spread in Asia, I think it is the Italians who have perfected the art of combining chocolate and red wine.

A recent discovery is Forteto Pian dei Sogni, made from 100 percent brachetto, a red grape indigenous to Piedmont. It is a perfect match for dark chocolate with the vineyard’s serving suggestion: “Typical meditation wine, best accompaniments are almonds, nuts, chocolate and chestnut cake.”

Who says wine and chocolate don’t mix?

Editing by Belinda Goldsmith

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