Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Chocolate and Malbec - a match made in heaven?

Working for a wine magazine has its obvious perks. When an invite popped into my inbox for a chocolate and Malbec tasting it took me all of three seconds to rsvp. The tasting was tonight at Gaucho on Swallow Street. Led through the darkened restaurant past the trendy bar decked out in cow hide, I was seated around a long wooden table alongside a sprinkling of fellow chocoholic journalists. 

Four wines were laid out in front of us, while plates overflowing with jewel-like chocolates lined the far table, begging to be eaten. The 'masterclass' was led by glamorous blond chocolatier Kirsty Joly of Perfectly Tempered ( What a job - getting to pair chocolate with wine for a living. Each chocolate was exquisitely crafted - some were even decked out with Paul Smith stripes.

Our quest was to try two chocolates with each wine, and find the best match. We began with a blueberry truffle filled with liquid caramel and paired it with Michel Torino 'Don David' Malbec from Cafayate, high up in Salta. The wine was fruit forward, with intense ripe red fruit and a lovely earthy character. Tasting it alongside the chocolate was like something from Charlie and the Chocolate factory - first you get the caramel, then the blueberry comes in in interludes. It leant the wine an appealing sweetness, and the wine seemed to bring out the blueberry in the chocolate - the two complimenting each other. 

The second Jasmine tea chocolate, while attractive, seemed to jar with the wine. The chocolate and the wine were very much two separate entities, rather than a fusion of intertwining flavours. 

Our second wine was the Selecion 'G' Malbec by Domaine Vistalba from Mendoza. Light, floral and aromatic, its flavours were enhanced by the Masala Chai choc - a delicious warming flavour explosion of Indian tea, cinnamon, cloves and ginger. It tasted of Christmas and harmonized so well with the floral notes in the wine, the two creating a strange and wonderful symphony on the palate.

Round three saw us try Casa Marguery from La Consulta in the Uco Valley alongside a lemon and mint chocolate. Some got lemon first, others mint - either way the powerful choc packed a punch on the palate, bursting with zesty lemon, for me the mint then made an appearance, disappeared, then reappeared again, this time teaming up with some basil that came out of nowhere. This was my favourite wine of the evening - with its heady coffee notes. Tasting it alongside the chocolate it seemed to gain a lovely zesty lift, a lightness it didn't have before, with the lemon and mint adding a valuable freshness. The passion fruit competitor didn't come close for me.

By this point I was pretty mocha'd out, but the plates kept coming. The final match was strawberry and balsamic vs orange and cardamom with Schroeder 'Patagonian Select'  from Neuquen. While the strawberry choc was fresh, it tasted like a mouthful of milkshake and was not a patch on the divine orange chocolate, which again gave the wine an attractive lift and zesty vitality.

Then a few tricks were pulled out of the bag - in the shape of a Chimichurri chocolate, which was thankfully tasted blind. A bizarre combination of olive oil, garlic, onion, vinegar, parsley and pepper. Savoury chocolate is something everyone should try once, but it left most of us with a bad taste in our mouths. This was soon soothed by the final choc of the evening, and my personal favourite - dulce de leche.  

The chocolate and wine matching debate is one that continues to divide the wine world. Can wine and chocolate ever be bedfellows? I used to think not, but tonight has changed my mind. In Malbec we may have found the ultimate match for chocolate. When the marriage was good, the Malbec appeared to harmonize beautifully with the intricate flavours in the chocolate, the two becoming inextricably linked, adding something to the other, and enhancing the other's flavour.

But it's all down to personal taste. There is no right or wrong answer, and we all found ourselves favouring different matches. It's also hard to disassociate your love of particular flavours with your perception of how well the chocolate matches with the wine. If you're a caramel fan of course the caramel chocolate will appeal more and seem a better match than the Chimichurri. 

After the tasting I went to the first birthday party of vegetarian restaurant Tibits on Heddon(ism) street - home to the Ice Bar among other treats. There I met a fashion photographer who had based an entire university project around the theme of chocolate. Exploring the effect on his digestive system, he ate nothing but chocolate for four months until he became so ill he had to be hospitalized. His piece de resistance was an eight foot chocolate tree sculpture, which people could simultaneously eat and admire. He said he can never look at chocolate in the same way again, and limits himself to 'a bar or two a year on special occasions'. 

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