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Friday read: Savouring chocolate and wine

Published:  16 December, 2022

It’s always fascinating being taken out of one’s own world of intense focus – wine – and into another somewhat parallel, but also contrasting field of expertise. So when Cocoa Runners approached Team Harpers suggesting a wine and chocolate pairing session – also just ahead of Christmas – we jumped at the chance.

And not just to discover what organoleptic marriages might be made – although Corney & Barrow had pulled out the stops to provide wine matches – but also to hear first-hand how the messaging and education around a similarly complex and often misunderstood product could be delivered. And, always with an eye on the premium.

Spencer Hyman, a hugely knowledgeable purveyor of quality craft chocolates from artisan producers around the world, proved a more than able guide, explaining the similarities while elaborating on the benefits of buying into better quality products.

“Good chocolate, like good wine, will have balance, intensity and complexity, only more so,” he began.

“Quaffing for wine is the same as scoffing for chocolate… you need to savour, because it helps save your health and helps save the planet, and it doesn’t increase your pleasure to scoff.”

Hyman went on to explain that commercial bars, which are basically chocolate-flavoured sugary confectionary, are designed to hit the “bliss point” – essentially the cunningly clever mix of sugar, salt and texture that hook people to bite after bite of unnourishing junk food.

This is perhaps akin to cheap wine, often with higher residual sugar to help make it easily palatable, while covering the essential lack of complexity that would otherwise make for a savouring occasion.

More darkly, most of the major owners of mass market chocolate confectionary bars have at best very loose buying policies, with massive global demand meaning that cocoa is being grown for its beans in deforested areas.

“Good quality cocoa cannot grow in deforested areas, it needs the rainforest canopy, so great chocolate is good for the planet,” explained Hyman.

Again, it might not be too far a stretch to consider some of the massive monocultures of vine, which as yet have not turned to more sustainable practices in respect of the planet.

Back to that ‘savouring’, and Hyman explained that high quality chocolate should have a satisfying ‘snap’ as you break the bar, suggesting high cocoa solids content, and then be allowed to melt on the tongue, to release, with body heat, layers of complexity in terms of flavour.

As with complex wine, this approach necessarily involves thinking about what you have on your palate, encouraging you to slow down and appreciate consumption, rather than just ‘quaffing’ back mouthful after mouthful in gluttonous fashion.

“Think of flavour like a journey, a little like going surfing,” said Hyman.

“You first get the texture, and then the flavours in the first six to 10 seconds, and then the aromas as the volatile compounds are released. Then after 15-20 seconds, you bring down enzymes, so another wave of flavours are released.”

He added that chocolate is very good at showing you how the palate works, adding with a typical note of humour that this much-loved food is also “probably why humans came down from the trees”.

The pairings themselves were interesting, in good way, and as with any food and wine pairing some matches worked very well... others, less so. But a key takeaway was that high cocoa content chocolate, with correspondingly low sugar, is a far better and more pleasurable pairing with many a wine.

Some of the best matches were Hogarth Buttered Toast and Sea Salt with Corney’s orange wine, Naranjo Torontel Loncomilla Maturana Wines 2021, a dark Ecuadorian Solstice Camino Verde bar with a Casa Felipe Carmenere 2021, a crunchily-textured round Taza from Mexico with a bright Les Poyeux Saumur Champigny 2019, plus a host of possibilities that sat well with a ruby port.

Just in case anyone remained unconvinced of the case for eating more (high quality) chocolate, Hyman finished with the observation that there is “an amazing correlation between national chocolate consumption and the number of Noble prizes awarded to a nation's population". And a wholly unscientific quick piece of research by Team Harpers suggests the same could be said of quality wine.