Wednesday, February 13, 2013
The world is awash in boutique wine, craft beers, herbs and spices galore. Some call it the Food Network effect. One of wine’s best friends, chocolate, has evolved with a similar Renaissance.
“I think over the past 15 years there has been an evolution of foods, in general, and specialty foods,” said Indianapolis chocolatier Elizabeth Garber. “It has happened to cheese, with craft beer, and even wine. Chocolate has done that too.
“Chocolate has been around for ever and ever, but then you started getting people specializing in the craft of chocolate and the higher quality and the artistic side of chocolate. People started creating it more visually and it became more about the palate. Now it’s what flavor profile is in the chocolate and what works well with chocolate. Today you can find spices and things like that in chocolate products.”
Wine and chocolate have been a natural pairing for a long, long time but it’s not as simple as grabbing a bottle or wine and a chocolate bar. There are far too many options not to explore the possibilities.
“There are levels and strengths in terms of sweetness,” Garber said. “A white chocolate is going to be sweeter because it has a lot more sugar in it. There are some grades of milk chocolate that sweetness depends on the amount of sugar, milk and cacao in the chocolate. Then you get in to darks which are going to get more bittersweet, though you can have really sweet dark chocolate too.
The higher the percentage of cacao you have on a bar means more cacao and less sugar. Garber explains the 80 percent you see on a chocolate bar means 80 percent cacao and 20 percent sugar, cacao butter and other stuff.”
And simply enough the more bold the chocolate, the bigger red wine you’re going to want to pair with the sweet treat. Chocolate ranging from 60-75 percent cacao pairs great with big red wines. Any bold red wine will do but experimenting will help you find your favorites.
But chocolate today is more than a plain chocolate bar. “We do a cinnamon basil and it might go well with one thing versus another,” Garber said. “A milk chocolate could be paired with a Chardonnay or whites. Sometime that sweet white wine with a honey/lavender truffle is a great pairing. A sweet floral chocolate might pair better with white than just a red. So many people just think red wine with chocolate but you can mix it up.”
Garber has been a chocolatier since 1994. She started in her home and then opened a business just south of Indianapolis. She now has a sizable shop in Indianapolis’ trendy Mass Ave district called “The Best Chocolate in Town.”
She mixes all sorts of spices, fruit, and even beer in her truffles to challenge her customer’s base palate. “There has been this slow evolution going on,” she said. “It’s sort of like jams and jelly; it used to be just grape and strawberry. Now you have pepper jellies and all sorts of combinations. So now chocolate has evolved and continues to expand in new directions.
Flavored truffles give wine fans a chance to really experiment. Boutique chocolate shops have popped up in cities of all size. Chocolate and wine is a very seductive treat for Valentine’s Day!
Howard’s Pick: Try a 70 percent Cacao Truffle with hints of coffee with a big fruity Zinfandel Delightful!
Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, IN., writes every other week for 22 newspapers in three states. Reach him at: email@example.com
Monday, January 14, 2013
Wine tasting sounds like something for wine snobs. Consumers who buy wine at groceries and liquor stores should do a little more wine tasting to expand their palate and knowledge.
Often novice wine drinkers shy away from tastings and wine events because of lack of knowledge. Still, human nature suggests learning more on a topic increases the enjoyment.
There's nothing wrong with buying your wine in the aforementioned retail outlets. But to increase knowledge and expand the palate a wine shop is the best 'next step' for wine beginners or those who want to learn more.
"Go to a wine store where they have a person to help you," said Dean Wilson, an Indiana distributor and former retailer. "A real wine person will educate you. Somebody in the retail market, who learns your palate, will guide you into other things to try.
"It is like Education 101, don't be afraid to taste new things. Trust your wine professional and go to as many tastings as you can."
Wilson suggested American consumers are actually hungry for wine knowledge. Sales figures over the past 15 years show significant increases in American wine consumption. And, there has never been a better time to try more and different wines.
"Consumers want a good deal," Wilson said. "Consumers realize they don't have to spend a lot of money on a bottle of wine. If they try something new and like it, then they can start trying different (price) levels of that wine."
As a distributor, Wilson knows the wine market. He said the bulk of wine sales rests in the $9-$15 price range. The market "sweet spot" was just under $10 in the 1990s and then increased. The 2008 economic collapse dropped the sales point back below $10. Today, consumers are willing to pay $14-$15 a bottle.
You can expland your palate and education with a wine professional or a group of friends who enjoy wine. How many people do you wish to invite? Do you want wine education or enjoyment? Do you want to do specific wines or just have everyone bring a bottle?
You can make any wine event more fun by trying to pair wines with just the right food. Or have everyone bring 100 percent varietal wines in a brown bag and then try to guess the varietal. You could come up with geographical clues from the wine region to make the game even more fun.
If you have a friend who really knows wine or maybe you know a wine professional, give them a call. Most wine retailers, wholesalers, and wine journalists really enjoy sharing what they've learned from their experiences.
Drink wines at your normal price point. But maybe throw in one bottle of something special, and a little higher priced, near the end of your gathering.
"It's like we tell our kids, 'How do you know you won't like it, if you don't try it?" Wilson suggested. "That's also true on wine."
Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, IN., writes about wine every other week for 21 Midwestern newspapers. You can ask him questions at: firstname.lastname@example.org