Michael Antonorsi’s first experience with a wine pairing was, at least in his eyes, a failure. Ten years ago, the master chef of Chuao Chocolatier was asked by a chef in San Diego to prepare wild truffles — bitter chocolate dusted in cocoa powder — for a pairing with a brut champagne.
“I really didn’t think that the brut champagne, which is dry, would work well with the bitter chocolate,” he explains. “Still, I wasn’t going to argue with him.”
Even now, Antonorsi would be the first to say that pairing wine with chocolate is difficult. Chocolate, like wine, can have an incredibly deep range of overt and subtle layers of taste. Fortunately, Antonorsi has — since the founding of Chuao Chocolatier with his brother, Richard, in 2002 — taken a “culinary approach to our chocolate.”
In doing so, Antonorsi follows several guidelines when organizing wine tastings for consumers and clients.
“First, I try to keep the sweetness level close between the wine and chocolate,” he says. “We don’t want either to be too distinctive. Consequently, we’re looking for wines that are fruit forward.”
Thus, when choosing red wines — typically paired with dark chocolate — the master chef prefers wines that aren’t dry. Take the McManis Cabernet, Antonorsi says, which “is very round and feels like it’s almost sweet.”
Antonorsi also favors zinfandels that have a big body, are fruit forward and provide a smooth, round finish without being heavy on tannins.
“You want the wine to taste like the fruit would taste,” he says.
With regards to chocolates, Antonorsi stays away from using single-origin chocolates because of their complexity and distinct flavors. Similar to complex wines, the chocolates need their own tasting to shine through properly.
When it comes to white wines, Chuao’s head chocolatier uses either milk or white chocolate.
“I like whites that are round, fruitful and very caramelly,” he says. “Chardonnays that are buttery and creamy are great. We use the Vouvray, which has floral notes.”
Those same flower notes can be found in milk chocolates, which can both contrast and/or compliment those in a white wine, Antonorsi adds. Pralines featuring caramel, which helps project the fruitiness in a white, or almonds and hazelnuts, which help round out the taste experience, work well with white wines.
As for dessert wines, Antonorsi believes that virtually any chocolate will go well with a port or Madeira wine. Coffee-flavored pralines and butter creams work particularly well with either. In the end, he urges chocolatiers to keep the pairings simple since both wines and chocolates have their own degrees of complexity.
Antonoris also believes he’s discovered a way to make brut champagnes “chocolate friendly.” He advises adding crème de cassis to make a Kir Royal or even Chambord, a black raspberry liqueur, to the champagne. The dab of sweetness opens up the champagne to chocolate, Antonorisi says.
Chuao Chocolatier currently offers specific tasting of its chocolates and wines on its website, identical to those featured here on the accompanying page. Just recently the company held a contest for consumers involving a “Simply Irresistible Beach Getaway” as a Valentine’s Day promotion.
In addition to roundtrip tickets to San Diego for two, two nights at the La Jolla Shores Hotel, dinner for two at the hotel’s restaurant, The Shores, the lucky couple was treated to a private pairing by Antonorisi featuring Chuao Chocolatier’s chocolates and selected wines.
Domaine Pichot Vouvray AC*
This wonderfully refreshing white wine offers a lemon peel nose and very floral notes with ripe pears. With a well balanced acidity and sweetness, tangerine and blood orange flavors emerge.
Candy Industry: Chuao Chocolatier’s 16-piece collection featured a broad selection of flavorful, slightly sweet pralines, many featuring interesting textures. In pairing the Vouvray with the Almond Truffle, an almond hazelnut piece featuring almonds and pistachios, the combination work well. The chopped nut topping complimented the slight sweetness of the Loire wine, which finishes with a bit of dry acidity.
In opting for the Java praline, a rich coffee buttercream shaped like a coffee bean bonbon, the wine actually brought out the coffee flavor in the piece. The heart-shaped Parachita praline was a wonderful addition in the 16-piece assortment, with its blend of fresh passion fruit and soft caramel once again accentuating the floral and fruit notes within the wine.
*Candy Industry paired this set with the Domaine de Vauguget 2010 Vouvray.
McManis Cabernet Sauvignon Wine
Blackberry jam and boysenberry fruit with hints of plum fill the nose. These scents are accompanied by vanilla, cinnamon and clove. The finish is of dark fruit and slightly smoky oak.
Candy Industry: Unlike the 16-piece assortment featured in the Vouvray pairing, Chuao Chocolatier focused on providing simply four praline types: Wild Truffle; Framboise; Spice Napa Valley Cabernet and Melao. As expected, the Spiced Napa Valley Cabernet, which consists of a California raisin fondue, Napa Valley cabernet, caramel and spices generated heat immediately. The McManis proved to be the perfect quencher, putting out the fire in a very fruitful, rounded way.
For chocolate purists, we recommend the Wild Truffle, the dark rich chocolate ganache that’s rolled in cocoa powder. Call this a classic pairing, where the fruit of the cacao tree meets the fruit of the cabernet sauvignon grape, an encounter that lingers wonderfully in the mouth long after both are savored.
Les Clos de Paulilles Banyuls Rimage
Grapey and soft, Banyuls Rimage offers the best pairing for chocolate through its dark black-purple red color with intense blackberry jam aroma and succulent, rich flavors.
Candy Industry: This wine was incredibly sweet, and the chocolates Chuao suggested for pairing with it featured much needed bittersweet tones that brought balance to both.
The more fruity truffles, such as the Modena — a strawberry caramel with balsamic vinegar from Modena — and the Framboise — a raspberry “pate de fruit” layered over almond hazelnut praline — both worked well because of their strong dark chocolate flavors and mild fruit notes.
And the Candela, a macadamia nut praline spiced with smoky chipotle, was among the top chocolates in the collection. The mild spicy flavors in the truffle balanced the sweet grapey notes in the wine perfectly.
However, the Gran Cacao, a creamy bittersweet ganche with 73% cocoa, provided the peak experience. The bittersweet flavors in the chocolate mellowed the wine, bringing out the best flavors in both.
Bele Casel Prosecco Vino Spumante Extra Dry
With aromas of apples and pears, this wine offers a creamy texture with just the right amount of acidity framing abundant fruit flavors. It’s off-dry, with a slightly sweet taste of pear and citrus.
Candy Industry: The chocolate collection for this sparkling wine was very centered on nutty and sweet truffles.
The Melao truffle, a salt butter caramel filled bonbon, interacted interestingly with the Bele Casel, as the wine accentuated the savory aspects of the salted caramel. The chocolate also drew out the creamy finish of the sparkling wine.
Meanwhile, the Black & White truffle, containing creamy white chocolate with almond hazelnut praline, was the highlight of the box, producing nutty pear and sweet citrus notes when paired with the wine. The surprising crunch matched with the light almond and rich hazelnut, melded beautifully to produce a singular experience.