While J. Lohr Vineyards and Wines and Lindt USA have collaborated before, the two have not done anything approaching the likes of this upcoming autumnal national promotion. To ensure delivery of flavor, fragrance and feeling, Ann Czaja, master chocolatier at Lindt USA, worked with J. Lohr’s winemakers, Jeff Meier, director of winemaking and evp/coo, and Steve Peck, red winemaker, to create unprecedented pairings.
In working with Lindt ’s Excellence line of four chocolate varieties, a mix of classic as well as recently developed fl avors, Czaja sought out Meier’s and Peck’s input in Orchestrating this journey into indulgence.
Given that J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines includes more than 900 acres of coolclimate estate vineyards in Monterey County, with an emphasis on Chardonnay, Riesling, Valdiguié and Pinot Noir; 2,000 acres in Paso Robles dedicated to Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, Petite Sirah and other red varietals; and 33 acres in Napa Valley, highlighting Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc, there were certainly plenty of vintages and varieties to choose from.
In opting to use only dark chocolate varieties, complementing J. Lohr’s long-standing heritage in red wine craftsmanship, the two companies, nonetheless, didn’t let tradition stand in the way of taste. In what proved to be one of those truly inspired “harmonies made only in heaven,” Meier chose a 2012 J. Lohr Estates Bay Mist White Riesling to buddy up with Lindt’s Excellence Intense Orange chocolate.
Although Czaja initially was a bit skeptical about the pairing, subsequent sampling removed all doubts and distractions. The combination has taken the complexities of both — the lychee, pear and orange notes in the Riesling as well as the sweet citrus profile within the Intense Orange — and integrated the fruit and acids together into one harmonious taste experience.
The unexpected “wow factor” involving J.Lohr’s Riesling and Lindt’s Excellence Intense Orange, doesn’t — in any way — diminish the pleasures delivered by the winery’s reds and Lindt’s equally impressive 70 percent, A Touch of Sea Salt and Chili varieties as the following tasting notes assert.
What better way for artisans in chocolate and winemaking to collaborate than by integrating life’s indulgences and introducing them to consumers to enjoy.
Lindt EXCELLENCE 70% Cocoa and 2011 J. Lohr Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon (Paso Robles):
A bright floral flavor with fruit and vanilla notes make this smooth and creamy dark chocolate neither too bitter nor overpowering. Ripe aromas of blueberry and black plum meld with a bouquet of chocolate and hazelnut in this superb wine. Paired with the balanced and rich EXCELLENCE 70% Cocoa, which features notes of tobacco, leather and roasted nuts, the two match up well in both depth and body, and finish with a creaminess that coats the palate.
Winemaker’s Notes: The Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon is red-purple in color with a bright hue at release. Ripe fruit of black plum, blueberry and cherry mix with a bouquet of toasted pastry, anise and vanilla from a year of barrel aging. Mature and round on the palate, the cool 2011 vintage has a high-toned fruit signature and a soft finish. — Steve Peck, winemaker
Candy Industry’s Panel: The 2011 Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon and 70 percent cocoa combination illustrates how classic standards truly enhance an experience when married together. The chocolate’s smooth but deep cacao roots, together with its fruit and nut aromas bring out the anise and vanilla notes in the wine.
EXCELLENCE Chili and J. Lohr Estates South Ridge Syrah
One doesn’t rush to indulgence. And there’s no jackrabbit start to EXCELLENCE’s Chile, a fine aromatic sweet dark chocolate perfumed with premium red chili. The chocolate’s smooth flavor begins sweet, then slowly yields to the spicy chili’s intense heat in the back of the mouth. Nothing but an elegant red wine with deep, rich fruit aromas and flavors of pomegranate, blueberry and prune — also characterized by a spicy finish — can keep pace with this integration of intensity. Enjoyed together, the two create a spicy warmth that bursts onto the palate.
Winemaker’s Notes: Varietal aromas of pomegranate, black tea and blueberry are lifted by barrel aging on the lees in a blend of American and French oak barrels. Restrained notes of vanilla and a lean tannin structure are evident in this bright, fruit-driven Syrah. Steve Pack, winemaker
Candy Industry’s Panel: Spicy, yes, but spectacular also. The Syrah enhances and intensifies the chocolate’s gradual delivery of spice. A wonderful pairing that will change common assumptions about heat, particularly when delivered in such a subtle yet pervasive manner.
EXCELLENCE A Touch of Sea Salt and J. Lohr Fog’s Reach Pinot Noir
A Touch of Sea Salt’s delicate, sweet cocoa flavor is intensified by the bite of Fleurde Selcrashing on the palate, creating delightfully sharp notes of cocoa and honey. The fresh ripe berries in this Pinot Noir are accompanied by a touch of earth and brown sugar that complement the sharpness of the Fleur de Sel and sweet cacao characteristics in the chocolate. Together they invoke flavors reminiscent of fresh cream, butter and finish with a pleasant tanginess.
Winemaker’s Notes: The 2011 Falcon’s Perch Pinot Noir is darker and denser than preceding vintages, owing to the cool growing conditions that year. Aromas of cherry preserves, violet and creme brulee lead to a rich, soft palate. Acidity is clean and invites a wide range of food pairings. — Steve Peck, winemaker.
Candy Industry’s Panel: Falcon Perch Pinot Noir’s softer bouquet provides an ideal backdrop for A Touch of Sea Salt’s interplay between sweet and savory.
EXCELLENCE Intense Orange and 2012 J. Lohr Estates Bay Mist White Riesling (Monterey County)
Think sweet cocoa with intense notes of marmalade and candied orange. Continue with the delightful crunch of roasted almonds. But this isn’t a Winnie the Pooh outing, as this Riesling demonstrates. Floral aromas with lemon curd, beeswax and toasty vanilla are present in this wonderfully complex wine. It is the ideal match for the sweet citrus profile and equally complex EXCELLENCE Intense Orange. Full fruit flavors and a balanced seam of acidity work in unison to create perfection!
Winemaker’s Notes: The 2012 Bay Mist White Riesling is a youthful, brassy yellow color with attractive aromas of apricot, lychee, pear and white flowers. The flavors are very clean and bright with apricot, pippin apple and lychee fruit balanced by a dollop of natural grape sweetness and crisp acidity. — Jeff Meier, winemaker.
Candy Industry’s Panel: Keeping this pairing last was intentional; after all, a Riesling going up against an intense orange-flavored dark chocolate impregnated with almond slivers? A long shot at best. Meier proves traditionalists wrong, creating an ideal matchup that’s not about bucking trends, but beginning them.