Are you ready for a ménage a trois? Most people would be taken aback or even shocked by the suggestion. The reference here, however, isn’t about a sexual tryst. Rather, it involves pairing wine, chocolate and cheese together.
Even for foodies, this trio poses trepidation, not to mention complexity. Luckily, there’s help. And in all good conscience, the deviation from the norm can be fun and adventuresome (and yes, we’re referring to the food pairing). Moreover, specialty food distributors, wine and cheese companies and, of course, chocolatiers can be a resource.
In Candy Industry’s case, we turned to the folks at Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate Co. in St. Louis., who have been working with North Light Specialty Foods, also based in St. Louis. Seems this duo have developed a protocol combining tasting notes, products, and even a party guide for novices and gourmands alike to try.
As the tasting notes declare, “The first rule about pairings is that there are no rules.” There are, however, common-sense basics — sweet and salty combinations work well; similar and contrasting textures also match well together; and during the process, one should inspect, inhale and imbibe.
Candy Industry’s tasting panel, which consisted of Bernard Pacyniak, editor-in-chief; Jim Carper, chief editor, Dairy Industry, Stephanie Cernivec, managing editor, Beverage Industry; and Linda Johnson, BNP Media office manager (Deerfield, Ill.), sat down recently to take on this triple-play of favorites.
The chocolates, which were provided by Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate Co., came in two boxes: one marked for pairing with red wines; the other for white or sweet wines. North Light provided the following cheeses for white or sweet wines: a mini Brie, a mild goat Gouda and a Fontina. For red wines, the cheeses chosen were a Gruyere, an aged goat Gouda and a Mantoro (a domestic version of the Spanish Manchego cheese). The company also provided a matrix for tasting, which specifically linked cheeses with chocolates. The cheese boxes also provided suggestions for the wine selections.
Following the cheese guidelines, Candy Industry’s self-appointed sommelier, Pacyniak, selected the following wines: A Ca’ Montebello, Sangue Di Guioda 2012 was chosen for the mini Brie; a Joel Gott 2012 Sauvignon Blanc for the mild goat Gouda; and a 2011 Foxglove Chardonnay for the Fontina. For the cheese and red wine pairings, these wines were matched up: A Guigal Cote du Rhone 2010 for the Gruyere; a Layer Cake Malbec 2012 for the aged goat Gouda; and a Thomas Goss 2011 McLaren Vale Shiraz for the Mantoro.
The chocolates selected, as prompted by the pairing suggestions, ranged from milks to darks. Here are the pairings and some of the comments (Editor’s note: Winemaker’s notes were edited from wine.com; cheese descriptions from North Light Specialty Foods):
Ca’ Montebello, Sangue Di Giuda 2012
A sweet wine of a bright ruby red with purplish reflections. Full bodied and vinous with notes of violets, together with raspberry and blueberry jams, smooth and fragrant.
Cheese: Mini Brie
The “king” of French cheeses dates back to the 17th century. It’s characterized by a soft bloomy rind and a buttery center. It works well with fruit, sweet or savory foods.
Chocolate: Solid Milk Chocolate
Tasting Panel: “This was my favorite pairing. I thought it would be too sweet but the smooth texture of the brie was a great compliment to the sweet wine and simplicity of the milk chocolate.” (LJ)
“This simple milk chocolate paired well with the sweet, sparkling red wine we tried. The milk chocolate was sweet, but not overpowering, which complemented the sweet but refreshing qualities of the wine.” (SC)
Joel Gott 2012 Sauvignon Blanc
Has aromatics of guava, papaya, white peach, mandarin, Meyer lemon and lime. The wine fills the palate with fruit flavors and a round fullness, finishing with crisp, refreshing acidity.
Cheese: Mild Goat Gouda
This slightly sweet and semi-firm cheese has a pleasing sweetness and a goat’s milk finish; salty sweetness allows it to pair wonderfully with dry white wines or anything citrusy and crisp.
Chocolate: Dark chocolate vanilla dream
Tasting Panel: “Mild goat flavor that is pleasant but not overwhelming. This wine pairs better with the chocolate than with the cheese. I did not care for the cheese/wine combination as much as I did for the wine/chocolate combination. (JC)
2011 Foxglove Chardonnay
With this wine you have the richness of fruit from California’s Central Coast, which gives you tropical notes. However, the wine is bottled without going through malolactic fermentation and has no oak on it so it maintains a very clean profile.
Cheese: Danish Fontina
A bright red wax rind encases the 11th century cheese, which has a mellow, cream profile and is semi-soft. Its slightly sweet flavor and nutty undertones make it especially versatile.
Chocolate: Milk Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel
Tasting Panel: “An ideal pairing, combining the slight nuttiness of the Fontina cheese, the clean, crisp yet slightly fruity Chardonnay, all capped it off with creamy caramel and salt. Loved it.” (BP)
Guigal Codes du Rhone 2010
Deep and dark red. Shiny. Aromas of fresh fruits with red berries and spices. Full, round and racy. Rounded and smooth tannins. A full-bodied, rich and intensly aromatic wine.
A semi-hard cheese with a delicate texture that has a nutty flavor profile. Sweet but slightly salty, it is distinctive but not overpowering.
Chocolate: Milk Chocolate Hazelnut Truffle
Tasting Panel: “Love Cotes du Rhones, so a bit biased here. Enjoyed the Gruyere, which worked well with the wine. Slightly disappointed in the hazelnut truffle, expected much more hazelnut flavor.” (BP)
Layer Cake Malbec 2012
Big, brooding, black fruit, then rich earth, truffles and dark cocoa are at the front. Elegant in the mouth with fresh-picked blackberries, simmering chocolate sauce on the stove, so many layers.
Cheese: Aged Goat Gouda
Aged at least 60 days, this cheese has the tingle and slight acidity of goat cheese, but without the traditional lingering taste of fresh chevre.
Chocolate: Extra Dark Chocolate Euro Truffle
Tasting Panel: “The rich and smooth dark chocolate, paired nicely with the dark fruit and cocoa flavors in the Malbec. Like the chocolate, the aged goat gouda was creamy and had a great flavor. Altogether, these three complemented each other beautifully." (SC)
“This proved to be my favorite pairing, lead perhaps by my predilection for a good dark chocolate truffle. Again, complexity throughout all elements, but balanced symmetry within all.” (BP)
Thomas Goss 2011 McLaren Vale Shiraz
This wine has a long, soft and juicy palate and lush mouthfeel, bursting with blackberry, blueberry jam and licorice. A true Australian Shiraz experience.
A domestic version of the popular Spanish cheese Manchego, this cow’s milk cheese has a salty and piquant flavor.
Chocolate: Dark Chocolate Raspberry Truffle
Tasting Panel: “By far my favorite all-around combination. The cheese is strong and creamy and pairs well with this bold wine. The wine is an excellent companion to the truffle. The fruit flavors in the wine and in the truffle are excellent companions. And the cheese and the truffle go well together, maybe because of the saltiness in the cheese and the sweetness of the raspberry.” (JC)
“This was another very good pairing. I loved the mild, nutty Mantoro with the robust Shiraz. The sweet raspberry rounded it out.” (LJ)