When Etienne Guittard left his home in Tournus, France for California, he —like so many others — had gold fever.

Upon landing on the Barbary Coast, Guittard had initially hoped to trade his uncle’s chocolate for mining supplies. It didn’t take long before he realized that the shiny and gleaming chocolate he had brought over was equally valuable.  As he discovered, wealthy miners were more than willing to pay a premium for the sweet and dark “gold.”

Consequently, he sailed back to France to hone his craft, returning to California a few years later. In 1868 he opened Guittard Chocolate on Sansome St., setting in motion a tradition of excellence that continues to this day.

Gary Guittard, president and ceo of Guittard Chocolate Co., has spent a good part of his life sourcing cocoa beans all over the world for the company.  In 2000, he introduced the Chocolate Etienne line for the professional pastry chef and chocolatier. Made from the world’s most select cacao beans, using time-honored vintage methods and small batch manufacturing processes, the Chocolate Etienne line consists of more than 20 single-origin and blended chocolates.

Candy Industry Magazine’s editors choose four varieties and selected wines, based on general recommendations provided by Guittard, to pair with the chocolates. Although an oft-repeated rule whenever pairing wines with chocolate is to match or exceed the sweetness of the chocolate with that of the comparable wine, our incorrigible group thought it best to experiment a bit.

“Coloring beyond the lines” has never been an obstacle to us scribes, and the staff welcomed the challenge, choosing wines that might raise some eyebrows as well as glasses. The big question looming before such pairings, “Are you tasting the chocolate or the wine?” Ideally, they’re supposed to complement each other. Sometimes they contrast. And sometime one dominates the other.

We’ll let you decide. So join us on our journey and enjoy some truly wonderful single-origin chocolates and equally fine wines.

Chocolate and wine pairings

Chocolate Etienne Collection- Kokoleka Hawaiian 38% Cacao Milk Chocolate

Refreshing and smooth like a fruit smoothie. Its wild fruitiness is tamed by the intense creaminess of the milk. Rich and exciting but focused on a wonderful chocolate taste.

La Crema Chardonnay 2012

Winemaker’s Notes:“This exceptional vintage gave us classic Russian River Chardonnay character, with fresh aromas of yellow apple and stone fruits highlighted by baking spice and vanilla tones. On the palate, flavors of ripe pear and honeydew melon are accented by toffee and hazelnut notes. The rich mouthfeel is beautifully balanced by juicy acidity and great concentration, giving a lush impression on a lingering finish.” (Elizabeth Grant Douglas, Winemaker )

Tasting Panel:Lush applies to both the chocolate and the wine. This atypical pairing works because both have tropical undertones. One of the tasters, not a big fan of overly sweet milk chocolate, found this Hawaiian offering exceptional, topped off beautifully by a big and juicy chardonnay. Wear Hawaiian garb for the full effect.

Chocolate and wine pairings

Chocolate Etienne Collection- Machu Picchu Peru 65% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate

As exotic and sacred as the valley of the Urubamba River leading to Machu Picchu, this chocolate features an inspirational combination of buttery, floral and banana notes with a grapefruit zest background.

Four Graces Pinot Noir 2012

Winemaker’s Notes:“Sparkling garnet in color, the 2012 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir sports aromas of red raspberry and wild strawberry.  Flavors are focused and bursting with red and blue fruits, a hint of cocoa and silky smooth tannins. Grapes for this cuvée are sourced from the Black Family Estate in the Dundee Hills, and Guittard’s Doe Ridge Estate in the Yamhill Carlton AVA.”

Tasting Panel:Both chocolate and wine stand beautifully on their own. Together the pairing, although not necessarily contentious, didn’t result in enhancing the wonderful assets of each. As one taster put it, “they’re just maybe too mellow for each other.”

Chocolate and wine pairings

Chocolate Etienne Collection-  Ecuador Nacional 65% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate

Extremely dark color foreshadows its powerful but flowery chocolate taste. The intensity of this rarified Forestero varietal produces rich, green forest, tea and slight nut flavors with a lingering banana and pound cake finish.

Franciscan Cabernet 2011

Winemaker’s Notes:“A smooth and silky texture on the palate frames generous flavors of ripe plum and dark cherry, with notes of vanilla and black pepper. Smooth tannins and well-integrated structure tie together and linger in the long finish.”

Tasting Panel:There’s something to be said about combining bold with bold. Here, the chocolate and wine, both distinctive in their own right, aren’t afraid to mingle and maximize the beauty of both. Complexities are compounded, yet never become combative. Just give yourself to the dark side.

Chocolate and wine pairings

Etienne Collection Couverture Wafers: Crème Francaise (French Cream) 31% Cacao

French-style white chocolate with a sweet cream fresh flavor, nutty undertones and a lingering hint of citrus. The chocolate adds a balanced, sweet dairy flavor to any recipe, and stands alone as an extraordinarily smooth white chocolate with a rich cocoa butter taste.

Roederer Estate Brut Rose

Winemaker’s Notes:“The Roederer Estate Brut Rose is full and round with smooth flavors and fine persistent bubbles. The extra measure of Chardonnay contributes elegance and austerity, which balances nicely with the delicate fruitiness of the Pinot Noir. “

Tasting Panel:Think strawberries and cream. OK, so the group decided to take a chance by using a non-sweet sparkling wine and, well, it worked out. The rich creamy white chocolate welcomes the tingly, tiny bubbles with open arms. Even Lawrence Welk would approve. Cheers!