Thursday, February 11, 2010

Report from … Days of Wine and Chocolate (NOTL) – February 6, 2010

It was mother/son bonding day in Niagara-on-the-Lake as we toured along the wine trail during the annual Days of Wine and Chocolate event: a month-long touring program that pairs two great loves. Like Romeo and Juliet, Wine and Chocolate just seem to be a match made for all eternity. Usually I rank the wines, the food and the pairing – but for this event it would be hard to rank the food; you see chocolate is about personal taste (ie: what you like it filled with) but if you are like me (and many are) chocolate is its own food group and thus to say one chocolate is better than another is like talking about the refreshingness of water on a hot day. But there was a little bit of trouble at this year’s event: over the course of our tour (we visited 15 of 22 wineries), we discovered something wasn’t so sweet about this chocolate, and by winery 10 we began to discuss it with fellow patrons and employees alike. Here’s what we discovered: the dark chocolate was just way too hard, they were like hockey pucks ready for a game (for those of you who don’t know, they freeze pucks before a game so they move faster on the ice). Mom didn’t finish many of her treats because she was afraid of chipping a tooth, and we met a couple on our tour who had experience my mom’s worst fear, he had indeed had the misfortune of chipping a tooth while trying to chew on the chocolate. I do not feel you should have to risk you teeth’s well being to bite or chew chocolate. The ones that proved the best tasting and paired perfectly were the softer chocolates, those that you didn’t have to struggle to get through, those that had a shell of chocolate on the outside and a soft center inside … in other words, chocolate that did not have you fearing for your dental health.

Besides this major concern, which by the way, was not because the chocolate had been left in the fridge – the 3pm chocolates (which had been sitting on the counter all day) was just as hard as the 10am chocolate fresh from the fridge. But the other concern was the inconsistency of the pieces: on my “black currant chocolate” I had three mini-black currants doting the top of my rock of dark chocolate; my “raisin” had no raisins inside and my apricot was a slog to chew, mostly due to the thick layer of the coating. I fully understand that Willow Pastry – the maker of these chocolates – has many to make (think 400 per winery per weekend – 400 x 22 x 4) and you can see the place would just be a madhouse to be working in trying to get them ready all week … but there has to be a better solution. One suggestion would be for thinner, wafer-like chocolate topped with the main ingredient – not the most appealing way to accomplish the goal but one that would save the embarrassment of no fruit in your fruit filled chocolate and would probably save a few pair of chompers in the process; or look into more soft0centered chocolates, that way they taste like chocolate an something, not just mini-blocks of chocolate with decorative fruit on top.

The Best Pairings …
As mentioned, we visited 15 of 22 wineries, so not all wineries are accounted for in our findings. Many that were not visited were personal choices that anyone would make. I’m not a fan of orange and chocolate, cinnamon and chocolate or coffee (mocha) and chocolate – hence those three were written off our visiting itinerary. I don’t do chilies, hence the spicy chocolate and Syrah pairing also went by the wayside. That said, we found that the best pairings of the day were those who offered a soft centered chocolate which allowed us to take a bite with out teeth intact; and had the recognizable flavour of their interior:

Niagara College Teaching Winery’s 2006 Cabernet Franc with the Dark Chocolate Coconut was a great match – melding flavours together and leaving you with chewy coconut on the finish. The chocolate was done in a truffle style.

Chateau des Charmes’ 2007 Cabernet Franc Icewine went very well with the ooey-gooey good Milk Chocolate Caramel, fusing the sweet strawberry flavour of the wine with the dark caramel inside the milk chocolate shell. You often hear that milk chocolate and wine don’t go together but it was the abundance of dark caramel that made this one work. The chocolate was a milk shell over a ball of soft flowing caramel.

Konzelmann’s 2006 Select Late Harvest Vidal paired exquisitely with a white chocolate cranberry concocted chocolate. Now, everyone knows that white chocolate isn’t “real” chocolate at all, but this was still a delicious pairing. The chocolate was a white chocolate shell with a white cream and cranberry piece ganache middle.

Southbrook’s Framboise (raspberry dessert wine) with White Chocolate Raspberry, what’s not to like hear; the pairing of raspberry on raspberry with the sweetness of white chocolate thrown into the mix; its intensely raspberry through and through. This decadence could be construed as almost over indulgent and sickeningly sweet for some – as in diabetic shock sweet - so be warned. The chocolate was a shell of white chocolate with raspberry truffle interior.

Best Wine of the Day …
I wasn’t going to pull out a best wine award, but then I tried the Strewn 2008 Cabernet Select Late Harvest … forget the pairing, this wine was a beauty from first sip to last gulp, I even asked for seconds … and the price was incredibly reasonable. Check the review by clicking the link above.

Offering More Than Just a Pairing …
Finally, Konzelman pulled out all the stops, not just offering up their awesome Day of Chocolate pairing but also a second chocolate treat and an idea for summer sipping. There was the Eskimo Kiss Cup – a 60% edible dark chocolate mini-cup filled with 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine and liberally topped with a spoonful of 40% Milk Chocolate Brix Chocolate shavings; a pop in your mouth pleasure. Those looking forward to the hotter weather should give Jeremy Miron a call or send him an email to get the recipe for his Jazz-Mopolitan cocktail: a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine, cranberry juice and Riesling Sparkling wine topped with a frozen grape or cranberry (to keep it cold). Here’s looking forward to summer.

All-in-All, when not worrying about our teeth, this was a great touring event, the concept is bang on for the month of Valentine’s Day, and who can resist beating the February blahs with these two treats (wine and chocolate) … there is just a need for minor tweeks to bring it to the level of the other Niagara-on-the-Lake touring programs like Wine & Herb (May) and Taste the Season (November). Considering this is the Days of Wine and Chocolate’s second year the changes they make going forward will only improve it.

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