Wine and chocolate pairing: a work in progress

Morgenster Wine and Olive Estate in Somerset West has embarked upon the tricky journey of crafting a wine and chocolate pairing.

It’s not the first, and it’ll not be the last producer to do so, in an industry that increasingly seeks a fresh approach to tempt the consumer into parting with hard-earned cash.

But just how well does chocolate pair with wine? Well, that depends.

The preponderance of sommelier opinion seems to be that chocolate pairs well with sweet and desert wines. A less dominant school of thought says that a bitter dark chocolate – 70% or more – can pair well with a black fruit driven and tannic wine, such as a Northern Rhone Syrah.

The Morgenster offering, recently released to the public, pairs three wines from its Italian Collection with four hand-crafted chocolates, for R65. I got to try it last Friday with tasting room manager Margi Hoffe, whose brainchild is tech wine and choc offering at Morgenster.

The first wine up is the Caruso 2016, a crisp red-berry sangiovese rosè, which pairs magnificently with a lemon and cherry infused white chocolate truffle.

It’s surprisingly good, considering the sweetness of the white chocolate, and the complete lack of cocoa solids. The key flavour component in the chocolate is the lemon infusion, which beautifully complements the crisp berry notes in the wine.

Next up is the Nabucco 2011, a single varietal nebbiolo, paired with an orange zest infused 70 percent dark chocolate, and quite frankly it doesn’t work.

A bitter note emerges, and the acidity is unduly sharpened. If you engage with Morgenster owner Guilio Bertand, he will tell you that “nebbiolo is like a Piedmontier, hard headed, a loner who does not mix well with others” – so crafting a chocolate to pair with it is no easy task. After much discussion, Margi settled on a milk chocolate which will kill the bitterness, with a good bump up in the the orange zest content to bring out the plush sweet fruit and natural spice in the nebbiolo.

And the joy of this work in progress, is access to Gordon’s Bay chocolatier Jane Stuart, who sat with Margi and tasted the wines before embarking on the design process for the four chocolates.

The final wine, the Tosca 2009, a super Tuscan blend of sangiovese and the four Bordeaux varietals grown on the farm (76 percent sangiovese, 10 percent cabernet sauvignon, 8 percent merlot, 4 percent petit verdot, and 4 percent cabernet franc), is unusually paired with two chocolates: a dark and cinnamon, and a dark and chilli, the latter of which I was deeply sceptical until I tried the combination.

It works surprisingly well, but it takes a few sips of wine and nips of chocolate to appreciate it, because the chilli-induced sensation of warmth in the back of the throat is just so counterintuitive.

The cinnamon and dark chocolate works well right off, because it is so familiar, bringing out the natural spiciness of the sangiovese.

In neither of these pairings do the tannins present as metallic, nor does the 70 percent dark chocolate bring out any bitterness.

Rather the spiciness of the wine is, in the case of the cinnamon chocolate, complemented, in the case of the chilli chocolate, enhanced.

At R65 a head, it is a pairing well worth doing, and if you like what you taste, you can buy the chocolates in a delightful little box, and of course the wines in whatever quantities you choose: Caruso 2016, R101.50; Nebbiolo 2011, R321.00; Tosca 2009, R216.50 a bottle.

And by the time you get to visit Morgenster to try the pairing, I’ve no doubt Margi will have the orange zest milk chocolate paired perfectly with the Nabucco 2011.