Chocolate Valentine’s Dinner: The Wine Guys Tasting Notes, Feb 10 2016



Corporate Executive Chef – Sherrie Robbins
Wine and food pairings by Claude Robbins

Raw Cacao Bean
Casal Garcia, Vinho Verde, NV

First Course
Crostini with Pointe Reyes Blue Cheese,
Roasted Bosc Pears, Hazelnuts & White Chocolate
Domaine Zind Humbrecht, Alsace Grand Cru “Goldert”, Muscat, 2012

Vermouth de Chambéry, Blanc, NV

Second Course
Cocoa and Spice Dusted Pork Tenderloin Medallions Over Chocolate
Risotto With Dried Cranberries and Soubise Sauce &
Roasted Carrots With Balsamic & Thyme
Château Branaire-Ducru, Saint-Julien, 2007

Third Course – Salad Course
Bitter Greens With Toasted Walnuts, Shaved Parmesan &
Forastero Cacao Bean Nibs with
Cara-Cara Orange-Vanilla Vinaigrette

Fourth Course – Dessert Course
Warm Chocolate & Dark Cherry Bread Pudding
with Crème Anglaise
Banfi, Brachetto d’Acqui, Rosa Regale, 2014

Valentines day was not always about chocolate. In the beginning Saint Valentine was the name given to martyrs in Rome, as early as 496AD.  It would be Chaucer, about 1382, who would add a love component – but is was birds choosing their mates.  By the 1400’s the term “Valentine’s Day” would vary from place to place, and date to date, depending upon when spring occurred.  Spring was often marked by the bud burst of grapevines in the vineyard.

Chocolate becoming part of Valentine’s Day occurred in the mid-1800’s, in England, when less expensive ways to produce chocolate were developed and the combination of a Valentine’s Day card (also an English invention) and chocolate hearts become very popular.

The idea of having a Valentine’s Day Dinner in which each course includes chocolate (or cacao) is relatively new. We have done this for about ten years, with it changing each year, so the Chef and Sommelier don’t get bored.

Again, the food is moving from simpler to more complex and lighter to richer as we move from dish to dish. 

Of course, the use of chocolate creates interesting issues.  Even with the aperitif.

Aperitif and Amuse Buche

Raw Forestero Cacao Beans
Casal Garcia, Vinho Verde, NV

casal-garcia-vinho-verde-nvTo start this meal, placed in the right-hand upper corner  of each person’s menu was a cacao bean that they could break open and taste the raw cacao.  It is fairly bitter and not sweet at all.  This is an important component of each dish all the way through dessert.  That is, we are pairing wine to bitterness not necessarily sweetness.

I purposely chose a starting wine that has dramatically improved over the past few years and is now considerably a better produced wine than it has been historically.  A Vinho Verde (in Portuguese it means “green wine”) is a dry, acidic and slightly effervescent wine.  Not enough effervescence to be a “sparkling” wine, technically we would call it “spritzig”, the German technical tasting term for a slightly effervescent wine.  It has good, but slight, fruit characteristics and is light enough to be a good starting point for a dinner.

Having this wine with the acid and slight effervescence creates a nice contrast to the bitterness of the cacao, and the combination of acidic and bitter acts as a tradition aperitif.  Of course, the combination of acid and bitterness clearing the palate and setting it up for dinner.

A Vinho Verde is not often thought of as a winter wine, but it works quite well as a starting point.  It should be chilled to about 50F and served.  This wine is better known as a starter in summer.

The wine:
Producer: Casal Garcia
Growing Area: Vinho Verde, Portugal
Style: Blanco (white)
Vintage year: Non-Vintage (NV)

First Course

Crostini with Pointe Reyes Blue Cheese,
Roasted Bosc Pears, Hazelnuts and White Chocolate
Domaine Zind Humbrecht, Alsace Grand Cru “Goldert”, Muscat, 2012

Course 1C wine

The first course was delicious and a very interesting combination of a wide range of flavors and textures.  Blue cheese, with pears, hazelnuts and a white chocolate and honey sauce, all layered on a grilled crostini.

One of the keys to pairing wine in this course is that there is not an overpowering blue cheese in the dish. This is important because the blue cheese is used in the first dish, not a principal dish or closing dish.  It cannot overpower the palate since it is a starting point not an ending point.

So as you take a bite you can observe the crostini, the blue cheese along with the pear, hazelnut and sauce.  None overpower, all or in balance.  That is important when finding a wine that will bring out all the flavors.

Muscat is a grape that most people think of that is used to make a dessert wine: very sweet, high viscosity, but enough acid to keep it from being cloying.  In Alsace (France) they also make a medium-dry, medium-bodied varietal Muscat.  In addition the Grand Cru style goes thru a malolactic fermentation (MLF) and is rested in French oak (for a short period of time).

These production techniques add more complex flavors, a slight increase in viscosity (the wine term is palate-weight) and an increase in flavor intensity.  It creates a wine with classic Alsace characteristics as well as more intense flavors.

Muscat is Vitis Vinifera Modern number 1.  That is, the species of wine grapes that fall in the V.v.Modern family, Muscat is the first to appear about 3000 BC, possibly earlier. Probably named for “fruit fly” because of the sugar content, the modern name may be derived from the Persian (Muchk), the ancient Greek ( Moskos), or the Roman Latin (Muscus).

This wine is worth remembering if you like this combination of flavors because it will go quite well with a dish like this that has been made to not be too heavy with blue cheese. So make sure that the blue cheese does not overpower all of the other flavors.  Although a heavier blue cheese and very ripe pears are used to make a dessert dish, in this case the wine is not going with a dessert.  Because this is not a dessert dish you don’t want the very sweet, high viscosity dessert style of Muscat.

The wine:
Producer: Domaine Zind Humbrecht
Growing Area: Alsace Grad Cru (France)
Vineyard: Goldert
Grape: Muscat
Vintage year: 2012

The idea of using the term “Cru” in Alsace is over 1000 years old.  Even the term “Grand Cru”, or “great growth”, has been used in Alsace since at least 1575, way before other parts of France (like Burgundy and Bordeaux) have used the term.  Although the term has significantly different meanings in Bordeaux compared to Burgundy or Alsace.

However, a legal AOC Grand Cru (GC) system in Alsace has only been legal since 1987.  With the process of “determining” the Alsace Grand Cru set of vineyards beginning in 1962.

In 50 of the 51 Alsacian GC vineyards a grape grower can only grow up to four different grapes: Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürstraminer, and Muscat.  Only 8 of the GC vineyards actually grow Muscat at all, and “Goldert” is the only vineyard that specializes in Muscat.  That makes this wine unique. It also may make the wine difficult to find.  However, an Alsacian GC Muscat from any of the 8 GC vineyards should be workable.  Make sure when you talk to your wine merchant that you are looking for a medium-bodied, dry to medium-dry wine.  Also, there are several producers that make an Alsacian Grand Cru from “Goldert.”

It must be a Alsace Grand Cru, not a regular Alsace wine.


Dolin, Vermouth de Chambéry, Blanc, NV

Course 1.5 wine

Although the term intermezzo is used in a musical sense, it is also used to mean a brake during a dinner.  In many wine dinners an intermezzo is inserted just before the principal course. 

It serves two purposes: (1) to clear the palate and set up the palate for the upcoming course and (2) to give the Chef additional time to fabricate and prepare the next (i.e.: principal) course.  In this case the Chef requested an intermezzo be inserted to provide more time to prepare the principal course.

Since we usually follow the fairly standard restaurant approach of allowing 20 minutes between courses, in this case the Chef needed 30 minutes so we inserted the intermezzo.

Using a vermouth for an intermezzo is common in Europe but not in the US.  In the US we often insert a sorbet.  This can work fine if it is slightly acidic and bitter – it’s goal is to clear the palate.  Avoid a sweet or slightly-sweet sorbet.

The wine:
Producer: Dolin
Growing Area: Vermouth de Chambéry (France)
Style: Blanc
Vintage year: NV
Note: adding the lemon slice is optional

You only need to serve an ounce to an ounce-and-a-half of this fortified wine for it to work as an intermezzo.  Pour it into a glass with one or two ice cubes.  This is probably the only time you will hear me suggest ice cubes in a wine.  But it works great anytime you are using a vermouth (from France, Italy or Switzerland) as either the aperitif or intermezzo.

Dolin is considered the best produced in France and the flavor profile includes several herbs to create the unique flavor profile.  Again, works great as a summer wine.

Second Course

Cocoa and Spice Dusted Pork Tenderloin Medallions Over Chocolate
Risotto With Dried Cranberries and Soubise Sauce and
Roasted Carrots With Balsamic and Thyme
Château Branaire-Ducru, Saint-Julien, 2007

Course 2 Wine

This is a combination of several herbs in addition to a cocoa (75% cocoa) powder as a rub for the pork.  The risotto also uses the same bitter cocoa. This gives the meat and risotto similar, but not identical flavors. The Soubise sauce is a white cream sauce base, with several vegetables used to give the risotto a broader and richer flavor profile on the palate.

The 2007 vintage of Ch. Branaire-Ducru is an excellent vintage that is just reaching its drinking phase.  Although still young, it has reduced acid and softened tannins and very good fruit charactistics. This wine is classically a blend of 5 grapes, with Cabernet Sauvignon being the informing grape of the wine.

The bitterness of the chocolate is a complement to the bitterness of the tannins.  The richness of the dish helps reduce the remaining acidity of the wine and bring out the fruit characteristics of the wine.  This is an excellent example of a wine that tastes one way when drunk by itself and more in balance when served with food.

The wine:
Producer: Château Branaire-Ducru
Growing Area: Saint-Julien (France)
Style: Rouge
Vintage year: 2007

You really do want this specific producer and vintage year for this dish.

Third Course – Salad Course
Bitter Greens With Toasted Walnuts, Shaved Parmesan and
Forastero Cacao Bean Nibs and
Cara-Cara Orange-Vanilla Vinaigrette

Following a classic approach to a coursed meal, no wine is served with the salad course.  The purpose of this course, called a transition course, is to “relax” the palate by not being as heavy or as rich as the principal course.

In this case the vinaigrette dressing made from Cara-Cara oranges with vanilla and oil really holds the entire dish together.

Fourth Course – Dessert Course
Warm Chocolate and Dark Cherry Bread Pudding
With Crème Anglaise
Banfi, Brachetto d’Acqui, Rosa Regale, 2014


Dessert is always one of the most difficult dishes to pair wine too.  This case is no different.  A combination of dark chocolate, slightly acidic dark cherries along with Crème Anglaise needs a wine that works with chocolate and fruit and can stand up to the richness of Crème Anglaise.

The key is that this dish is not extremely sweet.  Therefore the wine shouldn’t be extremely sweet either.

The wine:
Producer: Banfi
Growing Area: Acqui (Italy, DOCG)
Informing Grape: Brachetto
Style: Sparkling

Vintage year: 2014

This is one of the two world-class Italian sparkling dessert wines from the Piedmont.  The other is the DOCG Moscato d’Asti.  The strong fruit flavor of the Brachetto is a complement to the cherries and the chocolate and the acidity of the wine keeps the Crème Anglaise from tasting chalky.

This is a natural wine to go with chocolate so long as it is not too sweet.  This sparkling wine will work with a variety of chocolate desserts.

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