Hospo pairings – chocolate

Chocolate cherry cake

This instalment of suggestions from laid-off hospitality professionals follows those that featured the popcorn and potato chips and crisps that many seem to have been nibbling on.

We’re well past Easter now – although many of you will have spent it sequestered within the walls of your home – so maybe there isn’t as much chocolate piled up as there was a few weeks ago, but it still seemed to have occupied the thoughts (perhaps dreams?) of many unemployed hospitality workers when filling in their applications for our special offer of free membership.

We’ve given the somewhat polarising question of chocolate and wine some consideration in previous articles on this site. Jancis recommends fortified wine above all else, and I found that dry white and red wine can, sometimes, be surprisingly good matches for good-quality high-cocoa-content chocolate. Our somms, chefs and wait staff certainly think so!

Fortified wine

Plenty of them, however, agree with Jancis. Pairing suggestions started with the most concise (‘port and chocolate’) to the most precise (‘David Franz Old Redemption XO Tawny Port with a peanut butter, chocolate and caramel parfait’ – this coming from Tanner Matthews of Supernormal in Melbourne).

Suggestions swirled around chocolate-based desserts:

  • Dark-chocolate mousse // Mas Amiel 30 Year Old (Steve Pomminville, Hôtel Château-Bromont, Quebec)
  • Chocolate mousse with honeycomb and sour-milk ice cream // Oloroso sherry (Ketri Leis, Tsunft, Estonia)
  • 74% chocolate tart with Jamaican-pepper biscuit base // Barbeito 50 Year Old O Japonês Malvasia (Alina Marin, Wines By Heart, Lisbon)
  • Chocolate bread pudding // Gérard Bertrand Banyuls Vin Doux Naturel (Jill Bennett Gaieski, Village Vine, Pennsylvania)
  • Milk chocolate panna cotta // young tawny and red port (Alexandros Tsalas, Thanos Hotels, Athens – who also suggests it would pair well with chocolate milk stout and chocolate milk martini)
  • Dark chocolate with salted caramel and tonka cream // Morris Classic Cuvée NV Rutherglen Muscat (Alexandre Corvez, Mere, London)
  • Chocolate fondant // port (Anne-France Leray, The Patate, London)

Others seem to have mid-afternoon snacks on the mind.

  • ‘As it's almost Easter … anything chocolate’ // Domaine Piétri Géraud, Cuvée Mademoiselle Rimage Banyuls (Fiona O’Halloran, The Corkscrew, Dublin)
  • Chocolate-chip cookies // madeira (Brian Grandison, Joël Robuchon, Las Vegas)
  • Bourbon chocolate-chip cookies // Domaine Lafage, Ambré (Miranda Gustafson, One Life Kitchen, Illinois)
  • Flourless chocolate cake // Banyuls (Dan Hoffman, Marriott International, Maryland)

But the pairing that appalled and intrigued me was that of Jamie Lock, bar manager at Her Majesty's Secret Service in Bristol: Amontillado sherry with Marmite chocolate truffles. Is there even such a thing as Marmite chocolate truffles? It appears that there is. Or was. Everywhere that sold them, including Selfridges in London, is out of stock. Have the British been panic-buying Marmite chocolate truffles? Is something going on that I didn’t know about? Well if that is the case, then all is not lost. I see that Waitrose has a recipe for them, so you can try this one at home. Let me know if the pistachios make the pairing better or not.

White wine

There were just three (brave?) suggestions for chocolate and white wine. Monrick Etienne from The Wine Room on Aruba Island (now there’s a place to be locked down…) wants us to try California Chardonnay with white chocolate mousse. I suppose if the wine was very vanilla-custard and popcorn and sweet, I could just about imagine it.

Martina Cissig from Cumulus Up in Melbourne claims the ‘perfect at-home quarantine wine match – liquorice and aniseed white chocolate bar and a glass of Riesling’. I can’t quite picture that (in a taste-picture kind of way). Does she mean dry Riesling, off-dry Riesling, sweet Riesling? Are we talking German, Alsace, Clare, Oregon? Martina, we need more information than this. Help us out here. If anyone has a range of Rieslings and a white-chocolate-liquorice-aniseed chocolate bar, please test the theory and report back. (Could someone devise a recipe for us, maybe?)

Rebeka Gyorfi of La Catalista in Barcelona suggests dark chocolate, olive oil and salt with Jordi Llorens Blan 5.7. I had to look up Jordi Llorens. Turns out that one of our favourite wine merchants, Chambers Street Wines, stocks his wines, of which our Spanish specialist Ferran is also a fan. They write, ‘The soft-spoken Jordi Llorens makes some fascinating wines in Conca de Barberà, in Catalunya, where his family has lived since the 1700s. A blend of Maccabeu and Parellada from multiple parcels. Co-fermented, certified organic, and all aged in anfora without any addition of sulfites. It's a bit opaque in the glass, with nice weight, a touch of grip and a long finish. It's unfiltered, unfined, and a bit peculiar, but impeccable, clean and a very balanced real wine.’ I would love to get hold of this ‘peculiar’ wine and try it with dark chocolate, olive oil and salt. Or just try it! I do want to ask Rebeka, though, how you eat that combination. Does one dip a square of dark chocolate in salt, take a swig of olive oil and then bite down on the chocolate, à la tequila slammer? Or is there a drizzle-sprinkle method?

Red wine

My jury is out on all of the matches below – none more so than the last four… Cadbury Creme Egg and Merlot??! Ben & Jerry’s ice cream with Alsace Pinot??! Please will someone give those a try and report back to us all... (Nicolas Capron, perhaps, could just about persuade me to give his weird combo a try.) But I’ve been proved wrong on the red-wine-and-chocolate thing before, so I’d be willing to do it again. Does this mean I need to dig out some Cabernet, make cupcakes and do some shopping on Cocoa Runners? (And that is not a plug – they have no idea who I am, but I love what they do.)

  • Sea-salt dark chocolate // Cabernet Sauvignon (Adrianna Stadnyk, The Fix and Co, Toronto)
  • Chocolate pâté // McManis Zinfandel (Stephanie Mcintyre, Cambridge Mill, Ontario)
  • 70% dark chocolate with red berries // Pinot Noir (Kinga Molnar, Mr Porter, Barcelona)
  • Anything chocolate // The Cadle Family Sangiovese from Rebel (Sabrina Jawer, Rebel Vintners, Napa)
  • Chocolate brownies // French Malbec (Jose Medina Camacho, Automatic Seafood & Oysters, Alabama)
  • Chocolate cake // Ribera del Duero Roble (Jose Luis, iVinum, Lima, Peru)
  • Dark-chocolate dessert with berries // Pinot Noir or Cabernet, ‘who said you can't drink red wine with dessert!’ (Charles Antoine, Rioux et Pettigrew, Quebec)
  • Chocolate cupcake // bourgogne rouge (Nicolas Capron, Upland, New York, who says, ‘So long as the chocolate frosting is not overly sweet, the wine takes on a flavour like mineral water with a suggestion of berries, and is a refreshing accompaniment with the sweet treat. In fact, I had just this type of pairing this evening when I ate a slice of chocolate raspberry cake and a glass of 2018 Ravines Cabernet Franc from the Finger Lakes, New York.’)
  • Oreo cookies // Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon (Sherrill Gossett, Maximilien, Seattle)
  • Ben and Jerry's Choc Fudge Ice Cream // Alsace Pinot Noir (Chew Wen Wei, Mandarin Oriental, Singapore, and pictured below, with his pairing)
  • Cadbury Creme Egg // Lapostolle, Grand Selection Merlot 2015 (Ross Hardie, The Cat’s Pyjamas, Scotland)
Chocolate ice cream and Alsace Pinot Noir
Chew Wen Wei's pairing of Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Fudge ice cream with Alsace Pinot Noir
Chew Wen Wei portrait
Chew Wen Wei, sommelier at the Mandarin Oriental, Singapore

All the others

There was, surprisingly, just one pairing for fizz (were all sparkling wine lovers fixated on popcorn and potato snacks?). Gary Brown of Standard Tavern in Ottowa reckons Cava and dark chocolate do it for him.

Sonia Heidinger from The Cellar in Idaho Falls goes for gluten-free pumpkin bread with chocolate chips (may we have the recipe?) and Hibiki Japanese Harmony whisky. I looked this up, intrigued, and in the UK Master of Malt stock it for a cool £67 a bottle. They say it’s ‘made with malt whiskies from the Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries, as well as grain whisky from the Chita distillery. The whiskies are drawn from five different types of cask, including American white oak casks, sherry casks and Mizunara oak casks. The blend itself was crafted by the Suntory whisky blending team, led by Master Blender Shingo Torii. An elegant expression, with wafts of honey, orange, a herbaceous touch or two and light oak.’ OK, I can imagine that pairing working pretty well.

In Birmingham, Daniel Nuttall of Adam's restaurant suggests chocolate and plum sake – that makes total sense on so many levels. If only I had plum sake to hand…

And then, the pairing that floored me. Nuno Pereira, assistant head sommelier at Theo Randall in London, what are you smoking in lockdown? His entry read: oysters, melted white chocolate with a shot of absinthe.

Did I read that right?

(The main image at the top of the article is reproduced with permission by photographer Marco Verch.)