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February 17, 2013

GRAPE SENSE: Many options to explore when pairing wine, chocolate

TERRE HAUTE — The world is awash in boutique wine, craft beers, herbs and spices galore. Some call it the Food Network effect. One of wine’s best friends, chocolate, has evolved with a similar Renaissance.

“I think over the past 15 years there has been an evolution of foods, in general, and specialty foods,” said Indianapolis chocolatier Elizabeth Garber. “It has happened to cheese, with craft beer, and even wine. Chocolate has done that too.

“Chocolate has been around for ever and ever, but then you started getting people specializing in the craft of chocolate and the higher quality and the artistic side of chocolate. People started creating it more visually and it became more about the palate. Now it’s what flavor profile is in the chocolate and what works well with chocolate. Today you can find spices and things like that in chocolate products.”

Wine and chocolate have been a natural pairing for a long, long time but it’s not as simple as grabbing a bottle or wine and a chocolate bar. There are far too many options not to explore the possibilities.

“There are levels and strengths in terms of sweetness,” Garber said. “A white chocolate is going to be sweeter because it has a lot more sugar in it. There are some grades of milk chocolate that sweetness depends on the amount of sugar, milk and cacao in the chocolate. Then you get in to darks which are going to get more bittersweet, though you can have really sweet dark chocolate too.

The higher the percentage of cacao you have on a bar means more cacao and less sugar. Garber explains the 80 percent you see on a chocolate bar means 80 percent cacao and 20 percent sugar, cacao butter and other stuff.”

And simply enough the more bold the chocolate, the bigger red wine you’re going to want to pair with the sweet treat. Chocolate ranging from 60-75 percent cacao pairs great with big red wines. Any bold red wine will do but experimenting will help you find your favorites.

But chocolate today is more than a plain chocolate bar. “We do a cinnamon basil and it might go well with one thing versus another,” Garber said. “A milk chocolate could be paired with a Chardonnay or whites. Sometime that sweet white wine with a honey/lavender truffle is a great pairing. A sweet floral chocolate might pair better with white than just a red. So many people just think red wine with chocolate but you can mix it up.”

Garber has been a chocolatier since 1994. She started in her home and then opened a business just south of Indianapolis. She now has a sizable shop in Indianapolis’ trendy Mass Ave district called “The Best Chocolate in Town.”

She mixes all sorts of spices, fruit, and even beer in her truffles to challenge her customer’s base palate. “There has been this slow evolution going on,” she said. “It’s sort of like jams and jelly; it used to be just grape and strawberry. Now you have pepper jellies and all sorts of combinations. So now chocolate has evolved and continues to expand in new directions.

Flavored truffles give wine fans a chance to really experiment. Boutique chocolate shops have popped up in cities of all size.

Howard’s Pick: Try a 70 percent Cacao Truffle with hints of coffee with a big fruity Zinfandel Delightful!

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, writes every other week for 22 newspapers in three states. Reach him at: hewitthoward@gmail.com.

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