Former sommelier and wine consultant David Furer writes about a tasting at leading London chocolatier William Curley
I recently attended a tasting which has been performed time and again in my native US, of port and chocolate. But I found that the event, which was held at William Curley's chocolate shop in London's fashionable Mayfair, was a first for this up and coming chocolatier.
It was sponsored by the port shipper Quinta do Noval and by the Academy of Chocolate, founded in 2005 by producers & importers of chocolate and journalists dedicated to encouraging chocolate lovers to 'look beyond the label', improve the standard and knowledge of chocolate ingredients, and to support transparent sourcing of cocoa beans and their socially fair and environmentally sustainable conditions.In determining how it is one sets about matching chocolates with port, the prime considerations within the food source are sugar, tannin, fat, and to a lesser degree acidity; with the wine it's sugar, tannin, alcohol (standard at approximately 20%), and acidity. Both elements have their 'body' considerations but these remain within narrow parameters - both are relatively full.
Here are my tasting notes on the pairings. The percentages shown are those of the amount of pure cocoa in each sample.
1. 10-year Tawny -pleasant and crisp with subtle toffee notes befitting this style.
Rococo Organic Artisan Bar, Milk Chocolate Sea Salt (37%)
Strips the wine of its light-medium level fruit.
Green & Black's Organic Ginger (60%)
A good pairing; it's not so sweet and accentuates the touch of spiciness in the wine
Wm. Curley Salt & Caramel and Apricot
Delicious on its own and good with the port
Amedei Porcelana (70%, Venezuela)
Very good combination; lets the port shine.
2. Colheita 1986 - nutty with a touch of volatile acidity often associated with a vintage, wood-aged port.
Elegant nougat with a nearly imperceptible hint of licorice. Pulled in a different direction to that of the port so neither complimented nor contrasted the chocolate properly. Both were very good but not good together.
Wm. Curley #9 Truffle
Dense; harmonious both aromatically and texturally with buttered nuts. Good pairing.
Rococo Organic Artisan Bar, Milk Chocolate Cinnamon (37%)
Denser than expected from a milk chocolate bar. Tannins clash with the wine's acidity.
Grenada Chocolate Company 71% (by Rococo)
Good pairing with a cinnamon kick to it.
3. Late Bottled Vintage 2001 Unfiltered - firm, tannic, and well-structured.
Green & Black's Maya Gold (55%)
Unidentifiable fruit & spice flavors were swamped by the wine.
Green & Black's Organic Cherry (60%)
Simple but solid pairing
Amedei Chuao (70%) Tuscan Black (note-is this a breed of cattle or a type of hashish?!)
Dark roast accentuates the wine's fruitiness
Amedei Tuscan Black (definitely hashish)
Far too tannic for the wine
Wm. Curley Raspberry
The raspberry lusciously and unexpectedly asserts itself, bringing out the tobacco and black fruit notes in the wine. Great pairing!
4. Silval 2000--sweet, black raspberry aroma with a touch of vanilla; sweet, tannic, and spicy
Amadei Coffee Bean, Liquorice
Strong coffee flavor; creamy yet with fine graininess. Tannins match the wine, but that's all.
Wm. Curley Szechuan Pepper
One barely notes the pepper until tasting the wine, then it nips out. Good pairing.
In general I found the density of fruit and greater tannic structure of the younger ports more flexible in combination with that of the various chocolates, especially alongside the dark bars with their higher tannin level. The addition of fruit and/or spice was a mixed bag--sometimes it elaborated a delightful complexity to both but more often detracted from enjoyment of the fine port paired with it.