Great news! First Vine is helping to open a wine bar inside ACKC, the cocoa bar on 14th St. NW between P and Q Streets. We’ll be offering First Vine wine paired with chocolate – as well as for drinking by the glass – and lots of pairing advice too. There will be tastings, classes, and, in general, a good time to be had by all.
To my knowledge, we’re going to have the first establishment in DC to serve a variety of wine and chocolate pairings. Kingsbury Confections, the “KC” in ACKC, makes some fabulous things – chocolates with Chipotle and Five-Spice Powder, Garam Masala, Brie and Black Sesame Seeds, Champagne (of course), and Lavender/Pistachio to name a few – and they pair magnificently with First Vine wines. But if those aren’t for you, we’ll pair wines with “plain” dark or milk chocolate. Equally fabulous!
So, why so long for this amazing combination to catch on? Well, it’s complicated. Chocolate and wine share many similar flavors and chemicals. They can both have fruitiness, earthiness, spicy/peppery notes, and also tannins – compounds that cause astringency in the mouth. Because of this, it can be difficult to pair wines with chocolates, and dark chocolates can be especially hard to pair.
We’ve talked a lot about wine and food pairing in the past, and everyone has a different idea of what goes really well together. That’s because we all taste things a little differently. And while we can pretty much count on people agreeing with the big pairing ideas (big red wine with steak, for example), it can get fuzzier when you’re dealing with individual tastes that aren’t quite so big and bold.
Chocolate makes it that much more difficult, because of the chemical composition and the fat content. People taste the subtleties of chocolate differently, just as they do the subtleties of wine. Chocolate is often treated as a dessert, and the rule of thumb for pairing wines and desserts is that the wine should be sweeter than the dessert. This is why many people give up and simply serve champagne, muscat, or port. Not bad choices, but there are reds and whites that will work too.
What makes a good wine and chocolate pairing? When each component has a complementary flavor that the other doesn’t have, and neither overpowers the other. This can mean separate yet wonderful, non-competing flavors, or a case where the two combine to form something better – yet totally different – than each was alone.
Luckily for us (and you), everyday wines from the Southern Rhône Valley pair especially well with chocolate. The reds provide earthiness that you don’t usually find in chocolate, and so the fruitiness and nuttiness of the chocolate are complemented by the wine. Since the red wines are mostly Grenache, an earthy grape, they pair well with dark chocolates and even some milk chocolates. The white wines have more of a floral character that also isn’t found in most chocolates, so the wine and the chocolate can go beautifully together. This is especially true for dark chocolates with more intense fruit flavors.
As your chocolate gets more intensely flavored, especially with spices, you can move to bigger wines. The greater the percentage of Syrah in the red wine, the more you’ll find that it stands up to the spiciness and the ripe fruit flavors don’t clash with the fruit flavors in the chocolate. Southern Rhône whites with more Viognier in them also go well with spicier chocolates.
So when will this all happen? We’re working away at getting the paperwork done and the store set up, so you’ll hear from me in the next couple of weeks with the official news. In the meantime, here’s a little something to whet your appetite.
As I mentioned, desserts usually require wine that’s sweeter than they are – that’s because the sweetness of desserts can make wine taste bitter. But you can make a chocolate dessert that’s not too sweet, has a little spice, and will pair beautifully with red wine. This Chocolate-Ginger Zabaglione requires a little elbow grease (unless you use your handheld electric mixer, then it just takes time), but it’s so worth it. If you don’t like ginger (and some don’t), I’ve given you an ancho chile/cayenne version as well. Serve either one with Domaine Fond Croze Cuvée Shyrus ($20). It’s 100% Syrah, but not the big Syrah you might find in California or Australia. There’s still some earthiness there, but great dark fruit and a hint of spice. A great wine with this dessert or with a hearty meal.
Bon Appetit, and see you soon at ACKC!
Chocolate Ginger or Chocolate Ancho Chile Zabaglione
Makes 4 small servings
6 egg yolks
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger, or 1/3 teaspoon ground Ancho chile powder plus a pinch of cayenne pepper
2/3 cup dry white wine (see note)
3 ounces finest quality bittersweet chocolate (70-75%)
½ cup heavy cream (very cold)
Melt the chocolate in the microwave in a heatproof bowl: heat the chocolate for 30 seconds, then stir, and heat it for another 15 seconds. The chocolate should be nearly melted, but put it in for another 15 seconds or so if needed. Stir to melt completely and set aside to cool.
Combine the egg yolks, sugar, and ginger or chile/cayenne in a large heatproof bowl that will fit over a pot (The pot will have some simmering water in it, and the bowl has to sit over the water without the bottom of the bowl touching the water). Whisk the ingredients in the bowl until the egg yolks lighten up (you can use the electric hand mixer for this if you like), it will take a couple of minutes. Add the white wine in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Place the bowl over the pot with about an inch of simmering water in it, and cook over the water, whisking constantly (or mixing with the mixer on medium speed) until the zabaglione is frothy and has doubled in volume. You don’t want to cook it too much, or you’ll scramble the eggs. You can tell it’s done when you stick a spoon in, then take it out. Hold the spoon vertically then swipe your finger across the mixture clinging to the spoon. If the trail slowly fills in or stays clear, you’re done. Take the bowl off the hot water and let the mixture cool to room temperature. (You can set the bowl inside a roasting pan filled with cold water to do this more quickly. Be sure and whisk it occasionally as it cools.)
Beat the whipping cream with an electric mixture until it forms a nice thick whipped cream. Take about a quarter cup of the zabaglione mixture and stir it into the chocolate, then gently fold the chocolate mixture back into the rest of the zabaglione. Fold in the whipped cream, and serve.
Note: You’ll need a dry white wine for this, and one not aged in oak. Try an un-oaked Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.