This past weekend, as I sat at my keyboard contemplating the 616th published column of You Heard It through the Grapevine, an urge struck me to indulge in one of the topics of my previous focuses.
So it is that I am sitting here this Sunday evening, with a glass of red wine at hand and an artisanal bar of Amedei chocolate nearby.
As I cogitate over what is at hand, I realize that the similarities between wine and chocolate go beyond their agricultural heritage and processing. It is in the consumption of each that the similarities are equally striking.
When I guide my guests in one of the many wine-tasting seminars I conduct, I walk them through several steps to better understand and savor each glass of wine they consume. So too with a chocolate tasting seminar I conducted several years ago.
For each wine and chocolate experience there are five steps (the 5 S’s) that assist in honing our senses and enjoyment.
Step 1: “See” the wine. This is your first interaction and provides an overall indication of the style, from light to robust. Hold the glass of wine up to the light. Generally speaking, the lighter the color the lighter the weight and intensity of the wine. Conversely, the deeper the color, the more body and richness. So too with chocolate. A light brown color indicates that more milk product was added during processing. A dark, burnt umber color indicates a high concentration of cacao butter and less milk.
Step 2: “Swirl” the wine in the glass. This infuses oxygen into the wine and opens the bouquet to your olfactory senses. For chocolate, gently “squeeze” a small piece between your fingers. The higher the cacao butter content, the more quickly it will melt; the lower, the longer it will take. Cacao butter is the foundation of the highest quality chocolates, providing the richness and smoothness desired by connoisseurs.
Step 3: “Sniff” the wine. Bring the glass to your nose; it is in this step that your overall impression of the wine will be set, as well as its nuances. Our sense of smell has tens of thousands of olfactory receptors, which transmit the aromas of a wine to our brains, resulting in a pleasurable or off-putting impression. So too with chocolate. Bring a piece of chocolate to your nose and breathe in the fragrances. Our olfactory receptors are inundated with the aromas that form our impression of the particular brand and style of chocolate. High quality chocolate will have deep and rich aromas, without metallic or medicinal undertones.
Step 4: “Sip” the wine. Our tongue and mouth dominate our sense of taste. Here is where our palates determine if a wine is bitter, sweet, salty, sour or savory. These senses translate to our perception of a wine to be fruity or dry, soft or tannic. So too with chocolate. As you taste a piece, savor it as it melts in your mouth. How does your palate perceive it? Smooth or gritty? Robust or velvety? Sweet or bitter?
Step 5: “Swallow” the wine or chocolate. The finish is the final impression on your palate. A long, lingering, sensation is another indication of the quality of each. For wine, it transmits a desired level of complexity and finesse. So too with chocolate. A high level of cacao butter will dissipate on the palate, highlighting the flavors; a low level will leave a waxy or greasy coating in your mouth, muting the flavors and diminishing the experience of the next bite.
As I take another sip from my glass of fruity and mildly acidic Zinfandel (although Port is likely the best pairing with chocolate), my senses of smell and taste are enhanced by the richness and moderate bitterness of the 70% Amedei chocolate. Ah, I love writing this column.
Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years he has conducted numerous wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine.