Chocoholics, those sweet-toothed confection addicts, would likely vote Valentine’s Day the year’s best holiday. Arguably the most popular square on the Hallmark calendar, February 14th is traditionally celebrated with fancy greeting cards, long-stemmed red roses and extravagant jewelry. But when lovers, either those in a new or a long-standing relationship, find diamonds and pearls surpass the realm of possibility, bonbons are a more practical and yummy alternative. Of course, real chocoholics don’t wait for a special holiday to indulge.
If the wrong chocolates can be an uninspired gift, it only takes a modicum of imagination to go beyond the ubiquitous heart-shaped box covered with red cellophane. It’s worth the extra effort to say “I love you” with luxurious artisanal chocolates.
Artisanal is the new, hot buzzword that covers a wide variety of products from cheese to chocolate. Artisanal chocolates are separated from the commercial by their producers’ dedication to freshness, high-quality ingredients and attention to detail. Those of us familiar with the flavor of ordinary commercial chocolates will be surprised by the experience of sensual, hand-crafted, preservative-free bonbons. Hand-made chocolates cast in imaginative shapes and decorated artistically seduce the eye as well as the tongue. Artisanal producers choose dark cacao beans from various geographic regions around the world, each with its own special flavor profile. Then luscious fruit and crunchy nut fillings take our taste buds to another level. Fine chocolates have consistent color and a satiny sheen, both of which are destroyed if refrigerated or kept longer than a month. Dark chocolate is nudging milk chocolate out of first place, making it the current flavor choice of consumers who look for a high butterfat content ranging between 61 to 72 percent and, happily, a lower caloric content since it contains less sugar and milk.
Chocoholics are aware of cocoa’s biochemical reaction that releases endorphins. The sense of bliss it imparts is infinitely easier and more delicious than getting the same result at a gym.
Chocolate-making is an art form. Hand-painted designs, hand-cast, painted, and filled. Imagery adds a wow factor, too beautiful at first glance to eat. They bring a sexy note to a day of love. Visually appealing chocolates with singular, identifiable ingredients are made with the finest raw products.
These treasures are guaranteed to warm a beloved’s heart, but to double the pleasure of Sweetheart’s Day pair the sweetest gift of all with a special wine. Some opine a glass of milk is the best complement to chocolate confections, but more adventuresome spirits will spring for a bottle of champagne, sparkling, or still wine that satisfies both his and her palates. There are many heaven-sent partners guaranteed to transform an ordinary experience into an indulgent happening.
A good wine shop can help customers explore the adventuresome possibilities of serving chocolate with sparking wine and champagne, still or rare dessert wine, brandy, liqueur, Prosecco, port, sherry, and whisky. Carry out the day’s pink and red theme with a Rosé bubbly: Napa Valley’s Domaine Chandon Blanc de Noirs sparkling wine or Perrier Jouët non-vintage Rosé from France. Try the Italian sparkler, Mionetto Prosecco or a full-flavored, intense reds still wine. Try an aristocratic Bolla Amarone della Valpolicella for lush, port-like richness. Warre’s light tawny Port, served slightly chilled, is an excellent companion to chocolate. Graham’s Ports, ranging in price, fit the bill with their excellent finesse and character. One chocolatier votes for Sandeman Founder’s Reserve port as a luxurious partner with dark chocolate, but he considers Eiswein as its truest mate.
Natalie Berkowitz is a wine, food, and lifestyle writer and the author of The Winemaker’s Hand (Columbia University Press). Her articles have appeared in the New York Times, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, and many other publications. She is also the author of the wine blog Winealicious.wordpress.com who formerly taught a wine appreciation course to seniors at Barnard College and Columbia University for over a decade.