There are many parallels between great chocolate and great wine. For both you need great ingredients – the finest grapes or the finest beans. For both, you need craftsmanship and time. The end result are tastes and sensations that inspire, enthuse and tantalize.
From the start of Cocoa Runners we’ve been keen to learn from the wine industry. We’ve held joint tastings (and indeed were doing one at Bath with Wine Gang today and another with Decanter next weekend). We’ve invited wine luminaries to “curate” a selection of their favourite bars – most recently Joanna Simon and Decanter Magazine, and we have more exciting collaborations to come.
And with Corney and Barrow we’ve now taken this one step further. With the support of Rebecca Palmer and her buying team we’ve matched six wines to six chocolates in two unique collections: a four bar, four bottle hamper and a two bar, two bottle hamper. Creating these collections was a real joy, not least as – to quote Rebecca – “more often than not the best matches were the least expected”!
Perfect for sharing with friends, as gifts or simply for indulging yourself, we hope you will enjoy these two collections as much as we do!
It’s one thing to say that quality wine can only be produced from quality grapes and similarly with for incredible chocolate you need incredible beans, but it is quite another to take the time and develop the skill to actually create such incredible chocolates and wines..
Once the cocoa beans have been harvested farmers must then ferment and dry the beans, further developing the chocolate flavour. Unlike wine, chocolate is rarely made in the same country the beans are grown in. Once fermented and dried, the beans are sent to craft makers all over the world. These small batch chocolate makers then roast, winnow, grind and conch the beans before tempering and molding the chocolate into bars. With each step the maker draws out the bean’s flavour profile, subtly altering and enhancing it to craft unique and delicious chocolate bars.
With wine everything starts in the vineyard, you need great grapes to make great wine. And then each harvest, called a vintage, is unique and its fruit needs to be handled differently. The grapes need to be picked at just the right moment. As with cacao, the grapes too need to be fermented. And then, depending on the style – for example white, red, sparkling, fortified etc. – they can be pressed, macerated, aged in barrel and blended before finally being put into a bottle. Throughout all these stages, art and science meld as the winemaker transforms this humble grape into unique and delicious wines.
When it comes to wine, most people are familiar with the concepts of vintage and terroir (the region the wine comes from). Most people would find it strange indeed to buy a bottle that didn’t specify, not just a country of origin (e.g. France), but also a region (such as Bordeaux or Cotes du Rhone).
In chocolate this idea has yet to reach the mainstream. At Cocoa Runners we pride ourselves that all our craft chocolate bars are single origin – or a recognised blend of cacaos (such as Fruition’s Dominican and Peruvian blend). One of the most remarkable examples of ‘terroir’ in chocolate is Marou. Samuel and Vincent, the French founders source all their cocoa beans, and make their bars in Vietnam. They have effectively divided the country into regions of ‘terroir’ each of which provides the beans for one of their dark bars. Simply tasting and comparing pieces their Dong Nai and Ba Ria is enough to show the huge impact bean origin has on taste.
Again with wine, most people will be able to tell you not simply whether they prefer red or white, but whether they favour Pinot Noir or Merlot. Cacao strains are far harder than grape varieties. The trees are naturally promiscuous, interbreeding very easily so that a single tree can have 6 or 7 different genetic strands with pods and beans of several different varieties.
This is an area of huge debate and research, with people going to huge lengths to assure genetic purity. Pascal Wirth and Niklaus Blumer of Idillio for instance genetically tests his beans. In the case of Original Beans’ Beni Wild Harvest, or Cacaosuyo’s Piura Select, the remote, isolation of the cacao crop helps to assure their ‘purity’. On the whole, we think there are many other factors than can influence a bar’s taste without delving into the complexities of cacao varietals and debates around ‘heirloom cacaos’. At the same time, if you compare the taste of of Bonnat’s Madagascar Dark with its Madagascar Criollo the difference between various cacao strands is immediately apparent.
Another familiar point of reference when buying one is vintage. Every year, the unique conditions around every harvest subtly alter the profile of the grapes, making the wines some harvests (indicated by the vintage) far better or worse than others. Chocolate vintages is a concept that only starting to be explored by makers and growers, such as Duane Dove of the Roxborough Estate in Tobago. In most regions where cacao is grown, there are two harvests a year – one in the wet season one in the dry season (in some countries, such as Hawaii, the number of harvests is even higher) – which adds another layer of complexity.
As chocolate makers continue to innovate and experiment in their quest for better bars, new beans and even more exciting flavours we look forward to seeing what they do next!