I recently spotted that the Swiss chocolatier, Lindt, has launched LindtExcellence.com, and I couldn't resist taking a look at what they were up to – especially as they have suggested wine and chocolate pairings. LindtExcellence is running a “Perfect Pairing” sweepstakes and the grand prize is a trip for two to California's wine country which includes a private chocolate and wine pairing experience and a stay at Vintner's Inn in Santa Rosa, a wine tasting tour at Ferrari Carano vineyards, and tickets to the exclusive Taste of Sonoma Festival. They also have 150 daily instant win prizes which include subscriptions to Wine Spectator Magazine. I thought some of you in the States might be interested!
Lindt is one of my favourite chocolatiers and my favourite chocolate (apart from the little chocolate reindeer that you give the children at Christmas) is their A Touch of Sea Salt, made with Fleur de Sel (Flower of Salt). The best Fleur de Sel is Fleur de Sel de Guérande from Brittany. This is hand harvested from the salt marshes and only the top layer of sea salt is used.
Salt harvesting in this region dates back to 868 and in ancient times only the women could undertake the delicate work of raking the salt as men were thought to be too heavy handed. Guérande is Gwenrann in old Breton, which means “white furrow”, which shows that salt harvesting could have gone back to Celtic times.
Apparently flavouring chocolate with Fleur de Sel has long been practiced in France (heavily salted butter caramels are a traditional treat in Brittany) but pairing it with chocolate became very popular in the USA in 2008. Pierre Hermé, the Parisian pastry chef known for his experimentation, invented a salted caramel macaron that inspired a small cult among American food professionals in the late 1990s – and he is responsible for popularising chocolate and salt in the late 2000s.
There are an amazing variety of salts now on the market – you can find Pink Himalayan Salt, Smoked Salts – even a Fumee de Sel - Chardonnay Oak Smoked Fleur De Sel – and Salts that have infused flavours of vintage Merlot! (Salt Works is a good site with a wide variety available).
Talking of wine, Lindt suggests that the best pairing for their Sea Salt chocolate is Cabernet Franc Ice Wine. Ice Wine is a sweet dessert wine made from frozen grapes which are left on the vine well into the winter months and then pressed in their cold state. The water in the juice remains frozen as ice crystals, and only a few drops of sweet, concentrated juice is obtained, making the wine much more expensive than traditional red and white wines. It was discovered accidentally in the 1700's in Germany. Currently Canada is the largest producer of Ice Wine but this may change as a small town in north eastern China is also producing this rare, rich ambrosia. Huanren, a picturesque, mountainous county in Liaoning province, is currently building the largest ice wine estate in the world.
Due to the environmental conditions needed to grow the grapes for Ice Wine, there are only a few countries which are able to produce the luxury product – as a result, supply falls far short of current demand. As you can imagine this offers quite an impetus if you can produce it and countries such as Israel, Australia and New Zealand are also starting to make Ice Wine. However Ice Wines (vins de glace) are also made in Alsace – where they are less common but most of the major wine makers produce them from time to time. The riesling is the favoured grape, but Ice Wines are also made from gewurztraminer and pinot gris grapes.
A Cabernet Franc Ice Wine paired with the Sea Salt Chocolate is a pairing that I am definitely going to try . . . I wonder if Lindt know that the legend has it that the variety was selected by Cardinal Richelieu and introduced to the vineyard at the Abbaye de St Nicolas de Bourgueil by an abbot named Breton, which perhaps explains why “Breton” remains a local synonym for the variety? It's rather a nice idea to pair a wine made from “Breton” with a chocolate flavoured with salt from Brittany!