Roxanne Browning had a captive audience at Laurel Lake Vineyards. They were seated in the tank room in front of wineglasses with the promise of a pairing not usually on the menu: wine and chocolate.
Browning, formerly a Madison Avenue ad executive and the mayor of Northport, has been passionate about chocolate ever since a trip to the Ecuadorian Amazon in the early 2000s where she visited villages that made their livings making “bean to bar” chocolate, the kind of chocolate that now is encroaching upon the shelves that used to be populated with candy made by global companies like Nestlé, Hershey and Cadbury. But watch that word “candy.” True chocolate, says this “chocolate sommelier,” is not candy. If you look at the label of a commercially available chocolate bar, the first ingredient is some kind of sugar, whether it be high-fructose corn syrup or your run-of-the-mill cane sugar. A true chocolate bar, she says, will always have as its first ingredient cocoa.
And the benefit of seeking out such chocolates, she says, in addition to the fact that they taste better, provide health benefits (more about that later) and are a quality product, which most consumers demand these days, is that chocolate from such small villages helps sustain the native peoples who have, for the most part, formed cooperatives, know how to select the best beans and are farming and producing with the environment in mind.
For the first round, Laurel Lake’s winemaker Juan Sepulveda poured his 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, which Browning paired with a chocolate bar with dried banana and cayenne pepper by Antidote, a company in Ecuador. The spice of the pepper and the sweetness of the banana complemented the herbaceousness of the wine.
Next was Laurel Lake’s 2001 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon with a 75 percent cocoa bar by Askinose, from the Soconusco region of Mexico. The darkness of the wine with its chalky tannins and the darkness of the chocolate with its chalky tannins worked well together.
My favorite was the combination of the slightly sweet 2010 Laurel Lake Gewürztraminer with chocolate from Kallari in Ecuador made with 75 percent cocoa and more cocoa butter than in the other bars. The chocolate was rich, pure and creamy, and the acidic but sweet wine made it melt in your mouth.
It’s not too hard to convince people that chocolate is good for you, but Browning (shown at left in red sweater) made her case: the monounsaturated fats in cocoa butter are similar to the good fats in avocados and olive oil. Chocolate is also high in antioxidants, which are said to control insulin levels, and provide minerals important to everyone’s diet. And in its purest form, chocolate has very low levels of caffeine.
The crowd was already won over.