Forget J.Lo and Ben or Justin and Janet. The match that's really stirring up a delicious sensation is between two of the world's oldest and most sensuous culinary indulgences, chocolate and wine. The pair have been flirting openly lately, flying right in the face of the culinary convention that they should neither date or mate. "Wine authorities have insisted for years that there is no wine that goes with chocolate," says Sean Murphy, owner of Beach Bistro and a dedicated wine collector-and chocolate fan. "But pairing wine and chocolate is an opportunity of economy. We love each separately, so let's look for ways to enjoy them together."
Most epicures couldn't agree more, especially since American foodies have been having a torrid love affair with chocolate, seeking out varieties from the hardy Foraster beans, which account for nearly all milk chocolate, to the rich and rare Criollo cocoa beans for dark chocolate.
Judy Limekiller, a former Sarasota pastry chef who now specializes in chocolate making, says American's quest for rare chocolate is just about insatiable. "It's like gourmet coffee or olive oil," she explains. "As Americans taste chocolates of other countries, they crave them at home. Restaurants, food boutiques and the Internet are offering upmarket chocolates and people are organizing wine and chocolate tastings at home- a really fun party experience." Limekiller says she's even seeing a trend for travelers to book theme vacations around chocolate experiences. "You can stay at cocoa plantations and tour the operations," she notes. "I'm doing it myself in Mexico this summer."
Meanwhile, back here in Sarasota, Limekiller is mixing her chocolate fixes with fine wines, as in the pairings on these pages that she and Murphy put together.
How to be a chocolate snob
* Learn names of cooking chocolates that great pastry chefs use- Valhrona (also spelled Valrhona), Callebaut, El Rey.
* Buy dark. Milk chocolate is for wimps and white chocolate isn't even chocolate but a confection of cocoa butter, dried milk and sugar.
* Look for chocolates that have a shine, which indicates freshness.
* Eat chocolates at room temperature and warm a piece between thumb and fingers before tasting. Let the flavors settle in the back of the mouth and linger on the tongue before swallowing.
* Strive to taste chocolate made with rich Criollo beans. These expensive pods grow in about 40 regions of the world, always 20 degrees north or south of the equator.
* Host wine and chocolate tastings.
* When in doubt about which wine to serve with chocolates, choose champagne.
* Sprinkle your conversation with terms such as "conching process," which is the drying and roasting of cocoa beans.
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Perfect pairings: Chocolate maker Judy Limekiller and restaurateur Sean Murphy chose just the right wines to accompany dark and milk chocolates.
#1 High intensity: A Ruby Graham 1980 port will hold its own with dark chocolate candies flavored with raspberry and intensify the rich, deep flavors of the chocolate. This heady, sexy combination may not be for beginners.
#2 Spicing it up: Cinnamon chocolate calls for Lair's Dice 2001 from the California vineyards of Murphy Goode.
# 3 Boutique beauties: An assortment of chocolates both artistically beautiful and full-flavored from Chocolate, Nuts & More in Gulf Gate Village.
#4. Nuts for each other: Peanut butter chocolates snuggle up to Graham's 20-year- old tawny port. What a date night!
#5. Warm and wonderful: Boutique hand-made chocolates should be stored at 67 degrees and consumed within three weeks. Never refrigerate.
#6 Nothing to excess: When organizing a tasting, limit the selections to about five wines and as many kinds of chocolates. Anything more tends to overwhelm the palate.
#7 Dark victory: Dark chocolate is the choice of experts, and tablets, ganache, pave, bonbons and truffles all work for a wine and chocolate tasting.
#8 Tangy treats: Citrus-flavored chocolate is lovely with Tokaji, a Hungarian wine that's both sweet and spicy.
#9 Italian lover: Lavender chocolate finds a perfect mate in Amarone from Italy. You might also pour an American cabernet or zinfandel.
#10. Bubbly is best: When in doubt about the right wine to pair with dark or milk chocolates, you can never go wrong with champagne.