The Wine-and-Chocolate Mystery

Funny what wakes you up to a wine, or puts you off. I got a care package recently from a wine-chocolate-cheese bar that interests me, in Southern California. The place is very ambitious: It’s called Eno, and it’s at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel.

The idea is to create an environment focused exclusively on these three pleasures, with experts on hand to guide guests toward great experiences. The photographs look beautiful, and yet when the package arrived, I found something puzzling: a bottle of 2003 B. R. Cohn Cabernet Sauvignon, and a box of four chocolates. I want to be ginger about this, because I was grateful for the samples—who doesn’t like getting wine and chocolate in the mail?—but Cabernet Sauvignon is a textbook example of a wine that pairs terribly with chocolate.

Chocolate can make Cabernet horribly tannic. Curious about this, because the chocolates alone were wonderful, I phoned the sommelier at the hotel to ask about the pairing. She said Eno had no particular pairing in mind with the samples; they just wanted to provide two products people usually like.

I guess I was so startled by this because I had a guided tasting of wine and chocolate once, with Michael Recchiuti and one of the partners in the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant in San Francisco. I’ll describe this in detail in an upcoming post, but it was an absolute tour de force of pairings, incredibly instructive and surprising. And yet, even there, Cabernet Sauvignon was offered merely to demonstrate, again and again, just what a disaster the wine-plus-chocolate mix can be.

Anyway, I just scratched my head and enjoyed the chocolates, and didn’t open the Cabernet again until last night, after a long and wonderful meal that began with an Argyle sparkling wine and moved on to a great Super Tuscan with grass-fed steaks, cannellini beans, and garlicky kale. When the cheeses came out at the end, that plummy B. R. Cohn was a smooth, fruity pair to my Humboldt Fog goat cheese.