Pairings: Chocolate with Wine?

By Juan Carlos Flores Executive Sommelier, Pueblo Bonito Hotels Resorts & Spas | May 06, 2010

Before Spanish Ships landed in America, cacao beans were already being used as currency to trade for other products in the area that today is known as Mexico. Mayans and Aztecs also used cacao beans to make a special beverage that only the most important governors were allowed to drink. The Mayans called this cold energizing beverage Xocoatl, which is the origin of the name chocolate.

For me, as a Mexican citizen, it is an honor to write an article about pairing chocolate with different beverages. Although some stories say that chocolate originated in South America, many others indicate that Mexico was the birthplace and cradle of the entire chocolate industry. And of course this article was also a pleasure, since to research it in depth required tasting innumerable samples of chocolates and wine.

Some of my friends participated in the "hard work" of tasting, and I told them that to play the game we first needed to know the rules and do some preliminary practice. So we first researched information about the differences in chocolates, their characteristics and how they might react to the elements in different beverages. Then we started playing and reaching our own conclusions. Before discussing the results of these experiences, I would like to share some enlightening information that will make it clearer and more fun when we begin discussing tastings.

Chocolate is the culmination of transforming the beans obtained from the cocoa pod, which is the fruit that grows on the branches of the cocoa tree. Only one flower out of three hundred turns into this magnificent fruit. Inside this fruit is a white pulp that is fermented in wood boxes with a capacity of 5,000 kilograms for two to seven days, depending on the individual species of the cocoa tree. During fermentation some of this pulp is transformed into alcohol, and as in any other fermentation, temperature increases. This allows the chemistry to begin forming the molecules for the future aromas and start turning the beans into their characteristic dark color. Once the fermentation is complete, it is stopped by drying the beans, outside if weather permits, or through an artificial method of blowing warm dry air through them without giving a toasted aroma.

At this point the beans are ready to be transported around the world. When they arrive at their destination, they are roasted for ten to thirty minutes, turning constantly in a temperature between 120 and 140 degrees Celsius. This is the moment when the aromas are formed by the heat, the color darkens, and the shells of the beans break open, leaving the inside, which is called gru'e, free to be ground in order to obtain a cocoa paste. At this point we can blend different gru'es to obtain a wide range of qualities or flavors, and it is also in this moment when sugar is added to the paste to produce dark chocolates, or milk and sugar to produce milk chocolates. Spices or vanilla may be added to the paste, which will continue mixing for approximately four days at between 50 and 80 degrees Celsius in order to extract the volatile acids, eliminate the last water molecules, and especially to round off the aromatic potential of the product.

Finally this paste is ready to be cooled according to a very strict temperature curve before pouring it in molds at 31 to 32 degrees, to then be further cooled in a tunnel. This operation, known as tempering, makes it possible to obtain a shiny chocolate.

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The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.