Review: Vineyard Chocolates

vineyard-chocolates

Entrepreneur Joe Woerly has an idea: Chocolate bars, flavored with wine. It’s unclear where the flavors come from — actual wine, or just flavors inspired by wine — but the chocolate is from Venezuela and comes in a variety of cocoa levels.

In advance of Woerly’s Kickstarter campaign (see link below) to get the word out about his product, we tried all three flavors.

Vineyard Chocolates Cabernet Flavored Dark Chocolate – 73.5% cocoa. Nicely bittersweet, with notes of blackberry, coffee, and a hint of licorice. A little grainy, but fairly well balanced.

Vineyard Chocolates Merlot Flavored Dark Chocolate – 61% cocoa. Unlike the more fruit-focused cabernet flavor, this version tastes more clearly like merlot wine, with merlot’s iconic violet notes plus a touch of strawberry. Probably my favorite of the bunch.

Vineyard Chocolates Chardonnay Flavored White Chocolate – 34% cocoa. Gooey white chocolate, indistinctly flavored with some fig and orange character. The finish isn’t altogether on this one, but that might be a prejudice against white chocolate.

kickstarter.com

Highlights from the California Artisan Cheese Festival 2016

Recently I had the good fortune to attend one of the most entertaining events in this business: Petaluma’s annual “California Cheesin'” event, part of the annual California Artisan Cheese Festival, now in its 10th year.

This highlight offers regional (northern California) restaurants plus purveyors of wine, beer, and cider — and let’s you go to town on dozens of cheese-inspired small bites. Some two dozen restaurants and cheesemakers were on hand this evening along with another 20 or so beverage companies. The idea: Taste through everything and pronounce a winner amongst the restaurants at the end of the night, following the visitors’ votes. (Beverage companies don’t get prizes, sadly.)

My favorite bites came from Carneros Bistro, whose Red Hawk arancini are perennial festival winners; The Girl and The Fig’s ricotta sorbet mini-cones; and Rustic at Francis Ford Coppola Winery’s asparagus and morel risotto. But the restaurant that got my vote was from a food truck outfit called Croques & Toques, whose truffled cheese croquette as a delightfully sharp and savory dish. (Though one other voter wondered whether it was cheating to use truffles!)

On the wine and beer side, a number of standouts: Estate 1856’s Petit Verdot was fragrant and lively; Goldschmidt Vineyards Fidelity Zinfandel was racy with green olive overtones; and the soft Pinot Noir from Fogline Vineyards was an easy sipper. Favorite wine, however, had to go to Pennyroyal Farm and its lightly earthy Pinot Noir — I’ve passed this place many times en route to Mendocino and never even knew they produced wine at all.

Best beer: Lagunitas Equinox, a pale oat ale, offering the best of two distinctly different worlds of brewing.

As always, it was a fantastic event on a beautiful evening in Petaluma. I look forward to checking it out again in 2017!

Review: Matthews 1812 House Bourbon Desserts

blondiesBourbon’s not just for drinking — the good folks at Matthews 1812 House are putting it to good use in all manner of desserts.

Recently we received some delights from the company, all made with an infusion of bourbon. The Bourbon Blondie Bar ($32) is easily the highlight — a very rich, very dense blondie infused with Kentucky bourbon. You can taste the rich vanilla notes of the bourbon — though it is isn’t overpowering — though a little of this dessert goes a long way. It was so decadent that after a week we had barely finished a third of the 28 oz. blondie brick. It’d be a great choice for entertaining, though.

We also received Matthews 1812’s Chocolate Bourbon Sauce ($14.50)and Caramel Bourbon Sauce ($13.50), both of which can be used as toppers for what-have-you on your dessert tray. Both are quite dense and are more akin to pastes than sauces or syrups, so you might need to warm them before serving. Again, both are the real deal, and the subtle kick of whiskey gives them a slight edge you won’t find in a can of Hershey’s.

The company has even more whiskey-infused products on tap. Give them all a spin!

1812house.com

Review: GourmetGiftBaskets “Happy Hour” Cheesecake Sampler

Happy-Hour-Sampler-Whole-Cheesecake_largeBooze and dessert have always had a special relationship, and the folks at GourmetGiftBaskets are taking it one step further by baking bar delights straight into their “Happy Hour” Cheesecake Sampler. It’s a little off the beaten path for Drinkhacker to review cheesecake, but I feel the cocktail connection is strong enough for a discriminating drinker to appreciate.

We recently received a sampler with a variety of cheesecake flavors, including Amaretto, Irish Coffee, Margarita, and Strawberry Margarita varieties — at least in the version I received. All were good, though the lime character of the two Margarita flavors is quite understated. I wouldn’t have thought they were particularly citrus if I wasn’t told they were supposed to be. The Irish coffee flavor has a bit of a peanut butter character (and consistency) to it, but the Amaretto is pure almond from start to finish. All told, they’re all very good (though perhaps a touch dry) — but if I had to pick one, I’d go for the flavor-packed Amaretto.

Note: While there is alcohol in the recipes for the cheesecakes, the cooked and finished products contain virtually none (if any at all), so be sure to bring your own.

B+ / $35 to $50 (depending on size) / gourmetgiftbaskets.com

Nocciolata Spread Meets Partida Tequila?

nocciolataTo the guy gal who said he would stop reading the site if I kept covering unrelated food items, hear me out.

Nocciolata — an Italian (and slightly creamier) version of Nutella — wants you to pair its chocolate/hazelnut spread with Partida Reposado tequila. And they sent us a bit of both to give this oddball pairing a whirl.

I won’t belabor the point: Gooey chocolate pairs pretty well with just about anything. Consider whiskey, rum, vodka, or your favorite liqueur, and it will pair well with Nocciolata. As for the Partida, it’s a nice match too, adding some peppery notes to the silky, decadent sweetness of the chocolate spread. The vanilla in the tequila is a great companion with the chocolate, too — though I doubt any quality reposado or anejo would fail you here.

If you’ve ever had a hot chocolate spiked with tequila, you know what you’re in for. Give it a go!

about $10 per 9.52 oz jar / nocciolatausa.com /  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Clif Organic Trail Mix Bars

cotmb_ca

Sure, trail mix bars are a little out of our domain, but Clif really wanted to send these new bars made from organic ingredients for us to review, so we figured, why not? Think of them as bar snacks when you’re camping or are at the beach. They’ve got lots of nuts in them, just like that bowl on the bartop.

I guess it’s not that weird. We do write have a whole section devoted to bars after all, right?

Some quick thoughts on 7 flavors follow.

Clif Organic Trail Mix Bar Dark Chocolate Cherry Almond – A bit high on the cherry component, but it’s got a nice gooey chocolate backing that makes it fun to nosh on. B+

Clif Organic Trail Mix Bar Dark Chocolate Pomegranate Raspberry – A drier bar with a heavier nut element than you’d expect from the ingredient list, but still easy to munch. B

Clif Organic Trail Mix Bar Wild Blueberry Almond – The name says it all. Juicy blueberry paired with crisp, nutty almond. Good combo, with clear blueberry notes in a slightly drier, slightly sticky bar. Very nutty finish. B+

Clif Organic Trail Mix Bar Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter – Not as delightful as you’re expecting, a very firm and crumbly bar that’s more peanut brittle than peanut butter. Even the chocolate isn’t as compelling here. Bummer. B-

Clif Organic Trail Mix Bar Cranberry Almond – Quite boring. Very tough to gnaw through, with an overwhelming focus on tough almonds. C+

Clif Organic Trail Mix Bar Coconut Almond Peanut – An indistinctly nutty bar, with musty coconut overtones. Distinctly lacking in flavor, it’s the only bar in the bunch I didn’t finish. C-

Clif Organic Trail Mix Bar Dark Chocolate Almond Sea Salt – Saving my favorite for last, which shouldn’t be a surprise since this is the most candy bar-like of the bunch. Plenty of chocolate here, and the nuts take on a nougat character, which is fun. You get a nice bite from the salt, too. A-

each about $2 / clifbar.com [BUY THEM HERE]

Pairing the Sixth Taste: Fat

Bitter. Salty. Sour. Sweet. More recently, umami. The tastes science has blessed. This week researchers branched out, publishing findings in Flavour: Fat is the sixth taste. (Not to be confused with the Sixth Sense, which flattens substantially once the surprise is over.)

Chefs and bartenders beat science to the bench — we’ve seen a resurgence of fat in high mixology and haute cuisine, luxuriating in bacon fat and coconut oil melted into cocktails; of pig’s tails and chicken skin pressure-cooked to crispy perfection. Remember: the right alcohol offers counterpoint to every fatty extravagance.

Charleston chef Sean Brock, featured on the PBS series The Mind of a Chef, captures this essence in an episode exulting the best of southern indulgence when he wraps up with the steps to make a Rattlesnake cocktail, a “boozy slushie” of bourbon, lemon, absinthe, egg white, and ice. It’s the edge to rejuvenate the palate.

The next time you pull a bottle off the shelf or pour a brew into a glass, consider the fat to accompany it. A few suggestions:

  • Cajun popcorn (popped on a stovetop, served heavy on the butter and Old Bay) – ideal to accompany an Imperial IPA. (Ballast Point’s Grapefruit Sculpin is my early forerunner for favorite IPA of the year.)
  • Dark chocolate with caramel and black sea salt – more than just the fat in the chocolate and caramel, the salt adds is an extra note against the bracing glory of an Islay or other heavily peated Scotch. (Not to knock Scotland, but India’s Amrut Cask Strength Peated Single Malt is the top choice on my shelf right now.)
  • Purple Haze or other herbal goat cheese topped with lemon curd – sweet, tart and leaves a luxurious film on the tongue, which exaggerates the jammy notes and tannins in a good port. (I’m fond of Bogle Petite Sirah Port as an accessible, affordable dram.)

What are your favorite sixth taste pairings?

When J. Lohr Chardonnay Met Lindt Chocolates

J. Lohr Estates Riverstone ChardonnayChocolate and wine are a classic match — but which chocolate, and which wine? Chocolatier Lindt and California winemaker J. Lohr have been working on figuring that out, and they think they have it down, now.

Among the half-dozen pairings they have devised, the duo sent this one for me to try out for myself: 2013 J. Lohr Chardonnay Riverstone Arroyo Seco Monterey paired with Lindt Excellence Dark Chocolate with Pineapple.

At first I didn’t think these two were going to pair well together. Chardonnay is not a natural companion with chocolate, but many white wines do feature tropical notes that might pair well with pineapple. The J. Lohr, however is a more traditional California style Chardonnay, with notes focused on vanilla, wood, and fresh apples, with very little tropical character to it at all. But surprisingly the wine does do an admirable job of really enhancing the pineapple in the chocolate. I am not sure if it’s the acid and fruit in the wine, or merely the presence of a liquid to help separate the chocolate from the fruit embedded in it, but I did find the pineapple and other citrus notes were much more powerful — and longer-lasting on the finish — when taken together with the Chardonnay. Neat trick. Give it a whirl.

Tasting Report: When Sake Met Cheese

Sake is traditionally thought of as a pairing for Japanese cuisine… but how about cheese? SakeOne put together a little sampler in conjunction with the Marin French Cheese Company (plus friends) — an amazing producer that’s all of 8 miles from my house here in Northern California.

We’ve reviewed most of these sakes before, so today I’m just looking at the concept of pairing rice wine with rich cheese. Here are some case-by-case thoughts on a quartet of duos.

Momokawa Organic Junmai Ginjo ($14) with Marin French Petite Breakfast Brie – This is an interesting combination and great first exploration, coming across a lot like the way that melon and parmesan cheese can match up swimmingly. The brie is beautiful alone, and the sweeter sake does work as nice foil to the umami in the cheese.

Momokawa Organic (Unfiltered) Nigori ($14) with Laura Chenel’s Chévre – Fresh, moist, and creamy, this slightly grainy cheese pairs nicely with the cloudy, more savory sake. Overall it’s less of a counterpoint though, and more of a happy companion with the cheese.

Kasumi Tsuru Kimoto Extra Dry ($27) with Laura Chenel’s Ash-rinded Buchette – This very pungent cheese might have been a bit spoiled during shipment to me. That said, this sake is also more pungent than those preceding it here, balancing its melon notes with some deeper, funkier character — so I can see how the combo would work.

Yoshinogawa Winter Warrior Junmai Ginjo ($27) with Rogue River Blue Cheese – Sake + blue cheese? Another surprising winner. This recalls the first pairing — a little sweet meets salty/savory — but amps things up quite a bit. Winter Warrior is a lively and balanced sake on its own, but this is a wonderful example of how a big, punchy cheese can elevate a quality sake into new and exciting territory.

Dispatch from the 2014 Lake Tahoe Autumn Food and Wine Festival

Autumn wasn’t technically with us in late August, but that didn’t stop the folks at Northstar Resort in Lake Tahoe, California, from putting on a grandiose wine and food festival. Now in its 29th year, the Lake Tahoe Autumn Food and Wine Festival is a multi-day event that combines a walk-around tasting with focused events that let you dive into various topics.

A session that paired beer and cheese was a fun and unusual way to approach the dairy-driven topic. While a few of the pairings were a bust, all of the cheeses were great, and most of the beers — primarily offerings from Goose Island — were refreshing on a hot day on the mountain.

Later that evening, Charbay hosted a spirits and caviar event, pairing vodka and tequila and cocktails made from both with caviar samplings and various dishes from Tsar Nicoulai Caviar Company. A lengthy session — we started famished but finished full of fish eggs and Charbay spirits.

The final day of the festival focuses on the food and wine en masse, with 20-some booths each featuring a winery (or beer company) and a restaurant serving a small bite. I left that afternoon stuffed to the gills from bites both mundane (sliders) to exotic (rabbit, crudo, venison, and more). The wines here included a strange mix of stuff from all over the world, but my personal highlights were offerings from Pride, Mutt Lynch, Hahn, and Handley. The event is competitive. Full winners can be found here.

I took some photos over the two days I was there. Enjoy, and let’s all head to Tahoe for the event in 2015!

Gelateria Naia Puts Frozen Whiskey on a Stick

gelato whiskeyNow here’s a fun item I never thought I’d see in my local supermarket: A gelato popsicle flavored with St. George Spirits Single Malt Whiskey. Both companies are local to NorCal: Gelateria Naia is based in Hercules, St. George in Alameda, both in the East Bay.

This popsicle is quite a little delight, flavored with sugar, a touch of caramel, and real St. George Single Malt poured right into the pop. The texture is a bit icier than a non-alcohol-based pop from the company I tried, but still easy to munch on. The flavor is slightly nutty, and sweeter than I’d expected. The closest analogue I can suggest is a dulce de leche ice cream, swirled with caramel. The flavors linger with you, though, for quite a while after it’s all gone, and its there where some of the more whiskeylike notes — cereal and oak staves — start to emerge.

Fun. Would eat again. About $2.50 a pop.

gelaterianaia.com

Tasting Beers and Stout Ice Cream at Peter B’s, Monterey, California

A recent trip to Monterey, California took us to Peter B’s Brewpub, back behind the Portola Hotel. A rowdy place full of pool tables and TVs blasting sports, it’s also home to Monterey’s biggest brewpub operation, with about a dozen beers on tap at any one time.

This time we came in search of something special, a not-yet-released ice cream flavored with Peter B’s own stout. Made by local icecreamateur Butch Adams (pictured below), who runs a small operation just off of Cannery Row called Kai Lee Creamery, it’s quite a treat, very mild up front, with a modest chocolate and nutty character to it — not quite stout, but not coffee or chocolate either. Lovely and restrained, I can’t think of a better way to end a session of sampling craft beers — unless you maybe drop a scoop of this into an IPA. A-

While we were there, we naturally sampled the five “always on” brews that Peter B’s offers, plus a couple of barrel-aged seasonal releases. Some quick thoughts follow on each of the beers.

Belly Up Blonde – A classic blonde ale, quite rich and malty. Fresh and chewy, with a slight oatmeal character. 5% abv. B+

Fort Ord Wheat – Unfiltered wheat ale. A bit musty, this is missing the bracing citrus of good witbiers. A little muddy on the back end. 5.8% abv. B-

Inclusion Amber Ale – Nice body on this, a good bridge to Peter B’s stronger brews. Mocha notes are prominent here, with some decent hops, though it’s far from bitter at 35 IBUs. Dried fruit and mushroom notes on the finish add interest. 5.13% abv. B+

Legend of Laguna IPA – The big guy (60 to 80 IBUs, depending on where you look). Ample citrus all around, with a ton of bitterness behind it. Hang in there for the evergreen finish, plusa touch of rum raisin. 6.5% abv. B+

Stout Resistance – The stout used in the ice cream, you get big coffee and cream notes on this black brew. It’s mouth coating and rich, but a lot of mushiness in the body mars this otherwise capable stout. 5.7% abv. B

Scotch Ale (seasonal) – Nutty with roasted grains and a slug of raisins. Nice balance here, and it’s quite different and fun. A-

Port Barrel Aged Stout (seasonal) – A real change of pace. Extremely cherry-fueled from start to finish, with a smattering of plums and raisins. Big body with a bracing, bitter finish that works well with the lightly sour body. B+