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So why is the 2012 Ladera Cabernet—made from almost entirely from Howell Mountain fruit, from an incredible vintage—sitting pretty at $34.99? I honestly can't tell you. Maybe it's because no one knows how good the Ladera holdings in Howell Mountain are. Or maybe it's the pride that winemaker Jade Barrett takes in making a serious wine for a reasonable price. Or maybe it's because Ladera is an overlooked gem in a sea of Napa alternatives. For whatever the reason, I'm not going to complain. We tasted the 2012 vintage at our staff training yesterday and I was just floored by the quality of this wine. Dark, fleshy fruit cloaked in fine tannins, bits of earth, and in total balance, with enough gusto to go the long haul in your cellar. It's a whole lotta wine for $34.99, and it's made primarily from Howell Mountain grapes, harvested during a great vintage. 

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Friday
Mar112011

Food-Pairing Friday: Askinosie Chocolate

Askinosie San Jose del Tambo chocolate bar. Photo by Brooke Burton at Food Woolf.

When I read my friend Brooke Burton's mediation on artisanal chocolate-maker Askinosie this morning, an M.F.K. Fisher-style tangle of elegant prose and mouthwatering descriptions, I knew I needed to share it with all of you. It also got my wheels turning: What wine or spirit, if any, would pair with chocolates so complex without overpowering them?

The dark chocolate she describes, the San Jose del Tambo, seems like the easier pairing. Smoke, bitter cocoa, earth and espresso marked by prickly tannins and the textural contrast of cocoa nibs made me think immediately of Cabernet Sauvignon, but then I was afraid that the grippy tannins and the brighter red fruit qualities of most affordable Cabs would detract from, rather than compliment, the chocolate. No, this chocolate needed a wine that could harmonize, maybe bring out subtle characteristics, something that would be content to play second fiddle to the chocolate itself. I think the best pairing would be a Tawny Port, like the Niepoort 10-year ($34.99), with its aromas and flavors of toffee and honey to balance its sweet roasted fruit profile. I think the Taylor 20-year ($44.99) would be even better, with its darker, plummier flavors that taste like they'd been drizzled with caramel.

The white chocolate with pistachios posed more of a challenge. Dry or sweet? Red or white? Brooke described the chocolate as having a halva or dulce de leche-like quality, with hints of cardamom, browned butter and the nutty sweet crunch of pistachios. After drilling down into our inventory, I stumbled on two adventurous, but intriguing pairing suggestions. The Lustau Pedro Ximenez "San Emilio" ($23.99) Sherry, with its rum raisin and cinnamon spice characteristics, racy acidity, fig, caramel and cocoa flavors, could be brilliant with the white chocolate, teasing out flavors and cutting through the white chocolate's sweetness. A sipping rum, like the Dos Maderas 5+5 PX Aged Caribbean Rum ($41.99), would be a little less of an aggressive pairing, but a really beautiful match with its brown sugar and caramel notes and unbelievable balance.

What would you pair with these chocolates?

Leah Greenstein

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