There are few things more synonymous with Valentine’s Day than chocolate and Champagne. While this combo might be mere romantic fun for some, for food and wine connoisseurs, it’s much more detailed. This is precisely the case for Norman Love, Southwest Florida’s undisputed king of chocolate, who often collaborates with Fort Myers chef Harold Balink for both virtual and in-person chocolate and wine pairing events.
“Working with [Balink] got me to think out of the box. We played with (grape) varietals I’d never paid much attention to,” Love says.
The cacao used to make chocolate and the grapes for wine may seem worlds apart. In truth, however, they are more similar than not. Both rely upon terroir, farming, and the mercy of mother nature for their flavor profiles. Both can be acidic and complex with earthy and fruity characteristics, among other corresponding distinguishers.
Naples Illustrated made its way to Love’s chocolate salon, Norman Love Confections, with two bottles of wine for an impromptu tasting and pairing lesson.
Fit for Valentine’s Day, the first bottle was a new sparkling rosé from Sonoma-Cutrer. The 2019 Grand Brut Rosé is part of the winemaker’s Release series, a cuvée of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that is dry with pleasing acidity, teeming with tropical fruits.
Love first suggested a white chocolate with key lime that provided pucker power, but not the type most seek on Valentine’s Day. It was a bit too tart. From his special Valentine’s Day chocolate collection, mimosa was the winner. Orange, passion fruit, and panna cotta were also delightful pairings.
He explains, “Fruity whites and sparkling wines are good with white chocolate and fruits.” As far as dark chocolate with sparkling wines, if it has red fruit, it’s a winner. Think traditional but beloved chocolate covered strawberries.
When it comes to red wine, Love says, “The sweet spot is dark chocolate in the 70 to 75 percent [cacao] range.” The higher the percentage of cacao, the less sugar and more bitter the chocolate.
We opened a beautiful 2020 Aperture Cabernet Sauvignon. The bottle’s artful label next to the stunning chocolates was a perfect combination visually. To find an equally exceptional combination for the palate, Love reached for a box of his special Black line. These chocolates are made with carefully curated dark cacao from around the world.
This young bottle of Cabernet improved as it sat in the glass, as its dark fruits opened. Aperture’s 2020 production was drastically affected by wildfires but not this wine. It paired excellently with the 68-percent cacao chocolate from Ghana.
If chocolate is higher in cacao than 75 percent, Love recommends a fortified wine, such as port. “It’s a match made in heaven,” he says. He opened a bottle to prove it. Seamless.
In the end, Love says not to overthink it. “It’s not always about what the experts say,” he says. “It’s supposed to be fun and enjoyable.”