Who can resist chocolate, especially when paired with wine? I recently had a really tough assignment, an interview where I tasted ten fabulous chocolates to write this story. I sacrificed so much for ChicagoWinePress. Try not to feel too sorry for me!
I did a virtual tasting with a fine chocolatier at the renowned Graham’s Fine Chocolates and Ice Cream in suburban Chicago, located in Geneva and Wheaton. (www.grahamschocolate.com) Vice president Jayni Wunderlich shared her experience, as she has grown up in her family’s business.
Her parents, Robert and Beckie Untiedt have run the business since its creation in 1987. Robert went to Candy College and then his passion for chocolate inspired him to open Graham’s Chocolates. He created classic chocolate recipes with his proprietary blend of cocoa, which is a well-kept secret, and hand dipped them. Later, he also added ice cream to his menu. The business grew phenomenally and now has thousands of loyal customers.
They have been offering chocolate and wine pairings for 32 years. Graham’s also has beer and chocolate tastings. Adapting to Covid restrictions, they sell chocolates and recommended wines pairings to go. They also created “quarantine snacks” including jalapeno, beer and bacon peanut brittle.
Graham’s ten chocolatiers create nearly 80 different chocolates. They are well-known for their award-winning truffles. According to Jayni, the most popular chocolates are anything with caramel, English Toffee and homemade marshmallows. A perennial favorite is their Peanut Butter Diamond. With luscious dark chocolate and an intense peanut butter filling, it pairs well with a fruit-forward, jammy red wine. They call it an "adult PB&J." A new offering is the Mango Passion Fruit Truffle. With its distinctive orange and red drizzled topping, the intense flavors pair well with a fruity, Cabernet Sauvignon or Sangiovese. “The tropical fruit pops with reds,” Jayni says. Their Snowball Truffle is in high demand. With fresh coconut and dark chocolate ganache filling, it pairs well with sparkling wine or Pinot Noir.
With sighs of delight and many ummm’s over the mouth-watering concoctions, I finally came to the conclusion that my favorite was the English Toffee. Created with caramel made with butter from local dairies, their exclusive chocolate, and honey from their own chef’s hive (at Heritage Prairie Farm in Elburn), it is topped with in-house roasted nuts. You can tell that Graham’s chocolates are hand dipped because the chocolate covering melts into the centers, rather than being a hard coating.
As a craze for hot cocoa bombs has swept the country from its debut on Tiktok, Graham’s has invented their own version. The shell consists of their outstanding chocolate with a center of homemade marshmallows and specially blended hot cocoa mix. Customers place them in a cup and pour hot milk over them. The cocoa bombs open up and then are stirred. You can order these and all of their superb merchandise online for curbside pickup or delivery by looking under “cravings” on their website for specific chocolates. They limit the number of customers shopping at one time in their charming shop for safety.
Jayni recommends a tasting order for wine and chocolate pairings. “Take a sip of wine to coat the mouth. Then savor a bite of chocolate. Then take a taste of wine again, so that the finish works well together,” she explained.
If you’re a purist and want to taste purely chocolate, here are tips to evaluate fine chocolate. First, make sure it is at room temperature before you begin. Then, take these steps:
Appearance: It should have a glossy shine, with no bubbles or white specks.
Smell: As with wine, some of the first clues to fine chocolate are in the nose. Rub your finger on the chocolate to release the aroma and bring it to your nose to smell. It should have a rich, intense chocolate aroma with no smoky or chemical scents.
Snap: It should break cleanly with a crisp pop (the loudest is dark chocolate) when broken. If it crumbles or breaks into layers, it is not quality chocolate.
Taste: Flavor is the ultimate criterion for quality in chocolate. Let a small piece melt on your tongue to experience the full depth of flavor. You can ask yourself these questions: Does it melt like butter? Does the flavor come on quickly or slowly? Does the flavor change character from the beginning to the middle and to the end? How long does the flavor last in your mouth? Just like with wine, professional chocolate tasters often look for a “long finish.”
Texture: Place the chocolate against the roof of your mouth. Let your tongue move across it and observe how it melts and feels. It should begin to melt immediately with an even texture. It should be creamy and soft, not greasy, waxy or oily.
By slowing down, savoring and focusing your attention on the taste and texture, you’ll be amazed at what you discover. Remember, the best chocolate is the one you like the most.
As Jayni from Graham’s Chocolates concludes: “Life happens, chocolate helps!”