by Simon Tam
Chocolate, the concentrated extract from the cacao bean, is one of the oldest foods known to mankind. It hasn't always taken the sweet form we are familiar with today. Pure, high-quality cacao is more savoury and less bitter than you'd think. It's not exclusively a Valentine's Day treat, and can be eaten on its own or made into dishes both sweet and savoury. Because of the diversity of chocolate, it's impossible to recommend one beverage that will go with everything: it depends on whether it's dark, milk or white, the cacao content and what it's flavoured with. But all chocolate - even white - should be paired with drinks with a tanned note. A vibrant riesling or sauvignon blanc will be a poor match for the depth of chocolate, let alone the sweetness. The following drinks are paired with specific types of chocolate, to be enjoyed by you with your Valentine.
Tui East Indian Pale Ale, New Zealand
Beer and chocolate seems an unlikely combination, but it works with this pale ale because it's savoury and nutty. It has plenty of richness and depth to handle a block of dark chocolate with roasted hazelnuts. The deep roasted notes of the hazelnuts and their crunchy texture highlight the ale's soft perfume and heighten its appeal while adding a new dimension. The nutty, yeasty ale notes grab the hazelnut richness, while its hints of sweetness link up nicely with the creaminess of the chocolate.
Available for HK$22 from New Zealand Focus (tel: 2151 0652)
Inniskillin Gold Oak Aged Vidal 2006
Combining sweet wine with sweet food isn't usually a successful combination unless the sweetnesses are compatible. This intensely sweet ice wine is a perfect match with white chocolate with glace fruits. The wine is deep and powerfully tanned in its flavour notes. The glace fruits add to the complex wine's fruity repertoire, and the drink's acidity and strength is a key link in the combination. Serve the chocolate from the freezer and the wine at Hong Kong's current 'room temperature' (cool, in other words). You will see a lot more interesting savoury notes in the chocolate when the sugars are suppressed by being served so cold, and the cool wine will blossom with much better balance between the abundance of acidity and fruitiness.
Available for HK$790 (375ml bottle) from Sinolink (tel: 2408 9338)
Hennessy XO cognac, France
This cognac paired with pure chocolate is a must for the sophisticated palate. There isn't a gram of sugar in pure chocolate to hide the myriad, complex and subtle flavours. The integrated oak and aged rancio nuttiness in the XO is the key. The savoury pure chocolate lays a rich foundation on the palate: the complex flavours including tobacco, caramel and vanilla, depending on the origin of the cacao beans. Pure chocolate is less fatty than sweetened chocolate and so easier to wash away from the palate; but the aromatics linger, blending with the XO aromatics, which range from dried fruit and nuts to chocolate. The aged eau de vie gives the taste buds definitive punctuation, marking the front, middle and finish of the flavour. Serve the XO in a champagne flute and sip, sniff and savour the combination with slivers of pure chocolate - it's a tasty, provocative end to a meal.
Available for HK$1,218 from Moet Hennessy Diageo (tel: 2976 1888)