Chocolate, wine and the hipster nature of a sommelier

At the entrance to the factory, I was searched thoroughly, my camera and writing accessories taken. But I was in! I remember the taste of the 500g chocolate bars, I saw gigantic mills grinding chocolate brittle, which subsequently dried out on metal plates turning into a hard, concrete-like substance. It was then chipped away by workers using with axes.

I love skirmishes, but by the word "skirmishes" I mean an adventure or the discovering of new things, or accumulating new knowledge. That's why I like wine challenges. Oh, how I like it! Recently (by “recently” I mean the last twenty years) everyone has been taken over by chocolate. That’s for a number of reasons.

I once learned (and passed on this knowledge) that when you reach out for chocolate, you should forget about wine. Meanwhile, my skirmishes with chocolate and wine were so shocking that I remember them to this day.

Valrhona, Galler, world champion of young chocolatiers - Pierre Marcolini ... Such names fly through my head when I hold a piece of donated ankle in my mouth ... But I take - I am obviously - a pureblood gourmand.

Cité du Chocolat

The town of Tain-l'Hermitage, eighty kilometers south of Lyon, an hour by car, the capital of the production of the famous Hermitage wine. In this town, there’s also a factory producing the best chocolate in the world: Valrhona, an almost (completely) secret place, surrounded by a high concrete wall that never let journalists in, called by the locals Cité du Chocolat, the city of chocolate.

The city has to protect itself. Because of the wine, each year there’s more tourists coming here than there are registered residents, and journalists like to wander all over the place. I was introduced by a friend who delivered … wine and… sludge from wine-barrels there. He brought exquisite wines from Roussillon, strong and sweet, which were later sold in sets with chocolates, packed neatly in wooden boxes. The sediment, on the other hand, was mixed with ... the filling for the bars.

Back then my friend was the first to come up with this idea and persuaded the rulers of Valrhona to do it. Today it has become commonplace and used all over the world. What did those bars taste like... Hmm...
The chocolates made in Valrhona must be different from each other. Photo: Author's archive
At the entrance to the factory, I was searched thoroughly, my camera and writing accessories taken. But I was in! I remember the taste of the 500g chocolate bars. I saw gigantic mills grinding chocolate brittle, which subsequently dried out on metal plates turning into a hard, concrete-like substance. It was then chipped away by workers using axes.

I remember two rows of female workers who manually placed chocolate stripes on top of the aromatic glazing of pralines. - Why are they doing it by hand !? - I asked. I also remembered the surprise of one of the employees who showed me around: - Because each one has to be unique! They cost three euros apiece! He replied.

I tasted these wines with chocolate. I was shocked, it all fitted in perfectly, just like in an orchestra. And yet when I was learning the basics of wine and sommelier knowledge over 30 years ago, everything was clear. In perfect order and so wise- anticipating every possible human weakness or a stumble. The fastest, I learned what is not allowed with wine, because there was not much of it, and the examples were obvious. Chocolate is never to be served with wine, the warnings in the books said!

My first trips to large wine events and contacts with experienced sommeliers ruined my peace. It quickly turned out that if it is not allowed, then why not give it a try … And not in the privacy of your home, but straight away with grandeur, in the spotlight of TV cameras.

Champagnes were sham

This is how in the mid-90s of the last century I found my way to the gutter - during one of the gigantic fairs I was invited to a great tasting- a show of the famous Belgian chocolate company Galler (which I later visited in Liège) entitled "Accords vin et chocolade" (Wine and chocolate pairings). Then I thought: "it's complete nonsense, some new advertising trick, but I'll go, at least I’ll eat as much chocolate as I can." I never had a problem with that.

And that's how it began- I took the chocolates samples for an entrée and ate them straight away. Fortunately, the service - prepared for such a turn of events - quickly and silently refilled the missing pieces before the actual tasting began.

Brain orgasm created by sounds

They’re selling us jewelry, cosmetics, or chocolate by creating goosebumps.

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But as the tasting went on, the choice of wines was no longer that obvious. Indeed – semi-dry and semi-sweet champagnes were a sham. Likewise, tokays and similar German botrytized wines did rather poorly. But a warning sign lit up in my head when the two Australian tanks, the shiraz model (variant), powered by powerful 15.5% engines, were served one after another. Their cannon damage was so powerful that instead of playing with the chocolates, they simply wiped them off the palate in a split second.

A similar ploy was used by heavy 20-year-old tawny ports, and then younger and strong vintage wines – the enemy trenches ceased to exist before the crew thought of any defense.

Unfortunately, I have never been able to see how the fire-breathing monsters would cope with my unmatched ideal from school years -the “Bombajki” candies. Once communism fell their production ceased.And I don't think I'll ever know why ...

Back in the day everything went by the book. Today the hipster nature of many questions all existing standards. But, as it can be seen from the above example, sometimes it is worth it to follow the trail as well. If only to burn yourself, and at times to broaden your experiences and horizons.

– Wojciech Gogoliński
–Translated by Sally Jastrzębska

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

The author is an editor of the magazine “Wine Time” (pol. “Czas Wina”. He published, i.e. “The lexicon of alcohols”, and is a co-author of the book "Wine Knowledge" (pol. “Wiedza o winie”).
Main photo: Valrhona, the best chocolate manufacture in the world. Photo: Author's archive
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