Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Wine’s like coffee’s like chocolate

By Jessica Yadegaran
Wednesday, September 12th, 2007 at 10:13 am in Uncategorized.

Loved Ed Levine’s post this morning on Seems the idea of terroir is quickly slipping into the coffee biz, where serious caffeine-o-philes are skipping the supermarket and even Starbucks to get their buzz directly from growers and their cooperatives in far flung regions like Honduras and Rwanda.

It’s not unlike my trip to Napa this weekend, where a small crew of serious oenophiles and I met with Keith Emerson of Vineyard 29 to sample not the luxurious wines he makes for that label, but his own, Emerson Brown, which is even more hard to come by. Where did he source the fruit? How did he make it? Can we score some cases from him? You betcha.

It’s simple really. Anything that grows in the ground is going to be imprinted, in a sense, with the DNA and composition of that particular plot. Add to that climate, irrigation, and treatment of that appellation plus how the bean or grape is manipulated, and you’ll inherit distinct characteristics, be they nutty or floral, grassy or steely.

Same thing happened on the way to learning about chocolate. You might recall an A-1 piece I did about two years ago about the booming high-end chocolate market, where higher cacao content bars are revered like big Napa Cabs. It coincided with “Chocolate: The Exhibition,” a Cacao 101 exhibit that had recently opened at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

I met with chocolate educator Seneca Klassen at Bittersweet Chocolate Cafe in Oakland and he led me through a sensory evaluation on par with Copia’s finest.

Yup, we started by smelling the dark hunks of a bar of 80 percent Forastero cacao from Sao Tome: very fruity, like blackberries. Then we observed its color, no waxy Hershey’s overlay, just beautiful black shine, like Cherokee hair. I was instructed to break the square and observe that before I put it in my mouth. From there, you are to let the chocolate rest on your mid palate (this is like swirling), where, if made well, it should melt (this is the finish) into oblivion with no cocoa butter shield (think wine additives like yeasts, sulphates). Then we did the same thing with the 62 percent Caribbean Criollo, and compared the two.

Go to Luka’s Taproom and Lounge in Oakland and you’ll see that beer tasting notes are quite the same; Go to La Pinata in Alameda and you’ll see the same is true of tequila tasting.

So, welcome, coffee drinkers of America. To direct trade, to snobbery, and to a future $5 cup of Joe. I’m just not sure about the B&Bs in Third World coffee country.

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  • Aaron Meeker

    I have to say that Emerson Brown is a very good expression of typical Oakville fruit but with a slightly more refined/restrained mid-palette. The wine did not scream extraction but instead hummed balance.

    As for this chocolate…I don’t quite understand as I am still thinking of Hershey’s Special Dark as the creme de le creme of chocolate. Am I wrong???

  • Jessica Yadegaran

    Mr Meeker, you may be familiar with Vosges savory chocolates as well as Charles and Scharffen Berger. I understand eating a bag of these gems in the back of a limousine on a sunny day in the Valley is the best way to illuminate the terroir. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that Scharffen Berger will remain pure in the clutches of its new owner, Hershey’s.