SOMERVILLE -- When pairing a beverage with chocolate treats, many brew a French press of coffee rather than uncork a bottle. But if the folks at Taza Chocolate have their way, we might be trading in our favorite mugs for glasses of sparklers, whites, or reds. Taza, whose artisan chocolates are made in a stone-ground style, offers a two-hour evening tasting with wines supplied by the North End's Taranta Restaurant.
At Taza, banners celebrating Dia de los Muertos, the Mexican holiday honoring deceased loved ones, decorate displays of confections. We can see but not hear the evening shift workers in the factory through a plate glass window and the ambient scent is heady and sweet. Pouring is Taranta beverage director Alexandre Zwicker Galimberti, who has selected small-producer, sustainably grown wines for the tasting. Joshua Mamaclay, Taza store and tour manager, explains to the 14 attendees how the company, founded in 2006, has a direct trade relationship with each of its producers, who farm organically in the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, and Belize and supply the cacao beans. The $50 tasting includes six wines and six confections.
A southern Italian sparkling wine, made of fiano and aglianico grapes, is paired with a ginger-flavored chocolate. Mamaclay encourages us to sip the wine, wait a bit, and then nibble the slightly gritty chocolate. On its own, the platinum-hued wine is aggressively bubbly, light in body, and completely dry. The chocolate is gently sweet, tinged with herbal notes. "Now, make sure you let the chocolate coat your tongue," Mamaclay instructs, "then sip the wine." The zippy acidity and floral notes of the wine bring the ginger front and center. Wine itself need not be sweet when paired with chocolate like this. Taza's chocolates contain no dairy; flavors are clean and vivid.
Chocolate flavored with kosher salt and black pepper is served with a pinot nero (pinot noir) from northern Italy. (Taranta's cuisine is Southern Italian and Peruvian, so it's no surprise that most of the evening's quaffs are from Italy's boot, along with a selection from South America.) "The pepper really pops," one taster comments. Another declares, "I like the chocolate even better with the wine," Galimberti smiles. These students are getting it. "It doesn't have to be for dessert," he says. "It's something you can have while making dinner."
A Sardinian vermentino, tasted with guajillo chile chocolate, sounds delicious on paper, but the citrus skin profile of the pour clashes with the bitterness of the chocolate. Yet even this combination -- followed by a more successful full-bodied Argentine malbec with a smoky, dark chocolate bar -- makes us think about the possibilities of wine and cacao bean, far beyond the realm of dessert.
We're finishing with a lovely ruby port, the only sweet wine in the line-up, when out comes a chocolate infused with finely ground espresso beans. So we get our post-prandial coffee after all.
Taza Chocolate will hold the next chocolate and wine class on January 9th at 561 Windsor Street, Somerville, 617-284-2232, www.tazachocolate.com.