September 22, 2021

Uncorked: Science adds twist to classic wine, chocolate pairing

There was a time when pressed chardonnay grapes would be jettisoned to the compost pile or a livestock feed trough.

But, Sonomaceuticals had other plans as it dried and milled the freshly crushed grapes to create what is believed to be a new super food.

Sonomaceuticals, founded by wine industry pioneers Barbara Banke, co-founder of Jackson Family Wines, and Peggy Furth, who was CEO of Chalk Hill Estate and the first woman to hold an officer’s position at Kellogg’s in 1979, turned to food scientists at the University of California at Davis. The scientists identified oligosaccharides, which support gut health and are found in plants, foods and breast milk, and are also in Chardonnay Marc.

There’s potential for Chardonnay Marc to be in other nutritional supplements, as well, but, on World Chocolate Day, it was part of a wine tasting and pairing featuring Vine to Bar dark chocolates, which are made with Chardonnay Marc. The first dark chocolate of its kind comes in four flavors ($34.50/four-pack, $18.75/15 count of nibs), all of which were uniquely paired with wines.

“Science matters when it impacts the public,” Harold Schmitz, a visiting professor at UC Davis and the chief science officer at Mars Inc., said in a Zoom meeting last week. “The way that happens is through academic and industry partnership. That’s what we’ve been doing, and it’s starting to find its voice through this wonderful chocolate.”

At 65% cocoa, and with Chardonnay Marc included, the Vine to Bar chocolates had a creamy, buttery-chocolate texture and a brighter, acidic punch. The Chardonnay Marc acted like a softener for the dark chocolate, a buffer that minimized any bitter flavors and provided a lift on the finish.

For chocolatier Ralph Jerome, the attractive chocolate bars benefit from attention to detail. Their smooth texture comes from the correct particle size. At 20 microns, 1/20th the size of a grain of sugar, the chocolate can be extra “smooth and creamy,” something he said was “critical.”

“It’s a beautiful appearance,” Jerome said. “We want an exciting visual, it’s aromatic and rich. The Chardonnay Marc offers its own aromatics, and you can smell it before you see it. We used a lot of cocoa butter, so you get a really crisp snap … the chocolate melts in your mouth. A magical aspect to cocoa butter is that it melts right around your body temperature. The beauty of Chardonnay Marc is that it comes out at the end, [you] get acidity and light sweetness at the end.”

Vine to Bar is a project founded by two wine industry pioneers, Barbara Banke, the co-founder of Jackson Family Wines, and Peggy Furth, who was CEO of Chalk Hill Estate and the first woman to hold an officer’s position at Kellogg’s in 1979.

Each of the four featured Jackson Family Wines paired well with the Vine to Bar dark chocolate. Which was a bit of a surprise considering the Kendall Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay 2019 ($17) and its flavors of pineapple, green apple, cinnamon, creme brulee and a round almond note on the finish, and La Crema Rose Monterey 2019 ($25) with its snappy fruit, strawberry, melon and green herbal note, were part of the tasting.

Red wines are a given with chocolate, as their bolder flavors can complement or play off chocolate flavors, but with the two lighter wines, the pairing was quite deft. The texture and acidic finish in the chocolate didn’t overwhelm.

The Dark Chocolate with Almonds and Pink Himalayan Salt and the Dark Chocolate with Smoked Salt and Cocoa Nibs highlighted the wines’ acidity well, as the salt pulled at the snappy fruit flavors.

“The little nibs are basically chocolate liquor, and they give you this bang of flavor,” Jerome said.

Cambria Pinot Noir Julia’s Vineyard Santa Maria Valley 2018 ($25) had a soft texture and tart strawberry, cherry, loamy earth and leather flavors. It was a natural for the Dark Chocolate with Tart Cherry and Cocoa Nibs. Naturally, the Murphy Goode “Liar’s Dice” Zinfandel 2015 ($21) and its super-friendly texture, with smoky cherry, blackberry cobbler flavors, was a fit for all four chocolates, but perhaps was best with the plain dark chocolate, as the fun-loving wine’s ripe fruit flavors were all the action needed.

“Wine and chocolate are ancient, universally loved and both fermented, so, of course, they go together,” Jerome said. “What I tried to do was understand what the chocolate pairings would be.”

James Nokes has been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Email him at