Letters from Lodi

An insightful and objective look at viticulture and winemaking from the Lodi
Appellation and the growers and vintners behind these crafts. Told from the
perspective of multi-award winning wine journalist, Randy Caparoso.

Randy Caparoso
February 10, 2011 | Randy Caparoso

Chocolate chili & truffle wine matches


Avenue Grill's Brenda & Mike Metcalf cook up killer Lodi style chocolate chili

Matching chocolates with dry red wines…

“Chocolates made for wines,” says Linda Bartlett of Truffle Gateau, “are more like cheese pairings… soft like Brie, and never too sweet.”  When Barlett founded her Sacramento based confectionery, she made it her goal to create the “finest wine-pairing chocolates in the world,” developing recipes using natural ingredients like Callebaut Belgian chocolate, Madagascar vanilla, Peet’s espresso coffee, and Southern pecans.

Today over 300 wineries in California and Oregon sell Bartlett’s “Truffle G’s” with their wines.  Bartlett will personally be on hand to offer her sumptuous chocolate & wine matches at The Lodi Wine & Visitor Center throughout Lodi’s Wine & Chocolate Weekend (Feb. 12-13); and wine lovers will also be able to experience her magical truffles at The Lucas Winery on Davis Rd.

About Truffle Gateau

(photo courtesy of Truffle Gateau)

Does chocolate and wine matching require sweet wines like Port or Late Harvest Zinfandels?  In recent years chocolate and wine lovers everywhere have been tackling that question in earnest, experimenting with numerous chocolate matched to wines going beyond sweet red or white wines.  Many have found that dry red wines can indeed make delicious chocolate matches… providing these factors:

  • The chocolate is made with the addition of zero or little sugar, plus zero to minimal amounts of the usual “fillers” (like milk, butter or eggs) to dark chocolate bases, thus minimizing extreme contrasting of sweet chocolate sensations when consumed with dry red wines.
  • The chocolate might contain the bitter shavings of raw cacao to balance the slight bitterness of tannins naturally found in red wines, which are fermented with skins, seeds, and sometimes even stems from which tannins are derived.
  • The chocolate is flavored with wine-friendly, aromatically simpatico ingredients echoing the fruit qualities (like raspberry, strawberry, lavender or roasting coffee) found in matching red wines.


Within those parameters, many chocolate lovers have found that hand rolled or truffle molded chocolates made in these fashions can compliment an amazing range of dry red wines, as well as some sweet whites.  Some specific examples of favorite wine/chocolate matches, along with Lodi grown wine suggestions that work like a charm:

  • Raspberry or framboise laced chocolates with softer, jammy berry Zinfandels like that of Klinker Brick, Barsetti, Citizin by The Lucas Winery, McCay’s Paisley, Peirano, Heritage, Oak, or Harney Lane, the Primitivos by Ripken or Uvaggio, or else the silky, raspberryish Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Franc based blends like that of Ironstone or some of Michael David’s Inkblots.
  • Hazelnut, pecan or walnut specked chocolates with smooth, refined, woodsy Sangioveses like those made by Jeremy Wine Company, Sorelle, or Fields Family’s Il Ladro).
  • Chocolates infused with dark roast or espresso beans, or with shaved raw cacao, matched to dense, smoky “roasted,” high tannin and richly oaked Petitie Sirahs like those of Ripken, Michael~David’s Earthquake, McCay, Van Ruiten, Grands Amis, or Sobon’s ReZerve; or else the wildly aromatic, deep purplish, sturdy tannin lined Alicante Bouschets like those of Lodi’s Harmony Wynelands and St. Jorge.
  • Lavender or violet infused chocolates with Syrahs such as those of Michael~David (their 6th Sense or Earthquake bottlings) or Klinker Brick’s Farrah .
  • Mocha flavored chocolate with tobacco-smoky, earthy, berryish Tempranillo based reds like Bokisch, Harney Lane, Sorelle, St. Jorge, or Cosentino .
  • Chocolate coated strawberry or cherry, or else cassis or cherry liqueur infused chocolates, with round, strawberryish Grenache (a.k.a. Garnacha) based reds like that of Bokisch; or  zesty, velvety Barberas by Lodi producers such as Macchia, Grands Amis, Sorelle, St. Amant, or Uvaggio.
  • White chocolates with or without citrus (like lime) infusions, matched by fragrantly sweet white wines made from Muscat grape (suggestions:  Uvaggio’s Dolce Moscato, the  Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Moscato, or Peirano’s Muscat Canelli).


(photo courtesy of Truffle Gateau)

Lodi style chocolate chili…

Seasoned chefs, on the other hand, have been using pure, unsweetened chocolate as an ingredient in dishes for thousands of years, dating back to the Mayans and the Aztecs.   It’s almost amazing that the idea of adding back cocoa butter with sugar to turn chocolate into a candy was not even “invented” in Europe until the mid-nineteenth century.  Up until then, chocolate was something that you either drank or, as Lodi’s resident star chef, Ruben Larrazolo, does at Alebrijes Bistro on Lockeford and Ham:  uses chocolate to make a black, thick, incredibly rich and sensuous mole negro Oaxaqueño, which chef Larrazolo serves with luscious, pink centered slices of duck breast (must be tasted to be believed!).

For over sixteen years, Mike Metcalf and his wife Brenda have been serving some of Lodi’s best breakfasts and lunches at Avenue Grill on W. Lodi Ave. at Hutchins.  Mr. Metcalf also makes a killer chocolate chili:  a dish that number of Lodi wineries have embraced as a delicious match for red wines made from grapes like Tempranillo, Grenache/Garnacha, and the ever popular Zinfandel.

Three wineries, in fact, will be vying for a “best chocolate chili” crown during Lodi’s Wine & Chocolate Weekend — d’Art Wines, Harney Lane Winery, and Heritage Oak Winery — and they invite everyone to drop by for a taste and cast their ballots.  How much fun is that?

What is chocolate chili?  Mike Metcalf  has graciously consented to share a reasonable facsimile of his “secret recipe,” which you can try at home.  In the meantime:  do come on out for Lodi’s wine & chocolates, and enjoy!


Avenue Grill’s Lodi Chocolate Chili

2 tbs. vegetable oil

2 ½ lbs. ground chuck

1 tsp. salt

½ tbs. ground black pepper

1 ½ cups diced yellow onion

1 ½ cups diced green bell pepper

64 oz. diced tomato in juice

1 pkg. Carroll Shelby’s Original Texas Brand Chili Kit

3 tbs. unsweetened cocoa

2 tbs. ground cumin

16 oz. can Hormel Chili, no beans

32 oz. pinto beans

32 oz. kidney beans

  • In an 8 quart pot, heat oil on medium high heat, add ground chuck
  • Season with salt and pepper and cook until almost done (slightly pink)
  • Add onions and bell peppers and cook until onion is translucent
  • Add diced tomatoes, Texas Chili mix, cocoa, cumin and chili
  • Simmer covered for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally`
  • Add beans and continue to simmer 20 more minutes
  • Ready to go!


Pigs fly at Ripken Vineyards



Lodi Wine Visitor Center
2545 West Turner Road Lodi, CA 95242
Open: Daily 10:00am-5:00pm

Lodi Winegrape Commission
2545 West Turner Road, Lodi, CA 95242
Open: Monday-Friday 8:00am-5:00pm

Have a question? Complete our contact form.