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 17, 2011 | Randy Caparoso

Our top 5 chocolate weekend matches


Seriously good fun: chocolate chili lovers at Harney Lane

Wine & Chocolate Weekend’s wildest, funnest matches…


One thing many of the Lodi wine lovers who partook in this last weekend’s knockdown, throwdown 2011 Wine & Chocolate Weekend probably discovered:  perfectly delicious wines and chocolate matches come in all shapes and sizes.

So let us now fondly reminisce over the funner — and in every case, mind blowing — combinations we were fortunate to experience in Lodi wine country during the past weekend:

Lodi sausages in chocolate barbecue sauce with 2008 Harney Lane Lodi Zinfandel ($22) –  Oh me, oh my, was this a good one:  the black cherry/raspberry bright, soft and luscious basic Lodi Zinfandel of Harmony Lane washed down with slices of sausages dipped in a holy-cow, chocolaty barbecue sauce.  This pairing worked on multiple levels:  the mild chile flecked spices in the sausage bringing out the peppery spice in the Zinfandel; the slightly vinegary, sweet edge of the sauce echoing the mildly tart, sweet berry edged Zinfandel to a T; and the thickness of the chocolate gelling with the plush, only mildly tannic, pillowy textured qualities of the Zinfandel.


Chocolate chili and Lodi sausages at Harney Lane

Helen d’Art’s chocolate chili with d’Art Lodi Port ($22.50/500 ml.) – On paper, perhaps, this match sounds insane; but trust us:  it was also insanely good!  d’Art’s chocolate chili was cooked down into a dense, thick, viscous, red chili spiced, good old’ fashioned medicated goo, and the lusciously sweet, fat, plummy, perfectly balanced fruitiness of the Dave d’Art’s Port did an amazing job of soothing the palate after the hot sting of each meaty morsel.  Now, granted, 19.5% alcohol wine (although not tasting alcoholic, in a “hot” sense, at all) to wash down a bowl of chili sounds a bit much.  But a spade is a spade, and this match had cojones in spades!


Dave d'art (left, with Estate Crush's Nick Sikeotis on right) served his Port from the barrel during chocolate weekend

Carmela Hoffman’s chocolate chili con carne with 2008 Heritage Oak Hoffman Vineyard Lodi Zinfandel ($18) – Heritage Oak Winery “competed” with d’Art Wines and Harney Lane Winery for “best chocolate chili,” and each winery’s chili was delicious in its own way.  Harney Lane’s was looser and stew-like, with more visibly toothsome morsels of beans, bell peppers and sweet onions, screaming for mounds of white rice.  Heritage Oak’s chili was somewhere between the delineated style of Harney Lane’s and the thick, mole-like quality of d’Art’s; but it was also the spiciest of the three chilies, owing the aggressive layering of oregano and cinnamon beneath the customary cumin and red pepper flakes, enriched by the usage of no less than Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate (see recipe at end).  The Heritage Oak Zinfandel was a perfect match because of its own finely delineated layering of black pepper, cinnamon and smoky oak spices, filling in the smoothly textured, black and red berry flavors.  this balanced buoyant style of zin — not a big, ponderous or overripened one — also offered a zesty, cutting contrast to the chocolaty thickness of the chili.  The better to eat you with — memorable!


Heritage Oak's Tom Hoffman pours it on

Grandma’s rocky road chocolate with 2008 McCay Cellars Equity Lodi Zinfandel – “Grandma” in this case comes from Linda McCay’s side of the family; her husband, Michael, the winemaker of this new yet already highly acclaimed Lodi winery.  The Equity is a still-unreleased Zinfandel, crafted for maximum exuberance of fruit forward spice — exotic ginger, peppermint, cracked pepper and Chinese li hing mui (dried plum) —  with strawberry/raspberry and red licorice qualities tucked neatly into a seamless, silky, bouncy medium weight body.  It is precisely this levitating bounce and spiced red fruit that created this surprising match:  a chocolate candy lover’s wet (or shall we say, marshmallowy) dream.  A match for mature audiences; especially those harboring perpetually child-like, oral fixations like “rocky road.”


McCay's for the orally fixated adult...

Truffle Gateau’s Double Decadence and Espresso truffles with 2009 Wooden Nickel Lodi Petite Sirah ($19) – At the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center, the Sacramento based Truffle Gateau offered explosive bites of their Double Decadence and Espresso truffles.  Yes, this company specializes in wine-friendly chocolates (which is why it’s served by wineries from Willamette Valley to Santa Barbara), but it’s hard to imagine a better match than this purplish, juicy, spiced blueberry cobbler of a wine.  Wooden Nickel’s is a somewhat fat, soft, bouncy, sweet edged hussy of a Petite Sirah (as opposed to a thick, dry, rugged one) which, most likely, would not appeal to P.S. I Love You purists; but when drunk with these dark, gooey, bittersweet chocolates:  P.S., pick-me-up-at-eight-and-don’t-be-lateoh, baby, that’s what we like!


Comely Port lovers at d'Art Wines during chocolate weekend

Carmela Hoffman’s Chocolate Chili con Carne

Carmela is winemaker/proprietor Tom Hoffman’s better half, and Mr. Hoffman has described her as the winery’s “element of finesse” — never sitting still, always the lifeblood of the operation.  She also cooks up her own style of Lodi wine country chili — a little thicker and spicier than Lodi chef/restaurateur Mike Metcalf’s Avenue Grill chocolate chili (see, and compare, our previous post, Chocolate chili & truffle wine matches), but just as wine worthy, in its own way.  Her recipe, which serves 4:

4 tbs. olive oil

3-4 garlic cloves

1 lb. ground beef

1 medium zucchini

2 small red potatoes

2 large carrots, peeled and diced

3 stalks celery, washed and diced

1 large yellow onion, chopped

1/2 cup milk

2 tbs. tomato sauce

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/4 cup red wine

14 oz. chopped tomatoes

14 oz. can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

14 oz. can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed

1 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

4 oz. bittersweet chocolate (preferably Ghirardelli 60% cacao)

1 tsp. each, salt & black pepper

  • Heat 2 tbs. oil in pan.  Brown meat. Drain fat and transfer to a bowl and set aside.  Add 2 more tbs. olive oil.  Sauté onions, then add celery, garlic, carrots, potatoes, zucchini, cumin, oregano, cinnamon and pepper flakes.  Cook until carrots and onions have softened.  Return meat to pot.
  • Add milk and turn up heat until all traces of milk have evaporated (this is an Italian method that adds a smoother taste)
  • Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, red wine vinegar and wine, and bring to boil.  Once at boiling point, add chocolate.  Stir well, ensuring chocolate is completely absorbed.  Cover with lid and simmer for 1 hour.
  • Add beans, stir well, and cook for another 5 minutes.
  • Serve with steamed rice, over a baked potato, or on its own with crusty bread.  As an option, top with grated cheese.
  • Enjoy with Lodi’s damned good Zinfandel!


Old vine zins during Lodi's chocolate weekend



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.