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When Chocolate Meets Wine

Girl Scout cookies, take two, as Hank Zona pairs the chocolate cookies with his favorite wines

As Girl Scout cookies are delivered and booth sales are found around town, Hank Zona tells us how to pair chocolate cookies with wine. Hank loves a challenge; send him your favorite foods and he'll help you pair them wine wine.

"Las cosas claras y el chocolate espeso" is a Spanish proverb that translates to "Clear things and thick chocolate," or "Let's get things clear." It's a good beginning to a tasting session dedicated to chocolate Girl Scout cookies and a variety of wines. 

We move into the highly anticipated Tagalongs/Samoas/Thin Mints portion of the program. Why do I say highly anticipated? Because last year, Tagalongs accounted for 13% of all Girl Scout cookie sales, Samoas a little under 20% and Thin Mints, the reigning champ and fan favorite, accounting for one out of every four boxes of Girl Scout cookies sold.

Tagalongs are a cookie with a layer of peanut butter then covered in chocolate. First up, a Bracchetto got a thumbs up all around. Next was the sherry. I suspected the sherry would work, again, with an underlying nuttiness and the sweetness to cut through the cookie. Also, the peanut butter adds a decent amount of saltiness on the tongue, and nothing pairs better with salty, creamy blue cheeses, but sweet wines, especially anything port or port-like. And, as suspected, the oloroso sherry was a fine complement.

I did just mention port. If you’re looking for a wine to go with things chocolate, the experts (and me) say you should look no further than a Banyuls. Banyuls is an area in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, in the Pyrenees, bordering with Spain, and the wine that bears the name is, for all intents and purposes, a baby port made from the Grenache grape.

Banyuls is harvested late, so that the grapes are ripe with sugar, which converts to a higher alcohol level. Then in what is known as mutage, a neutral spirit is added to the wine to stop the fermentation in its tracks so that the sugar does not completely convert to alcohol. Then, in a process known as maderization, the wine is stored in casks (or in green glass bottles) and left outside to oxidize to get color and character. Banyuls is typically aged for eight years in oak before being bottled. And for all this labor intensity, you can get a good bottle for around $15.

Next up were the Samoas, vanilla cookies with a caramel, toasted coconut and chocolate striping mash-up of a topping. They are incredibly sweet, which isn’t a complaint in general, but definitely a wine pairing challenge. The best dance partner that came out that night for the Samoas was the sherry, baby.

The final cookie in the chocolate troika was the Thin Mint. All the wines opened so far were relatively sweet or off-dry, but I took a stab at a "regular" wine to try with the Thin Mints. Some California cabernets have definite mint/eucalyptus undertones, especially outside of Napa, it seems. So I chose a cabernet from up north, made in the shadows of the Sierra Nevadas. It’s from aooler climate, not quite as jammy and baked, a little less alcoholThe wine had that herbaceousness on the nose, and even at first sip, but the mint was way too overwhelming and the cookie too sweet.

The wine wasn’t blown away on the first taste, but rather, on the aftertaste, or finish of the cookie, the mint and sweetness lingering too long afterwards. The sherry came into the line-up as an excellent substitute, but it was the Banyuls that was the leading scorer and had the longer linger on the finish to not get lost in the mint aftertaste.

Someone once said, "giving chocolate to others is an intimate form of communication, a sharing of deep, dark secrets". At this point, having shared plenty of communication with the readership and cookie lovers out there, I move onto the next wine pairing challenge.

What is it? You tell me, by writing in with your wine questions and dilemmas. With the spring holiday meals ahead of us, send me what you’re eating and I’ll tell you what I’m drinking.

Cheers!

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