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Beyond the Chocolate Martini: America’s Love for Chocolate Infuses Spirits and Wine

Posted on  | February 2, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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For fans of classic cocktails like the pre-Prohibition Brandy Alexander, with its dose of sweet, dark crème de cacao, and for legions of chocolate martini fans cultivated in the 1990s, chocolate and happy hour go together like Romeo and Juliet. The relationship of chocolate and beverage alcohol is clearly built on a passionate foundation, and now a host of spirits and wine producers are spotlighting the romance between the popular couple, injecting the luxurious taste of chocolate directly into the bottle with unprecedented frequency. Here’s how to enjoy, and sell, these decadent drinks, just in time for Valentine’s Day celebration.

A Kiss From Mother Earth

2 oz. 360 Double Chocolate
1 oz. Agave Nectar
3 oz. Cream
Chocolate Syrup

Drizzle chocolate syrup in glass. Shake remaining
ingredients with ice and strain into glass. Garnish
with Japanese Pocky Sticks.

Vodka Shows Staying Power

Sometimes it seems the martini menu is like a box of chocolates, with myriad variations of “chocotinis,” most of which rely on proprietary chocolate vodka for their flavor, often accented with sweet or cream liqueurs. Although the chocolate martini may be more a seasonal specialty than trendy standard these days, the latest incarnations of chocolate vodka ensure the drink is more than mere novelty, emphasizing sophisticated brands, compound flavors and authenticity of chocolate flavor.

For William Grant & Sons’ Stolichnaya, the newly introduced Chocolat Razberi flavor strikes the right balance between traditional and innovative, according to Jill Palais, senior brand manager. “We’ve been seeing a huge trend in flavored vodka, especially with sweet, indulgent types of flavors, like Swedish Fish, whipped cream and cotton candy doing very well among younger consumer, ages 21-29. We wanted to offer something indulgent, while staying in our premium Stoli style, so a chocolate flavor like Chocolat Razberi is perfect,” says Palais.

According to Palais the compound flavor of fruit and chocolate has proven versatile, capitalizing on the confectionery trend with cocktails like the Chocolat Raz Cake Martini and The Tootsie, which combines with orange juice to eerily mimic the flavor of a Tootsie Roll.

Chocolate Kiss

2 parts Pinnacle Chocolate
1 part White Crème de Menthe
1 part White Crème de Cacao

Shake with ice and strain into chilled martini glass.
Garnish with a chocolate kiss and mint leaf.

Godiva, a powerful brand in the realm of edible chocolate, retains their line of rich and creamy liqueurs, in flavors of Chocolate, Caramel, Mocha and White Chocolate, while adding two new chocolate vodkas to the mix. Godiva Chocolate Infused Vodka and Godiva Chocolate Raspberry Infused Vodka, inspired by the top-selling Godiva Chocolate Raspberry Truffle, are clear, super-premium flavored vodkas, retailing for about $30/750 ml.

With the 80 years of credentials in fine chocolate, the Godiva brand adds value to the flavors and creates a crossover product, with Diageo noting that it appeals to adults who enjoy ultra-premium vodka and quality chocolate.

Alchemia Vodka, from the century-old Polmos Bialystock Distillery in Poland, emphasizes naturally-infused raw ingredients, including single-origin chocolate nibs, in its line of flavored vodkas. The somewhat cryptic name of Czekoladowa does not seem to deter chocolate fans from giving the vodka a taste, according to Jourdan Lawlor, Alchemia brand manager. “It ranks number one in sales among the flavors,” says Lawlor, referring to the vodka’s flavored siblings, Imbirowa (ginger) and Wisniowa (wild cherry). “We sample the product at tastings with displays of cocoa nibs and huge chunks of chocolate that absolutely help to draw people to the table and make a memorable impression,” says Lawlor.

Introduced in 2002, Van Gogh Dutch Chocolate Vodka continues to be a mixologist favorite for its richly layered, roasted chocolate aromas, derived from a double infusion of real chocolate and Columbian coffee beans, nicely balancing sweet signature cocktails with its sophisticated hint of bitterness. Van Gogh extended its choco-line in 2011 with a “Rich Dark” iteration, inflected with notes of coffee and nutmeg.

Three Olives is another flavored-vodka specialist to join the chocolate crowd. The flavor is a natural for the “Three-O” brand, which emphasizes vodka’s fun, mixable personality and has 17 flavors in its portfolio.

Of course, one of the classic handicaps for edible chocolate is its rap as fattening. Voli—producer of low-calorie fruit and fusion flavored vodkas—is in position to cater to the weight-watching crowd with its Raspberry Cocoa flavor, which checks in at 60 proof.


You Got Your Chocolate in My Wine

And it tastes great… if the wave of chocolate-infused wines is any indication. The current spectrum of chocolate and wine blends casts a broad net, ranging from those that align with creamy liqueurs, to off-dry reds, and some that include a more subtle touch of chocolate, complementing a traditional red wine.

Choco-Lat Cherry Bliss

1 part Choco-Lat
1 part Amaretto Almond Liqueur
1 part Milk
½ part Grenadine syrup

Garnish with whipped cream and a cherry.

Hal Landvoigt, winemaker for Washington state–based Precept Wine, uses natural chocolate flavors to craft several red wine and chocolate blends, including Chocolate Shop, a blend of vinifera wine and chocolate that has become the number-one tasting room seller, even outpacing Precept’s many conventional wines. Chocolate Shop and The Chocolate Cellar are also targeted to tap into the burgeoning “sweet red” wine category, with 7% and 8% residual sugar respectively, while Red Decadence offers a drier 5%. “The products we have had the biggest success with, Chocolate Shop and Chocolate Cellar, are really designed to be chocolate flavor forward. Red Decadence and some of the other wines exhibit more of an interplay between the red wine and chocolate flavors. The goal is to create a balanced wine that carries the chocolate flavoring without masking or competing with it,” says Landvoigt.

According to Sarah Cline, Chocolate Shop brand manager, most chocolate wine fans purchase off-premise, with the brand excelling in Kroger and Safeway supermarkets throughout the West as well as Cost Plus World Market, Total Wine & More, Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market and Bashas’ Grocery. “These chains have seen great success during the ‘chocolate holidays’—Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween and Christmas. Our outstanding chocolate sales in our tasting room tells us that Chocolate Shop will be an outstanding offering on-premise as well,” says Cline, noting that restaurants and wine bars offer fertile ground for chocolate wines.

Last Valentine’s Day, Maverick Wine Group introduced Truffle Merlot, a “grown-up version of chocolate wine—a true red wine, with chocolate on the finish,” according to Rhoda Bruner business development manager for Maverick Wine Group. As a varietal wine with some residual sugar, Truffle Merlot is poised to compete with blockbuster red blends with a touch of residual sugar, and the forthcoming line extensions—Truffle Chiffon Chardonnay and Truffle Pink Moscato—seem to reassert that strategy.

With about 10,000 case sales for 2011, Bruner believes that number will grow exponentially, with market expansion now at 32 states and representatives equipped to assist with POS and tastings that include Brix chocolate, designed specifically to pair with wine. “We are finding that once we get the wine in the consumer’s mouth, we have repeat buyers,” says Bruner.

Creamy Concoctions

The other side of chocolate wine departs more dramatically from table wine, utilizing wine more as the alcohol base for creating a creamy chocolate drink, a style with its own legions of and impressive growth. Wine Spectator recently reported that ChocoVine, blended in Holland by Team Products, a division of DeKuyper, shipped 450,000 cases in 2010 and is on track to become a million-case brand in 2011.

Introduced in December 2010, Cocoa di Vine is distinguished by its aromatic white wine base using Torrontés, Pedro Ximénez and Moscato grapes imported from Argentina, as opposed to red wine. “We worked with a creamery to put it together and we tried different many samples before settling on this. The color looked a lot better than the red, and the wine was fresher tasting, more like a Yoo-hoo,” says Don Opici, fourth-generation partner in the family-owned Opici Wines.

Exceeding 20,000 case sales in 2011, Cocoa di Vine is a newer entrant with a great deal of interest and impressive growth opportunity according to Opici. With about 90% of sales off-premise, Opici notes that sales appear to be somewhat seasonal approaching their first year in the market, peaking in February and slowing in the summer. Opici’s confidence in the category is so strong that they recently added two new variations of Cocoa di Vine: Chocolate Cherry and Espresso. “Everybody loves chocolate. It does not seem like the category is going away, but rather gaining momentum,” says Opici.

Milky Mint
2 oz. Adult Chocolate Milk
¼ oz. Crème de Menthe
1 oz. Whipped Vodka
Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup

Muddle Hershey’s Kisses (or Andes Mints), mint leaves and
Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup. Add drink ingredients, shake,
strain and pour into a chilled, Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup-
lined martini glass. Top with whipped vodka.

New Hybrids

While chocolate is no newcomer to the liqueur category (crème de cacao is back bar staple under a variety of labels), much of the current chocolate action involves vodka and wine, and recent launches suggest the experimentation is not done yet.

Adult Chocolate Milk, created by two old high-school friends reunited on Facebook, invites drinkers to “relive your youth at 40 proof,” capitalizing on nostalgic flavor and fun retro packaging. “It seems to go back to a time in life when things were simple and responsibilities were not such a big deal,” says Nikki Halbur, co-creator and partner in Adult Beverage Company. Adult Chocolate Milk—dairy-based, with chocolate and vodka—is being distributed in 40 states in partnership with W.J. Deutsch & Sons Ltd., and is popular chilled from the fridge, like real chocolate milk, and in candy-inspired cocktails.

In an unlikely union, Bottega Gianduia Liqueur, imported by Palm Bay, is made by infusing Alexander Grappa with Gianduia hazelnut chocolate. With its Italian pedigree, this creamy 34 proof liqueur makes it a perfect topping for gelato, although sipping on the rocks is natural as well.

If chocolate works with grappa, then it should not be no great a shock to see it also work with tequila. Brand new for the first quarter of 2012, Patrón XO Cafe Dark Cocoa combines chocolate with high-quality Patrón Silver tequila and a touch of coffee in a 60 proof liqueur. “When we looked at how we could build on what makes Patrón XO Cafe so special, chocolate was such a natural fit,” says Ed Brown, president and CEO of Patrón Spirits International. The taste is not as sweet as many other coffee liqueurs, with a smooth yet dry finish.

Perhaps a sign that old is set to become new again: cordial specialist DeKuyper has just launched three new liqueurs under its JDK&Sons Crave label—Chocolate Mint, Chocolate Cherry and Chocolate Chili. And the chocolate wine category appears set to expand as E&J Gallo is test-marketing its $11 ChocolatRouge in two variations (Cream and Red) in eight states.

No matter how you like your chocolate—in dessert, on the side, or as a liquid indulgence—it’s a flavor trend that shows staying power and seasonal opportunities.

Chocolate…On the Side

Not all wine-friendly chocolate needs to be inside the bottle. Artisan chocolate company Brix Chocolate (www.brixchocolate.com) formulates chocolates meant to pair with specific wines. Founded in 2008, Brix was created by Dr. Nick Proia, a pulmonologist and wine enthusiast, with the goal of introducing a healthier alternative to the classic wine-and-cheese pairing. The four Brix offerings—Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate, Extra Dark Chocolate and Smooth Dark Chocolate—are single-origin chocolate from Ghana that highlight red fruit flavors that won’t overwhelm wine. Each is designed to pair with a specific wine type (Smooth Dark is built for sparkling wines and sweet wines, as well as medium-bodied reds, for example). An eight-ounce bar has a retail price of $9.99-$12.99.

Whipping Up a New Flavor Trend

With soccer moms talking in terms of cacao percentages and Wine Spectator sampling chocolate-infused wines, chocolate has migrated to the sophisticated mainstream, creating an opening for more casual confectionary flavors in beverage alcohol. Leading that movement is whipped cream, a flavor that has quickly leaped to the front of the pack of White Rock Distilleries’ Pinnacle Vodka portfolio. Pinnacle Whipped (35% ABV, $14.99 retail) topped 750,000 cases when final sales for 2011 were tallied, making it the best-selling flavored vodka in the U.S.


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