Loving pairings of wine and chocolate
YET another day for Asian lovers is White Valentine's Day on March 14, when men give women white (or dark) chocolates, marshmallows, white lingerie and other gifts. John Isacs pairs wine and chocolate.
My intense love of wine and chocolate regularly compels me to reflect and comment on their synergistic pairing. The near advent of White Valentine's Day when lovers in China, Japan and South Korea often give gifts of chocolate to show their love and admiration also makes this topic particularly timely.
(White Day, on March 14, and its chocolate-giving customs are most popular in Japan and South Korea, but any day's a good day for chocolate. On the Valentine's Day, women give chocolates to men - friends and coworkers. On White Day, men give presents to special women - white chocolates, marshmallows, cookies, white lingerie; jewelry is always welcome, as is old-fashioned chocolate.)
Let's take a brief look at how chocolate came to be one of the global symbols of love and also how the right Italian wine can make a variety of chocolates even more delicious and romantic. Why Italian wines? Because Italy makes some of the most varied and chocolate-friendly wines of the world and also some of the most romantic.
The theabroma cacao tree that produces cocoa beans that in turn are used to make chocolate has grown in northwestern South America for millions of years. The range of this remarkable tree expanded into Central America over 500,000 years ago. The oldest known civilization in the Americas, the Olmecs, picked cocoa beans and used them for food and drinks.
This precious bean also played an important role in the Mayan and Aztec cultures where it was consumed in solid and liquid form and used as a currency. The Aztec men believed that cocoa and its derivative chocolate foods and drinks bestowed them with greater physical powers in battles as well as potency in sex.
At the end of the 15th century, the earliest Spanish fleets to the New World brought back cocoa beans and chocolate products, but the European had little use for them. It wasn't until the beginning of the 17th century that chocolate drinks first became popular in Spain and surrounding countries.
Unlike the natives of Central American who preferred their chocolate bitter and spicy, the Europeans began to add sugar, honey and other ingredients to sweeten their chocolate drinks. Over the first few centuries, only the elite of Europe could afford chocolate, thereby helping establish its image as a luxury food. Over the next three centuries the production and love of chocolate spread globally and it is now one of mankind's most acclaimed and desired treats.
Chocolate, like wine, has historically been associated with romance and love. Premium quality chocolates with a high percentage (72 percent or higher) of cocoa content tend to have an abundance of phenylethylamine, the same chemical that is released in the brain when people fall in love. High-quality chocolate also contains serotonin that provides a heady sense of well-being and happiness.