- Associated Press - Thursday, April 7, 2011

Candy is dandy, but chocolate wine really seems to get taste buds in an uproar.

“The reaction has been amazing,” says Don Opici, whose family-run company, Opici Wines, recently introduced Cocoa di Vine.

Never heard of chocolate wine? Chances are you will. More vintners are amping up the decadence decibels with blends of wine infused with chocolate flavorings.

Sold as dessert wines and particularly popular around chocolate-centric holidays such as Valentine’s Day and Easter, the wines fit into a larger trend that has seen Americans embracing their penchant for wines that are fruity and sweet, such as moscato, the sweet and zesty white wine that took off last summer.

“It is absolutely fitting into the sweet-tooth wine trend,” says W.R. Tish, founder of the wine site NYWineSalon.com.

Chocolate wines generally fall into two camps. Some are port-style wines that are dark red and have, if done right, a rich, dark chocolate taste. Examples include Rosenblum Cellars’ Desiree dessert wine. The other style mixes cream into the wine, creating a sort of adult milk shake.

Cocoa di Vine falls into the latter category, though it’s a little different in that it is based on a blend of white wines, including torrontes, moscato and Pedro Ximenez, a sherry grape.

“[Ten years ago], I would have laughed at the idea of a chocolate wine,” Mr. Tish says. But he’s been taking Cocoa di Vine to tasting events, where it’s proved so popular that, “I’m careful not to bring it out until the end.”

At Rosenblum Cellars, the idea of mixing chocolate and wine goes back about a decade, says winemaker John Kane.

The wine is made with port-style wines, along with chocolate flavorings added with an emulsifying agent.

Desiree always does well at Easter and Valentine’s Day, but during the last couple of years there’s been increased interest year-round, with some bartenders using it to make chocolatinis.

“It’s definitely a crowd pleaser,” Mr. Kane says.

In a way, chocolate and wine are natural partners. A lot of wine-lovers say they can pick up notes of chocolate in certain varieties, particularly cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel, says Jerry Burd, winemaker/owner of Black Mesa Winery in Velarde, N.M., which sells a chocolate wine under the name Black Beauty.

“We have a lot of people that say, ‘I don’t even want to taste a chocolate wine.’ And then they walk out with chocolate wine in their bag,” Mr. Burd says. “We work hard to keep it balanced as far as sweetness and wine and chocolate so it doesn’t overcome your palate with any one of those. It’s not like eating a Hershey bar or Tootsie roll or something like that. It’s a nicely flavored, balanced wine.”

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