Vintage chocolate is a fairly new concept, but derives from the same basic premise accepted by wine makers and drinkers: that not only do different harvests of raw materials (grapes for wine, or cacao beans for chocolate) create end products with contrasting taste profiles but, in some cases, these products get better with age. With its three types of Estate Grown chocolate bars, Valrhona is attempting to encourage people and retailers to purchase, store, taste, and compare chocolates of different origins and harvests at various levels of maturity.
The problem with vintage chocolate as a new concept, however, is that it’s a mighty big ask for chocolate lovers to store chocolate nearby without gobbling it up (have you ever tried to keep something you enjoy eating or drinking in your house without succumbing to its charms? I rest my case), and retailers don’t seem to be able to keep older vintages in stock without people buying them the year they come out.
Perhaps Valrhona should keep certain quantities of its chocolates locked away for several years before releasing it for sale? I think vintage chocolate is an interesting idea, but all I’ve been able to do so far is find each variety (Palmira, Apamakia, and Gran Couva) in the 2008 vintage, and not from different years and harvests. Nevertheless, I undertook comparing this one vintage year with a certain element of excitement and gusto. (I also ate a pound of baby zucchini afterwards which, probably unsurprisingly, didn’t really make my stomach feel much better.)
The three Estate Grown chocolates are all 64%, yet the differences in their levels of sweetness and flavour profiles is significant. The Palmira, made from cacao from Venezuela, has an incredibly strong honey flavour tempered with notes of cherry, almond, and the occasional burst of tanginess that reminds me of yogurt and orange sherbert (though without the fizz). Towards the end, the nut and honey notes call to mind toblerone bars. What with the dominance of honey, this is a very sweet bar, and while it has a rich melt, there is also a slight powderiness to the texture.
Gran Couva 2008
The Gran Couva is made from cacao from Trinidad, and is by far my favourite of the three. The aroma is of nuts, honey, and cream, and the initial taste is toffee – the home-made kind found in pattycake cases that used to be ubiquitous at primary school fetes, back when we were allowed to have sweets at school. In other words, Gran Couva has a very light sweetness, for while I commonly detect brown sugar and molasses notes in dark chocolate, this is one of the rare cases where I think of caster sugar. It is also, in fact, the first time that fairy floss has appeared in my tasting notes. It’s not particularly woodsy or earthy but it isn’t fruity either, which I’m pleased about. The flavour is like white bread with honey, sugared almonds, and a perfectly ripe pear. It’s a chocolate with a delicate and floral sweetness, and has nothing too assertive or domineering to turn anyone away.
The Apamakia, from Madagascar, is a little too subtle in flavour for my tastes. The first note in the aroma is butter, followed by vague sweetness. Lighter in colour and complexity than the other two, the Apamakia is also the fruitiest, and has a distinct citrus tanginess that grows stronger with each nibble. Interestingly, by the end the citrus notes have morphed into lemon curd, and the butter from the aroma has become melted butter in the taste. For those who enjoy citrus, raspberry, and tangy flavours in their chocolate, this is for you. For my part, I’ll be sticking with the Gran Couva.