Santa Barbara wine maker extraordinaire Doug Margerum, whose long-time reputation for Burgundian sensibilities in his Rhône varietal winemaking, never fails to impress us with his innovative approaches.
So, when Doug invited us to taste his latest creation: Mute-Age, a Grenache-based Vin Doux Natural fortified with barrel-aged brandy and aged on his winey roof for 2 years in 34-liter glass demi-johns, we jumped at the chance. It didn’t hurt that the tasting was held in the Funk Zone, no less than the Hotel Californian’s sublime rooftop Alcazar suite, a corner mirador niche. And the fact that Doug invited Mike Orlando, marine biologist/ analytical chemist turned artisan chocolate maker, who founded Twenty-Four Blackbirds truly sweetened the occasion.
Doug’s idea to pair his new wine with chocolate was brilliant: Orlando’s company, Twenty-Four Blackbirds, makes a superb 75% dark
chocolate bar made from prime Tanzanian cocoa beans sourced from the Kokoa Kamili growing cooperative. This luxurious chocolate has bright flavors and a finish of toasted rice, coffee and cream.
This was the perfect complement to Margerum’s Mute-Age, a silky sweet, fruity and complex elixir. Mute-Age 2018 is a rich garnet color with hints of black. It sings of aroma of baked fruits, dried cranberries with vintage Port and Madeira notes. Bittersweet chocolate, nuts, prunes and earthiness complete this complex bouquet. On the palate we got a solid core of dark rancio flavors with sweet baked figs and plums plus lots of spicy panna cotta fruits surrounded by youthful tannins and sweetness. A triumph and on sale for $48 a bottle.
Mike also brought along his Palos Blancos chocolate from Bolivia to pair with Margerum Amaro, a powerful 23% alcohol digestif of fortified wine (grape neutral spirits) with herbs (sage, thyme, marjoram, parsley, lemon verbena, rosemary, and mint), barks, roots, dried orange peels, and caramelized simple syrup. Aged in cask outdoors. The subtle bitterness of the Amaro danced on our tongues while this robust, earthy, creamy chocolate, made from organic beans made us think brownie. Some very subtle fruit flavors balanced the Amaro nicely.
The whole experience was an unqualified triumph for all concerned and an education in how superior wines can marry with the delightful world of premium chocolates. You can try and buy Margerum Mute-Age and Amaro at Margerum Tasting Room, a most attractive and clubby spot at 19 East Mason Street, the gateway to the Funk Zone. Besides wines galore, a competent kitchen there serves up all sorts of very tasty things to eat including pizzas, cheese sandwiches, pates, and olives. http://www.margerumwines.com. Visit Twenty-Four Blackbirds at 428 East Haley Street, www. twentyfourblackbirds.com. The Hotel Californian’s website is http://www.hotelcalifornian.com.