Pairing wine and chocolate is like trying to treat your best friend on Valentine’s Day – it’s hard to do right, and when that fails, everyone gets upset. Yet we keep trying.
One problem with many red wine-dark chocolate combinations is that their tannins, like matchmaking, can coalesce to create bitterness. Substituting a dessert wine can take things too far in the direction of sweetness. When a friend told me about a promising chocolate wine made in Astoria, I decided to check it out.
I questioned this decision when I discovered that wine was made by fermenting whey, an aqueous by-product of the cheese-making process. My concern was unwarranted. The chocolate experience I had at Shallon Winery was worthy of Roald dahl.
Thanks to the giant airship painted on the side, it’s easy to spot the Shallon Cave in downtown Astoria. The winery is located in the historic Wicks-Osburn building, which shares its year of birth 1925 with Paul van der Veldt, the owner of Shallon.
Van der Veldt, 95, is a one-man show who enjoys interacting with his customers. He has been behind the bar in his tasting room every day since the cellar opened on July 27, 1980. Van der Veldt is approaching 15,000 consecutive days of wine tasting and guided tours. Not even Carmello Anthony has that kind of endurance.
Van der Veldt’s first commercial release was a blackberry wine. He made his first chocolate wine in 1991. To be precise, these are four different chocolates suspended in an orange wine resulting from the fermentation of whey. The uniqueness of its wines is what attracted Van der Veldt in the first place.
“I never wanted to do what everyone else does, like pinot noir,” said Van der Veldt.
Whey first caught Van der Veldt’s attention in the 1970s, when researchers at Oregon State University were looking for a way to turn it into fruit-flavored wines.
“The only reason they weren’t successful is because they didn’t process the whey properly,” Van der Veldt said. Although he is wary of how he corrected their mistakes, Van der Veldt has clearly found the right whey.
Part of Van der Veldt’s success is mastering the suspension of chocolate in orange whey wine without using emulsifiers and what he calls “man-made waste”. Getting the right suspension, natural flavor and smooth mouthfeel is Van der Veldt’s “trade secret”. Its chocolate wine contains only natural ingredients and registers a modest 11% alcohol by volume.
A quick sniff of my glass was enough to bring me back to a Terry’s Chocolate Orange, the English treat that appears in our house over Christmas. In addition to orange and chocolate, I picked up scents of anise and wet cedar.
On the flavor side, this duo of dark chocolate and blood orange is joined by vanilla biscotti. Each rich, creamy sip is like biting into a Pepperidge Farm “Milano” Chocolate Orange Cookie. When the fresh strawberries come back, I will soak them in this elixir.
Even if this particular wine doesn’t sound like your cup of cocoa, I still recommend a visit to the winery.
First of all, there is the equipment. Juxtaposed against the antiquity of a wine press bought from an Italian-American family in Portland is a thoroughly modern $ 40,000 juicer.
To the left of the centrifuge is a trio of fiberglass / epoxy tanks that were once part of Seaside’s main water system. Van der Veldt’s jury assembled the recovered pipes to contain their wines.
“First I had to peel off the external concrete coatings,” said Van der Veldt.
Surrounding the eclectic mix of winemaking equipment is a decor reflecting Van der Veldt’s passions for local history, art and music. The airship reappears as seen through painted windows on an interior wall. It was the day in 1932 that a 7-year-old Van der Veldt watched the USS Akron float above the Columbia River while visiting Astoria. A large harp sits against the opposite wall to remind Van der Veldt that taking lessons remains on his bucket list.
During the tour, Van der Veldt regaled me with stories from the Lewis & Clark Expedition, Fort Astoria, the medicinal properties of the winery’s namesake Gaultheria shallon berry, Buddhism and more. Van der Veldt, with his dry wit and dignified charm, is an Oregon treasure. Go visit him.
Shallon Winery Chocolate Orange Wine, 375 ml. bottle: $ 34. The winemaker would like everyone to know that it’s “about the same price per net ounce as your best chocolate truffles”.
1 pm-5pm, daily, 1598 Duane Street, Astoria, shallon.com or 503-325-5978.