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Champagne and Chocolates: The Nose Knows

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Friday evening Morton's in Burbank hosted a tasting of Piper-Heidsiek champagne and Vosges chocolates. The evening started with generous pourings of Piper Sonoma Brut and hearty appetizers including Smoked Salmon Wedges, Broiled Sea Scallops and Petite Filet Mignon Sandwiches.

The party then moved into the dining room where tables were set with champagne glasses and chocolates along with various fruits and vials of scents for "nosing". Yes, "nosing". French people often use the term for sniffing your wine or champagne, but the term is also used to describe a tasting technique. While tasting the wine or champagne, the taster smells various fruits and essences to bring out the different notes.

We were first treated to a lecture on the making of champagne as well as the story of Vosges chocolates. After being warned there would be a test, we were a little concerned we were in champagne driving school. But the talk was short and educational, and the "test" turned out to be be a very lively Jeopardy-like game that involved a lot of shouting and laughing.

Our first tasting was the Piper Heidsieck Brut. We were instructed to look for the pale gold color, turning our glasses in the light. One man at our table became so entranced admiring the color that he turned his glass too far to the side and spilled champagne all over his arm.

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The champagne is toasty, with flowery and fruity notes. The apple and pear were on the table to bring out these notes. Malic acid in champagne is responsible for giving it the taste of apples and pears, which are also detectable in many other wines.

The Brut was paired with two Vosges chocolates:

Ambrosia Truffle - roasted macadamia nuts, Contreau orange liquer, and white chocolate with 33% cocoa butter

Gianduia Bar - almonds, caramelized hazelnut paste, and deep milk chocolate with 41% cacao

The truffle was extremely creamy and rich, balancing out the acidity of the champagne. Many diners insisted it was the first time they had ever enjoyed white chocolate. The Gianduia mostly impressed us with the bits of caramelized hazelnut paste.

Scents to "nose" with the Brut included vanilla, hazelnut, and the most fun of all, butter. The scents were chosen to bring out the toastiness, elements from the oak casks and the malolactic fermentation.

Our second tasting was Piper Heidsieck Rosé Sauvage. Sauvage means that no dosage of sugar is added, making it extremely dry. The blending is similar to the Brut, with the addition of a red Champagne wine, giving the Rosé its color and fruity taste. Cherries dominate, with citrus and just a hint of cinnamon. It is tart and warm with a touch of spice.

The Vosges chocolates paired with the Rosé were:

Naga Bar - sweet Indian curry, coconut, and deep milk chocolate

Gogi Berry - goji berries, pink Himalayan salt, and deep milk chocolate

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Everyone's minds were blown by the Naga Bar. The curry was so intense, starting with a burn at first taste, then melting into a strong yellow curry flavor, tasting mostly of turmeric. It seemed to bring out the cinnamon notes in the wine. The goji berries were not too distinct, but as you let the chocolate melt on your tongue it slowly faded into the intensity of pure salt, which was both pleasant and startling.

For nosing, the strawberries with the Rosé are a classic pairing. Vials with orange, anise, cinnamon, and other spices accented the flavors in the wine.

I'm not sure "nosing" will catch on, but I kind of wish I had asked to keep the butter vial to use as perfume.