The Wine and Chocolate of… Indiana? You Bet!
Indiana might not cross your mind first when you think of wine or fine chocolate, but the state is making a mark in both arenas. Country Heritage Winery & Vineyard in LaOtto, Indiana has developed a partnership with DeBrand Fine Chocolates based in Fort Wayne, and they recently gave me a chance to sample some of their delicious wine and chocolate pairings.
Country Heritage, which now has three locations in Indiana, runs the largest vineyard in the state with 101 acres. Obviously, not all varietals grow well in a climate with harsh winters. They grow 22, such as Minnesota hybrids like Marquette and Brianna, which are cold-hardy grapes, and have more than 50 total wines on their list from dry reds and whites to rosés and dessert wines. They also produce whole fruit wines including blackberry and cranberry flavors.
The Brianna in particular is an uncommon varietal that many people haven’t heard about, but it’s one that Country Heritage has used to make a name for itself. The sweet white wine produced with this grape is also called Brianna, and the vineyard has won awards for it, including Wine of the Year in 2022 at the Indiana State Fair. The Brianna is also their most popular, so they devote 30 of their acres to that varietal. They enjoyed another honor when Country Heritage was featured in the PBS television series Wine First – the first time the series included vineyards in the U.S.
The winery was started 12 years ago by Indiana natives Jennifer and Jeremy Lutter, who started out running a blueberry farm. People laughed at them when they decided to open a winery in tiny LaOtto, but it has certainly worked out well for them. At first, they produced just over 3,000 gallons, but now, they produce 75,000 gallons annually. Fridays and Saturdays, they serve food using a wood-fired oven imported from Italy and have live concerts in a large outdoor amphitheater. On many Saturday nights, they host as many as 3,000 people. Soon, they will open a distillery on the grounds.
When pairing wines with chocolates, Country Heritage Director of Marketing Ashlee Baumgartner recommends first trying the wine. Then, clear your palate with water, and try the chocolate alone. Then, try one right after the other to see how each changes when the ingredients are combined. “A good combination should always enhance them both,” she emphasizes.
I have done wine and chocolate tastings before, but I was quite stunned by how different both the wines and chocolates tasted in these particular pairings. DeBrand’s Dark Chocolate Truffle with Country Heritage’s Marquette red tempered the intensity of both, smoothing out their effects on my palate. We also paired a Salted Café Caramel with the Marquette, which was a surprising but satisfying combo.
The Caramel Truffle was delicious with the Brianna dessert wine, but my favorite of all of them was the combination of the Brianna and the milk chocolate Jasmine ganache infused with jasmine tea, which tempered the sweetness of both. The flavors were delectable together, and as Ashlee pointed out, brought out notes of apple and apricot.
“My rule of thumb is always drink what you like,” Ashlee says, “but I love surprising people with a combination they wouldn’t expect. My friends are a little tired of me making them try random combinations, but they always smile in the end.”
DeBrand’s chocolates were some of the best I have had anywhere, and that’s saying something, as I have tried artisan chocolates all over the world. The women-owned company, founded by Cathy Brand Beere, hand-paints all of its chocolates. It has many interesting flavors and textures I haven’t seen elsewhere. These include the Rose Carmella, which is a caramel with rose water in milk and dark chocolate varieties. The Gourmet PBJ contains berry and cherry juices with milk chocolate and peanut butter. The Strawberry Rhubarb Caramel has strawberry pieces in the dark chocolate, while the Key Lime Pecan is a white chocolate truffle with pecans.
Some particularly exotic ones in its Connoisseur Collection include Brazil, which contains sweetened Brazil nuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, orange peel, and a rose petal in dark chocolate. The Cassia is a Vietnamese cassia cinnamon ganache with sweet pear in milk chocolate. The Aztec chocolate puts a spin on the Mexican chocolate trend with crushed pecan brittle for texture along with both cayenne and chili powder. The Rosemary Citrus features grapefruit, orange, lemon, rosemary, and sea salt in dark chocolate, and the Raspberry Balsamic has balsamic vinegar, sweet basil, and raspberries in white chocolate.
DeBrand also makes beautiful chocolate art boxes, dessert toppings, chocolate pennies and race cars, and cookies. My favorite product of theirs is their Custom Chocolate Thoughts Bars, which allow you to put your own design on the labeling.
It was a treat to taste what both of these companies have to offer, and I definitely want more.
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