Red wine and chocolate.
A delectable duo, no doubt.
But how about a tangy taste of the grape mixed in with the bite-size dessert?
Now that’s truly wine and chocolate.
And it’s a specialty of Whidbey Island’s upcoming annual wine, spirits and chocolate tour when vineyards team up with chocolatiers to create some scrumptious tantalizing treats — and tastings.
“We’re known for our large truffles, very large,” said Greg Martinez, winemaker and owner of Holmes Harbor Cellars in Greenbank. “This year, it will be raspberry ganache with our Syrah. My sister-in-law comes out from California just to make them. “
Scheduled 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Feb. 10-11 and 17-18, four wineries and one distillery offer tastings and chocolates as part of the event sponsored by Whidbey Island Vintners & Distillers Association.
Some pop open a new line of wine for the event.
Businesses must make all their wine, liqueur and spirits on Whidbey to qualify for the event. The $25 advance ticket includes a souvenir glass and tastings at five locations.
The ticket can be used over multiple days or both weekends.
“We actually encourage people coming from out of town to take the weekend and stay and enjoy the island,” said Virginia Bloom, who along with husband Ken, owns Blooms Winery and helps organize the tour.
“If you have five places to visit, it can be a lot of wine to take in for one afternoon,” she said. “The hope is they’ll stay the night.”
In addition to Holmes Harbor Cellars and Blooms, the Valentine’s seasonal event includes Comforts of Whidbey Winery, Spoiled Dog and Whidbey Island Distillery, all located in South Whidbey.
So why are chocolate and wine such a divine duo?
“The tannins in the red wine offset the bitters in the dark chocolate,” Martinez explained. “Milk chocolate just doesn’t work.”
Some wineries pair with local chocolate wizards year-round to have sweets on hand.
Spoiled Dog Winery often features Cj & Y Decadent Desserts made in a shared commercial kitchen in Langley.
“We make little chocolate heart cups for the wine tour,” said Yvonne Hurt who owns the business with sister Cj Field. “We infuse their wine into our chocolates. And it’s really fabulous if we do say so ourselves.”
The sisters’ famous chocolate cake with no flour, no gluten and all flavor also might have a wee taste of the vine.
Sweet Mona’s of Langley mixes up the potent spirits of Whidbey Island Distillery with dark chocolate to create what’s been dubbed Manhattan Truffles.
“It’s a different blend every year and it’s a hit every year,” said Mike Huffman, general manager of Whidbey Island Distillery that makes rye whiskey and four liqueurs. Best known for its Loganberry liqueur, its Blackberry liqueur turned heads when it received a 98 rating by the Beverage Testing Institute.
Open year round, the tiny distillery gives tours daily. Just beyond its tasting bar is a back room where a science experiment appears to have gone awry.
Actually it’s gone rye. As in whiskey made from rye.
The pride of this distillery is its Bunker Rye Whiskey, a combination of rye and barley grain tasting like a single malt Scotch.
When owners Bev and Steve Heising discovered that a conventional huge copper still wouldn’t fit in its renovated bunker building, Steve put his aerospace engineering skills to use.
“So, yes, he’s a real rocket scientist,” Huffman jokes on the tour. “He built a continuous drip still that runs 340 days a year and it’s a really efficient and clean distillery process.”
Similar to a tankless hot water heater that fires up on demand, the system doesn’t consume loads of electricity when it’s essentially turning water and sugar into spirits.
Drip by drip, 5-gallon bottles slowly fill over about three days.
The distillery ultimately bottles about 10,000 bottles of four different liqueurs and 3,000 bottles of whiskey annually.
“It’s really simple but effective and it takes advantage of the beautiful well water we have on the property,” Huffman enthused. “We’re very pristine about our process.”
With many spirited flavors on hand, Huffman likes to craft small cocktails. Tasting rooms can now mix cocktails because of a recent change in state law.
For this seasonal tour that touts Valentine’s Day, he takes a twist on the classic Old Fashioned Cocktail and serves up an Old Fashioned Love Song with a heart-shaped orange peel garnish.
Adding spirits is just one of a few changes occurring over the eight years since the February tour started. It began as a one weekend event, then expanded to two weekends to accommodate the crowds.
More than 550 tickets were sold for the 2017 tour.
“It gets hard to move in here there’s so many people,” Virginia Bloom remarked of Bloom’s small tasting room at Bayview Corner.
Including her new neighbor is this year’s surprise, she said.
That would be Whidbey Dougnuts that opened Oct. 30.
So don’t be surprised if there’s a dark chocolate cake doughnut hole covered in caramel, sugar glaze and sea salt served with your Syrah on this year’s red wine, spirits, chocolate (and doughnut hole) tour.