New and noteworthy in drinks: chocolate wine and aged cider

Chocolate meets wine

Wine snobs may cringe, but red wine flavored with chocolate is a rapidly growing trend, especially among Millennial consumers. Expanding shelf space to accommodate the proliferation of new labels demonstrates this new category’s popularity on the retail side; calls for chocolate wine on-premise are sure to follow.

“ChocoVine is selling gang busters at retail,” says Marnie Old, sommelier, author and wine consultant. ChocoVine is a blend of French cabernet sauvignon wine, Dutch dark chocolate and cream. “The prejudice against sweetness in red wine, any wine, is melting away with the new generation,” the sommelier adds.

Chocolate wine appeals to the same consumers who are sipping semi-sweet Moscatos and trendy vodkas flavored with bubble gum, Froot Loops or whipped cream. Indeed, category leader ChocoVine recently introduced ChocoVine Whipped Cream to complement its Original, Espresso and Raspberry versions. Chocolate Shop is another contender; this ruby red wine is blended with dark chocolate with sweet cherry flavors. Chocolate Shop is also available in Strawberry and Crème De Cocoa versions.

Among the profusion of chocolate wine brands are: The Chocolate Cellar, (How Now) Brown Cow, Chocolate Lab, Confectioner’s Chocolate and Cocoa di Vine. These wines would be a perfect tie-in with Valentine’s Day promotions.

Cider is hard to ignore

Hard cider continues to gain momentum.

“Cider grew 23 percent last year,” declared David Flaherty, operations manager and beer and spirits director for Hearth Restaurant and Terroir Wine Bars in New York, while moderating a seminar on cider at Astor Center recently. He likened the artisan cider movement to the early days of the craft beer revolution.

Technomic is even more bullish on cider, citing gains of 31.3 percent in 2011 over 2010, according to its Beer TAB report. That’s impressive since total beer volume in the U.S. was down 1.3 percent in 2011, according to the Chicago-based consultancy. Cider is also out-pacing the burgeoning craft beer segment, which Technomic pegs at 11.2 percent. Of course, hard cider is still just a niche, the smallest segment in the category—for now.

Cider is attracting more notice from big beer. This coming January, Heineken USA will add Strongbow, the second-best selling cider in the U.S. to its portfolio. The company plans to position Strongbow as the leading upscale cider brand, offering both male and female consumers an alternative alcoholic beverage option. Danish brewer Carlsberg Group is now distributing its Somersby Hard Apple Cider in U.S. markets through Crown Imports. On the craft side, former Goose Island brewmaster Greg Hall has set his sights on cider with the launch of Virtue cidery.

The Astor seminar demonstrated cider’s wide range. Sarasola Sagardoa Sidra from the Basque region of Spain is tart and dry, with tar and leather notes amid the apples; it was very much like the sour Belgian gueuze popular now among beer geeks. The English cider Henney’s has the aroma of cherries and apples; it tastes of tannins and spice with a long tea-like finish. From New Hampshire, Farnum Hill’s Extra Dry has a floral bouquet; it tastes very dry and sharp with a tannic finish. The producer grows many of the bittersweet and bittersharp varietals for its line of ciders. The sampling also included Homestead Cider from Aaron Burr Cidery in New York’s Hudson Valley; it has a yeasty-apple aroma, tasting of lemon with a pleasantly funky bottom note. Aaron Burr Cidery also produces Ginger-Apple and Bourbon

Barrel-aged expressions

“With that acidity and tannins, ciders are a good match with food,” said Flaherty. That’s one reason why restaurants like Hearth and Terroir are showcasing more regional craft ciders.

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