A harmonious union of wine and chocolate in Astoria

Pairing wine with chocolate is like trying to fix your best friend up on Valentine’s Day: it’s challenging to get right, and when it fails, everyone is miffed. Yet we keep trying.

A problem with many red wine-dark chocolate combinations is their tannins, like matchmaking, can unite to create bitterness. Substituting a dessert wine can push things too far in the cloyingly sweet direction. When a friend told me about a promising chocolate wine made in Astoria, I decided to check it out.

I questioned that decision when I discovered the wine is made by fermenting whey, a watery byproduct of the cheese-making process. My trepidation was unwarranted. The chocolate experience I had at Shallon Winery was worthy of Roald Dahl.

Thanks to the giant dirigible painted on its side, it is easy to spot the Shallon Winery in downtown Astoria. The winery is located in the historic Wicks-Osburn building, which shares its 1925 birth year with Paul van der Veldt, Shallon’s owner.

The 95-year old Van der Veldt is a one-man show who thrives on interacting with his customers. He has been behind his tasting room bar every day since the winery opened on July 27, 1980. Van der Veldt is approaching 15,000 consecutive days of pouring wines and leading tours. Not even Carmello Anthony has this kind of endurance.

Van der Veldt’s first commercial release was a wild blackberry wine. He made his first chocolate wine in 1991. To be precise, it is four different chocolates suspended in an orange wine made by fermenting whey. The uniqueness of his wines is what attracted Van der Veldt in the first place.

“I’ve never wanted to make what everyone else is making, like pinot noir,” Van der Veldt said.

Whey first caught Van der Veldt’s attention in the 1970s, when Oregon State University researchers were looking for a way to turn it into fruit-flavored wines.

“The only reason they weren’t successful is they didn’t treat the whey properly,” Van der Veldt said. While he is cagey about how he corrected their mistakes, Van der Veldt clearly found the right whey.

Part of Van der Veldt’s success is mastering the suspension of chocolate in the orange whey wine without the use of emulsifiers and what he calls “artificial junk.” Getting the proper suspension, a natural flavor and a smooth mouthfeel is Van der Veldt’s “trade secret.” His chocolate wine contains only natural ingredients and registers a modest 11% alcohol by volume.

One quick sniff from my glass was all it took to transport me back to a Terry’s Chocolate Orange, the English treat that shows up in our household at Christmas time. In addition to the orange and chocolate, I picked up scents of anise and wet cedar.

Flavor-wise, this dark chocolate and blood orange duo are joined by vanilla biscotti. Each rich, creamy sip is like biting into a Pepperidge Farm “Milano” Orange-Chocolate cookie. When fresh…

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