Sugar Rush

Scottsdale Culinary Festival: A Pretty "Meh" Showing At The Wine and Chocolate Experience, With A Few Exceptions

"Arizona's Tastiest Fundraiser" entered its second day with a theme we can all get behind: Wine and Chocolate. Vintners and chocolatiers from across the state brought their best efforts to the event -- and in some cases, their best was not all that great.

See also: AZ Distilling Co. Wins Double Gold Medal At San Francisco Spirits Competition

As you might imagine, any event that involves eating chocolate and drinking wine for a good cause (arts education) is bound to be mighty crowded. This was certainly the case at the Chocolate and Wine Experience -- the Musical Instrument Museum was packed full of eager charity drinkers.

We started the evening off right with brittles from NutWhats. We were particularly fond of the Ecuadorean dark chocolate brittle with crystallized lemon. The chocolate's bright acidity was a perfect complement to the crispy lemon.

Less impressive was the Ibarra chocolate pudding and bittersweet truffle by Talking Stick Resort. The chocolate super-duo was gorgeously plated, but was not particularly interesting, cohesive, or technically impressive. The pudding was, to put it gently, confusing. Pockets of gritty, granulated Ibarra chocolate were present throughout each bite. It's unclear whether this was an intentional gesture - but if it was, it just didn't do it for us. The bittersweet chocolate truffle was great on its own, but its hefty, rum-like flavors just didn't mesh with the subtle milk chocolate of the pudding. The Capital Grille's dessert was also a disappointment. Their flourless chocolate espresso torte was lackluster at best. The crust was dry and fairly bland, and the filling had an ashy undertone. Whether this ashiness came from poor-quality espresso or bad chocolate, we're not sure.

Many vendors at the event -- we won't name names -- clearly had no idea where their chocolate came from. In fact, when asked where the cacao was grown, we were repeatedly told "Belgium." This did not inspire our confidence in their product. Zak's Chocolate was a much-welcomed exception to this rule. The company brought three single-origin 70% cacao dark chocolate offerings -- a honey-like bar from Belize, a citrusy one from Madagascar, and a toasty Papua New Guinea with the single most delectable finish we've ever experienced from a dark chocolate. We look forward to tasting more of this in the future.

Xocolatl also brought an impressive display. Their confections were intricately beautiful, each painted with an ornate design. We were partial to the Baklava-style bite, which featured a layer of almond, walnut, and pistachio marzipan, and a second layer of white chocolate infused with lemon zest and local mesquite honey. We found it to be thoughtful, complex, and well-composed.

Delice Bistro's warm European-style drinking chocolate was also a delicious highlight of the event.

The festival's wine vendors also tended to be hit-or-miss. As a result of a serious miscommunication, we tried a "Mocha" flavored dessert wine by Wilhelm Vineyards. We will make it a point not to repeat this experience. Ever.

We were pleased with both of Pillsbury Wine Company's offerings. Each was 100% Arizona grown. The 2011 vintage "Diva," a blend of Syrah, Petit Syrah, and Mourvedre grapes, had a gorgeous body that was at once satisfying and unoffensive. The "Symphony" white was a clear standout; its aroma was deceptively sweet, but its body was dry, complex, and floral.

Other notable wines included a Cabernet - Syrah blend by Bulgariana. This wine had a lighter body than we had expected, and a silky smooth, almost buttery quality. We were also intrigued by Vintner's Circle's Italian Dolcetta. While the Dolcetta was a bit sweet for our tastes (though not unpleasantly so), it tasted exactly like bubble gum -- which was weird, but kinda fun.

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Zaida Dedolph
Contact: Zaida Dedolph