Shari Fitzpatrick, who began to popularize chocolate-dipped strawberries with her Shari's Berries 18 years ago, now is hoping for the same success with grapes, but with a twist. The grapes have been pressed and fermented into wine, then bottled, and it's the bottles being dipped in chocolate.
Fitzpatrick, who lives in Somerset, El Dorado County, has teamed up with Perry Creek Winery in nearby Fair Play to produce her first wine, Shari's 2005 Sierra Foothills Grand Reserve Zinfandel. Without the chocolate draped from the shoulders of the bottle, the wine sells for $32. With the chocolate, it's $42. The wine is zinfandel, but the bottles are dipped in milk, dark or white chocolate.
If you're going to have wine with chocolate, I long have felt, make it Port. Table wines just don't do it for me. Nonetheless, over the weekend we tried a sample bottle of Shari's Grand Reserve Zinfandel, this one wrapped with milk chocolate. We finished the fine sweet chocolate long before we finished the wine, which just had been released and appeared to be suffering "bottle shock," a temporary tightening of its components. With time, it bloomed into a rich and fat interpretation of foothill zinfandel, its ripe fruitiness running to blackberries sweetened with a dash of vanilla from the oak barrels in which it was aged. Be forewarned that the wine's alcohol content is 16.8 percent, which just about qualifies it to be Port. As fine as both chocolate and zinfandel were, however, I still feel that Port would be the better companion, given its typically more robust structure and deeper complexity.
The chocolate-dipped bottles, incidentally, are wrapped with cellophane. They also come with a red ribbon zipper to be tugged down the side of the bottle to release the chocolate. It was a bit of a struggle to get it going, but once we did the chocolate folded off into neat halves.
Fitzpatrick initially is releasing 100 cases of the wine, with another 100 cases to follow in December. It's at her four Shari's Berries stores in the Sacramento area as well as on her Berry Factory Web site.