I’ve found loads of amazing independent cafes over the years. One of our family’s favourite ever is in our home city of Cologne. It’s called Hernando Cortez and not only do they serve warming hot chocolate and great coffee, but they also have a great selection of wonderful cakes. Best of all, it also happens to be one of the most perfect and wonderful chocolate shops we’ve ever come across. What makes it so special? The main reason is the cafe’s owner Marco Mühlberg. He doesn’t just sell chocolate, he genuinely knows every supplier whose chocolate he sells. He knows where the beans come from. He understands how the addition of different ingredients affects the taste of the chocolate. Most importantly, he appreciates the love that the producers have put into their products and he does an amazing job at sharing this knowledge with his customers.
Wine Lounge – Fun and Educational
Once a month, Marco hosts the Wine Lounge. On a Friday evening once a month he combines his love of chocolate with some amazing wines. He painstakingly matches the flavours of three wine and chocolate combinations to create a magical evening in his fantastic little cafe. My wife and I usually go with a group of friends from all sorts of different countries. Our record is 9 different nationalities. After our wine and chocolate we always finish the evening eating peanut tofu at our favourite Balinese restaurant Warung Bayu, which I have written about before. As an expat in Germany who is trying desperately to improve my German I also find Marco’s explanations of each combination extremely educational as well. It’s like a double bonus. Not only do I get to drink wine and eat chocolate but I am learning something at the same time. Normally, Marco starts his wine lounge evenings with a white wine and a milk chocolate. Things then get darker and stronger in flavour from there. Occasionally, we have even finished up with a glass of port and the darkest chocolate you can imagine. As well as introducing you to Hernando Cortez Schokoladen, Marco’s wine lounge also gives me a great opportunity to introduce you to some amazing independent suppliers of wine and chocolate. So join me on an educational trip through our recent evening and learn the stories From Real People changing lives every day.
The Wine and Chocolate Combinations
The 1st Combination – Wild Berries and Brioche
I know I said that Marco normally starts with a White Wine and lighter chocolate, but this month he decided to mix things up a little. So this time around we started with a light, fruity red wine and an amazing milk chocolate.
The Wine – 2012 Bronzone Morellino di Scansano by Marchesi Mazzei
The red wine in the first combination came from Tuscany in Italy. We had a wonderful 2012 Bronzone Morellino di Scansano from the Belguardo winery, which is owned by the Mazzei family. The wine is made with Sangiovese grapes and it had a fantastic aroma of wild berries and cherries that matched perfectly with the chocolate. The wine was really smooth and silky with the berry flavour coming through perfectly. The grapes for the wine in this combination were picked by hand from 12th September 2012. It was aged then aged for 14 months in small French Oak casks before being made with love and care by the local community. Many of the staff at the winery have had generations of their family working with the Mazzei’s.
The Mazzei Family – A Wine Heritage
The Mazzei family are a key part of the wine heritage of Tuscany. Lapo Mazzei who lived from 1350-1412 is considered the father of the Chianti name. But it is perhaps Philip Mazzei (1730 – 1816) who best represents the family’s wine making heritage. He was remembered for being a passionate grape-grower, a liberal thinker and a true citizen of the world. He planted the first European vines in Virginia in the USA and was a proponent of American libertarian ideals both in Virginia and Europe. The family have made wine for more than six hundred years and the passion has passed from one generation to another throughout that time. The current chairman of the company is Lapo Mazzei who has been involved at the heart of the family business since he was a student studying Agriculture in Florence. Other key members of the family and their local community have ensured the continued development of the business and success of the winery.
A Winery at the Heart of the Community
The family place their local community at the heart of the everything they do and this has been the case for centuries. At their original winery in Fonterutoli, as well as the Belguardo and Zisola Estates where they have expanded more recently, there is a philosophy that aims to promote local vine varieties as an expression of the identity of the region. They are also keen supporters of sustainable agriculture and are work tirelessly to maintain the delicate balance of their local environment. Their goal is to prevent soil erosion and maximize water reserves in the region. They are very mindful of the need to hand their land intact to the generations that follow. You can find out more about the family’s story and their wines on their website (here).
The Chocolate – Plantation Mangaro Chocolate by Michel Cluizel
The chocolate in Marco’s first combination also came from another family business with a great story. The Cluizel family have now been making chocolate for 3 generations. The Plantation Mangaro chocolate is a wonderful milk chocolate with 50% cocoa. Named after the Mangaro cocoa plantation in Madagascar, it has strong notes of caramel that matched perfectly with the light berry notes of the wine. It has a strong aroma of buttermilk and yogurt whilst also evoking the smell of warm brioche. It really was a fantastic chocolate – a great choice from Marco.
The Family’s Journey – Marc and the Early Days
The Cluizel family journey in chocolate making started with Marc Cluizel who was a baker’s son from Lyon. He started out in the 1920s as an apprentice patissier where he discovered the art of working with chocolate. After falling in love with Marcelle, who ran a sweet shop. From 1934 the couple ran their own patisserie, chocolate shop and delicatessen. Thirteen years later, Marc and Marcelle sold their business and moved to Paris, but the financial situation made it difficult for them to achieve their dream. Marcelle then inherited her family house in Damville, Normandy. From here they started making chocolates to sell in Paris in 1948. Despite many challenges, their hard work enabled them to expand their business and by 1964, the firm had 50 employees.
The Story of Marc’s Son Michel – Passion from an Early Age
In 1949, Marc and Marcelle’s son Michel realised his passion for the family business. At the age of 16 he became his parents’ apprentice and the 2 generations of the family built the business together. In 1971, Michel persuaded his father to move the family business to a purpose built factory outside the town centre of Damville. The factory still sits on this site at their heart of their local community and now includes a museum that enables the family to share their passion with the public. The museum opened in 2002 with the goal of introducing the public to the culture of chocolate and share some of the secrets of the chocolate maker. As the business grew they began to realise their dream of supplying Paris with chocolate. In 1987, Michel set up a showcase shop for the business in rue St Honoré in Paris.
Marc and his Sisters Sylvie and Catherine – The 3rd Generation
From the mid 1980s, Michel’s son Marc began working closely with his father. The two had a shared love for the quality ingredients and recipes that combined tradition and innovation. Marc was the one who developed the company’s export market. He set up an American subsidiary and also opened a 2nd showcase shop on 5th Avenue, New York. Marc’s sister Catherine runs the very prestigious Paris shop and designs new ways of presenting the chocolates, while Sylvie runs the company accounts and finances.
Strong Values at the Heart of Every Chocolate
Marc also developed on the company’s strong values turning it into “Manufacture Cluizel”. The “Manufacture”, like that of the Gobelins tapestries, is the image of their professional know-how. It works directly and sustainably with the cocoa planters through a commitment to fair-trade and a guarantee of quality. Today, all of the company’s work is still done in the family’s home town of Damville. From the slow roasting of the beans to the intricate decoration on the finished products, every step in the process is still done by the community where their chocolate was first conceived all those years ago.
You can find out more about the family and their amazing chocolate on their website here or if you are in the US they also have a specific website here. If you aren’t able to visit their shops in New York or Paris, you can always stop by Hernando Cortez and ask Marco for his recommendations. Otherwise you can also buy from Marco’s online store here.
2nd Combination – Red Wine and Sweet and Sour Raspberries
For the 2nd combination, Marco followed his traditional format of continually darker chocolate and more full-bodied wines to go with them.
The Wine – 2012 Barbera d’Asti la Tota by Marchesi Alfieri
The second red was another from 2012. This time we had a Barbera d’Asti la Tota from the Alfieri family. Their winery is located in the San Martino Alfieri castle in the hills between Asti and Alba in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. The wine is made from Barbera grapes that are harvested in the second half of September. After fermentation, it’s then aged for 1 year before bottling. It really is an amazing dark ruby red colour with purple highlights glinting in the lights of Marco’s chocolate shop. The intense aroma had notes of ripe plum and light vanilla which comes from the oak barrels in which they are aged. Not that I’m a fancy wine snob but it really was lovely to taste with a hint of spice, a little bit of vanilla and a smack of red fruit.
Another Historic Family Business
One of the things I’m really passionate about is good traditional family businesses. Promoting good family businesses and telling some of the stories behind them was the main reason I started this blog in the first place. With that in mind, the Alfieri family are another great example of such a family enterprise at the heart of its community. The San Martino Alfieri castle and it’s estate have always been linked with the concept of family and the local community. In the Middle Ages, the castle belonged to the Solaro family, a Guelphic family of merchants and bankers. The castle has been owned by the Alfieri family since 1616 and they have cultivated the land and the vineyards in the area all that time.
Recent History of the Alfieri Winery
In 1982 Marquis Casimiro San Martino di San Germano, Alfieri’s cousin, took ownership of the estate. Today, his three daughters, Emanuela, Antonella and Giovanna run the Marchesi Alfieri estate. Their head winemaker since 1999 is Mario Olivero. It’s rumoured that George Clooney is a huge fan of the Alfieri’s wine and has visited their restaurant. If it’s good enough for George Clooney then that works for me, especially when their Tota red wine can be bought for around 15 Euros a bottle. It’s not cheap but great for a nice evening with friends. You can read more about the Alfieri winery on their website. It’s nice to be able to buy wine from a family business (albeit quite a posh one) that has a philosophy of sustainability and commitment to their local community.
The Chocolate – Himbeer (Raspberry) by Xocolat
For the 2nd combination we had a much darker chocolate from the chocolatier Xocolat from Vienna, Austria. It’s name was Himbeer, which means Raspberry in English and this summed up the flavour of the chocolate perfectly. It was a dark chocolate with 50% cocoa that was an amazing mix of chocolate, sweetness from the raspberry and a sour flavour from small pieces of flavoured crisps.
Xocolat – From the Heart of Vienna
The chocolate company Xocolat is an amazing partnership of chocolatiers and chefs that hails from the Austrian city of Vienna. Thomas Scheiblhofer is the chief chocolatier who is passionate about combining subtle flavours to create some amazing chocolate.
Thomas runs the company with Werner Meisinger, Ramona Mahr and the famous Austrian chef Christian Petz. Together they create some amazing chocolate that many consider to be some of the best in the world.
Marco sells a wide range of the company’s chocolate at Hernando Cortez and in their online shop. You can also read more about the Xocolat chocolate making business on their website here. Sadly it’s only German but if you get really stuck with the German, I find the Pons text translator one of the most useful.
Final Combination – White Wine and Dark Chocolate?
For the final combination, Marco really chose to mix things up. We’ve been coming to his Wine Lounge evening for a few years now and we had never had a white wine to finish the evening so this really was something new. For the final wine and chocolate mix, Marco had provided an 80% dark chocolate with an Austrian white wine. Individually, the flavours were lovely but together they really were something else. This is something that Marco is really fantastic at doing in his wine lounge evenings. He manages to pair together wine and chocolate that really bring out the best in each other.
The Wine – 2015 Gewürztraminer Auslese by Julius Klein
The final wine was a new white from 2015 that came from a small Austrian family winery. The wine uses the Gerwurztraminer grape, which is commonly used to make white wine is cooler climates. This grape variety is high in natural sugar and the wines that it produces are slightly off-dry with a flamboyant bouquet of lychees. Apparently this makes it go very well with asian foods as it balances perfectly with the spices. It’s also the reason why it went well with the chocolate that Marco had selected.
Julius Klein – Making Wine Since 1788 and Still a Family Enterprise
The Julius Klein winery has it’s home in the village of Pernersdorf, which is 70 km north of Vienna near the border with the Czech Republic. The family first started making wine in 1788 and the winery has passed from generation to generation over the last 2 centuries. The photo on the left is of Julius II and II that was taken in 1931 and shows the family traditions at the heart of their wine business.
Nowadays the winery is still very much a family affair with Julius Senior (as he is now known) running the winery with his wife Erika and their young son Julius Junior. Together their motto is “Our wine is a reflection of the landscape and our caring hands, which exert to it!”.
Julius Senior is very much the earthy traditionalist of the family, whilst Erika brings creativity to both the wine making and the business in general. Their son Julius Junior is the visionionary, exploring new possibilities and striving to ensure the long term future for their great wine.
The Chocolate – Grand Cru Number 1 from Original Beans
Interestingly the chocolate in this final combination was a very unusual choice to go with a white wine, but in reality they paired together perfectly. It was the Grand Cru Number 1 from the Dutch chocolate maker Original Beans. It’s a very special chocolate with 80% cocoa made with beans from South America and Africa. One of the amazing things about Original Beans chocolate is their commitment to conservation, sustainability and community (which is something that is at the heart of the philosophy of this blog as well). Their motto is “One Bean : One Tree” and for every bar they sell, Original Beans enables the farmers where they source their products to plant a new tree. Every bar of chocolate they produce has a code on it. You can enter this into their website and see exactly where the new tree has been planted. How truly awesome it that! This chocolate had really dense flavours of wild berries and coffee as well as aromas of walnut and black truffle. The high sugar content of the Julius Klein wine balanced perfectly with it – another amazing pairing.
The Original Beans Tea, and Their Story
The chocolate company Original Beans was founded in 2008 by Philipp Kauffmann. He is a passionate conservationist for whom sustainability is at the heart of everything the company does. The name Original Beans refers to the fact that they source their beans from unique parts of the world. They seek out wild beans with extraordinary flavours that reflect their distinct environmental conditions and the locations in which they grow. They have rediscovered and replanted long-forgotten beans, like the ultra-rare Piura Porcelana in Peru and the historic Kerafat in Papua, Indonesia. Their Bean Team works tirelessly to combine their two passions of chocolate making and conservation. Their One Bar : One Tree program seeks to protect their habitat where their beans are grown. It also helps to empower the farmers and their families, whilst ensuring that the heritage of the cocoa trees remain for future generations. To date, the program has planted and preserved over 1,000,000 trees around the world.
Climate Positive – Right Down to the Packaging
The philosophy of conservation runs right through the company. From their continuous reforestation efforts, a production process that runs on nearly 100 percent renewable energy to a small logistics footprint, the whole process is actually climate positive. They even use 100% bio-compostable packaging. This means that we get to eat amazing chocolate and at the same time we offset the environmental impact of this consumption. How often can we say that!
FAIRWILD® and Committed to Community Farmers
The Original Beans Beni Wild Cocoa is the world’s first Fairwild certified cocao. The term is a now a legally registered trademark that denotes products that been collected from the wild and it guarantees that they are legally and sustainably sourced. The company are truly committed to the local communities from where they source their products. They develop long-term partnerships with indigenous communities and small farmer cooperatives. Their conservation leaders are out on the ground to ensure they go far beyond the well known Fairtrade standards. This means that they pay much more for the raw materials but it means you can buy their chocolate knowing that you are truly supporting communities all over the world and making a real difference to their lives. I could write forever about the fantastic work that Original Beans but you can read lots more on their website. You can also buy their chocolate online at their webshop. If you are in Cologne you can obviously buy it from Marco’s shop and get his personal recommendations.
Buying From Real People and Change Lives
All our friends love Hernando Cortez and Marco’s Wine Lounge evenings in particular. I’m so thankful that it has given me the chance to learn about lots of different family businesses that are run by real people and not for the benefit of faceless shareholders. While it’s not always possible to support independent businesses in every aspect of our lives, when buying treats like wine and chocolate I am so thankful that Marco has helped to open my eyes to all these new possibilities. Hopefully by reading the stories in this post, you will be encouraged to do the same and support companies that really sit at the heart of their communities. Seek out independent shops like Hernando Cortez and treat yourself to something special from a great independent business. They change people’s lives and so can you!