Imagine, if you will, the taste of dutch chocolate and fine red wine – only blended together into a brownish gray fluid and packaged in a bottle calling itself “ChocoVine”. Can your imagination handle that?. Try again – close your eyes, imagine that crisp alcoholic taste of a fine red wine, then imagine blending that with a couple chocolate bars. Could you do? I couldn’t. So it was with mouth literally agape that I stood facing the aisle-wide display for Europa ChocoVine at Trader Joe’s the day before Christmas.
I really feel like this is an amazing find, if only because it’s one of those products that makes you question your sanity and the sanity of all mankind. It’s the classic case of “A is good, and B is good, so naturally if we just smash them up into each other they’ll be great!” Occasionally this works, occasionally it doesn’t, but just looking at ChocoVine the deck is stacked against it. Using the “judging a book by it’s cover” approach which, contrary to the advice of Levar Burton, I generally find pretty effective ChocoVine does not have a lot going for it.
For one, I have a hard time telling people the name of the product without feeling stupid. It’s the sort of name that feels like it was brainstormed during a marketing meeting between an unimaginative person and a lazy person. “Wait a minute – it’s chocolate and wine? Why not ‘ChocoVine’! That clumsy, obvious portmanteau does a great job conveying our core principals of elegance and decadence, right?” I don’t know, maybe it’s just the stripped down efficacy of the Dutch.
The name is not the first thing you’re going to notice about ChocoVine, however. The first thing you’re going to notice is the bottle. Behind the stock photograph of tulips and windmills is 750ml of fluid that looks, to put it generously, like ditch water. This is a bold move. I feel like normally, in the R&D process, someone is supposed to bring this up, maybe suggest that it’s going to be hard to sell a drink that looks like it was scooped out of a wet pothole. Europa went to market with it anyway – that shows some confidence.
So if you can get past appearances, what can you expect? What, to return to our thought experiment, does red wine blended with chocolate taste like? The answer, surprisingly, is a mudslide. That’s not to say the two taste identical, but they’re shockingly close. This is due in part to the large amounts of chocolate that have gone into the drink, but also thanks to a large amount of cream or, as the website puts it, “the finest Dutch cream”, that goes in as well. There’s almost nothing of the wine taste left in this drink by the time Europa has finished with it. Take a sip and you’ll be hit with a sharp bite, then swept up in a very sweet, very chocolaty liqueur taste, which finally fades into a subtle, almost imperceptible wine tail. It’s enough to make you wonder why Europa is so big on billing how fine the wine is that they’re using. They would be just as well off if they we’re using some of Trader Joe’s two buck chuck. That said, there’s nothing untasty about this drink. It’s sweet enough and chocolaty enough that you’ll be able to finish your glass.
If you’re looking for a substitute for a creamy, sweet, mildly alcoholic drink this would be a great stand in for your Kahalua or Baileys – as long as you don’t mind the somewhat dismal look. Just don’t confuse it for a wine.
*The Nutrition Facts below are based on website data only. There is no nutrition information posted on the bottle so, you know, be a little dubious.
Would I Recommend It: A good gift for lovers of sweet liqueurs.
Would I Buy It Again: No thanks, I prefer mixing my own drinks.
Final Synopsis: Perfect if you like mudslides, pointless if you like wine.
Every now and then I feel compelled to review a product at Trader Joe’s that isn’t on the actual Trader Joe’s brand. I’ve done it once or twice before, and only if I’m sufficiently intrigued by the weird nature of the product. When I saw ACE Hard Pumpkin Cider in the store the the other day, I simply couldn’t contain my curiosity. I’ve heard of apple ciders before, obviously, and even pear ciders. But pumpkin? That’s just crazy enough to get you on this blog.
A good hard cider isn’t an easy thing to come by in the states. They have a rather more robust history in the old UK and across the continent, but never took off in a big way in America – this despite a strong start in the nation’s infancy. In fact, for a non-trivial portion of America’s history hard cider was drunk like water, literally. In the colonial era, the notion of practical sanitation was a far off dream. As a result of water-borne illnesses, the populous quickly started looking for alternatives to keep them healthy, hydrated and maybe get them a little drunk to boot. The common solution was hard apple cider, which became the most common beverage to drink with meals.
As time went on, of course, public sanitation came into vogue. Water lost its stigma of being unhealthy, and beer rose to the position of most patriotic beverage. Nevertheless, the way was paved for pumpkin cider which, despite my high hopes, is not actually squeezed out of pumpkins in a giant pumpkin press, but made by adding natural flavorings to ordinary hard cider.
How does it taste? Well, a bit like pumpkin, really. The apple juice that makes up the base of this cider is still the primary and unmistakable component of the drink, but ACE doesn’t skimp on the natural pumpkin flavoring either. Crack open the bottle and you’ll get not only a bouquet of pumpkin up your nose right off the bat, but a rich blend of spices that embodies all of late fall. I’ll admit that one of the reasons I bought this drink was because, standing there on the supermarket floor, I couldn’t really conceptualize what pumpkin smelled like and I hungered for the experience. (The other reason, of course, was to give me an excuse to get drunk). The pumpkin you find in this bottle is similar to the pumpkin you find in a good pumpkin pie, not overly sweet but a more basic, essential pumpkin mixed with allspice, cinnamon and cloves. If you can drink this and not be transported back to a childhood memory of crunching leaves underfoot then you are probably dead inside (or grew up in a tropical -to-semi-tropical climate, one of the two).
Speaking of deadening yourself, the cider packs a reasonably strong punch – 5% alcohol by volume. That puts it toe to toe with most beers on the market. The over-sized 22 oz bottle, on the other hand, ensure that once you open this thing up you won’t be going out for the evening.
I’m going to stay out of the cider vs. beer controversy on the grounds that it is stupid. Cider and beer can and should exist happily side by side, although if we’re keeping score ACE’s pumpkin cider is gluten-free and has lower calorie than beers with the same alcohol content.
I haven’t had a hard cider that I’ve ever really liked before, everything I’ve ever tried has seemed too sweet or too cheap, but I liked this cider and I’d go back to it again. That said, pumpkin cider is ultimately a seasonal drink and a novelty. It’s never going to replace beer, or even a hypothetical, good, hard apple cider, but it could absolutely find a place on the counter next to the egg nog.
Would I Recommend It: If you’re into novel seasonal drinks, absolutely.
Would I Buy It Again: Sure, next fall.
Final Synopsis: A quality cider, with or without the pumpkin gimmick.