My French friend, Gilbert, arrived with a gift in hand of not one, but eight Bonnat dark chocolate bars! You see, he lives a stone’s-throw from Bonnat Chocolatier’s shop and laboratory. Set among the Douphiné mountains in Voiron France, Bonnat opened shop in 1884 only one year after Rodolphe Lindt invented the conching machine to refine chocolate. In the more than 100 years since then, they’ve been making a prolific range of bars and confections in a classic style and now distribute globally. Gilbert brought me two of Bonnant’s best bars – Chuao and the tighter appellation – Chuao Village.
Is the Chuao Villages bar with its more specific single-origin beans really better than the more diffused Chuao origin?
In my last post on Chuao, among the most read ever, I compared Chuao chocolate bars from five different chocolatiers. Each bar uses cacao beans from Chuao, a village in coastal Venezuela accessible only by boat. What I didn’t explain then was that Bonnat makes two such bars – one from a wider region around Chuao and the other made only from beans harvested from Chuao proper. At least this is the common understanding between chocolate experts.
The true origin of the beans is not perfectly well understood and the Bonnat website only offers this description of the more specific origin and more expensive Chuao Village bar (translated from the French):
“Very homogeneous, this chocolate offers a tasting and olfactory symphony that can only satisfy lovers of delicate sensations.”
I’ll revisit “delicate sensations” at the end of this post; let’s just say they have a point. In the meantime, I organized a double-blind tasting of the two Bonnat bars side by side. I wanted to see if there was much difference between the bars and if, in fact, the more expensive bar prevailed as the superior chocolate. To add to the certainty, or perhaps confusion depending upon the results, I asked my Wife, Genevieve, to also do a blind tasting of the two bars. To keep things fresh, I did not refer back to my previous post, now 5 years old.
MY TASTING NOTES
BONNAT CHUAO VILLAGE “VENEZUELA” 75% DARK CHOCOLATE
OVERALL RATING: 91
AROMA: Light overall. Butter, toast, apricot light floral notes. You will need focus to find this aroma. It won’t jump out at you.
INITIAL IMPRESSIONS: Light and slow to start. Apricot and dried fruits.
MIDDLE TASTE: Butterscotch, crème brûlée, whipped cream. Moves towards nuts and butter.
FINISH: Tropical fruits, cherry, some nuts. Incredibly well balanced and never unpleasant. One of the longest finishes I’ve experienced in any chocolate. It’s as if the bar was made for the finish. A long, delicate, serene and charming ride.
TEXTURE: At first it collapses into brittle crumbles before melting and releasing its flavors.
BONNAT CHUAO “VENEZUELA” 75% DARK CHOCOLATE
OVERALL RATING: 85.
AROMA: Like its sister above, this bar has a very delicate aroma. Floral, honey, almost perfume-like. This is the one area that I scored this bar higher than Chuao Villages due to a more pronounced nose.
INITIAL IMPRESSIONS: Cherry, butter. Slow to develop perhaps due to the thick bar.
MIDDLE TASTE: Butter, roasted meat, honey ham, very ripe banana, cashews.
FINISH: Grapes, wine with some metallic astringency at end mixed with olive oil.
TEXTURE: Very similar to Chuao Village.
GENEVIEVE’S TASTING NOTES (blind tasting)
Chuao Villages: A lot of fruit in this one – like dates and figs. “It’s nice (shrug).”
Chuao: Slow approach. A little more acidic. Coffee. Less perception of sweet. Very slow to start, then sets in suddenly.
In the end, she decidedly preferred the Chuao Villages more for its fruitiness. Consensus!
The color of the bars is very similar with the Chuao bar (L) being slightly more red than the Chuao Village (R). The flaky bits on the bars are due to my handling as I continued to enjoy these over a stretch of days.
When I had tasted Bonnat beside the other five in 2013, it wasn’t my favorite. Awesome, incredible chocolate, but not number one among the greatest of Chuao. But then I like bold, intense flavors and the Bonnat bars are more subtle and subdued.
I might dare say that Bonnat’s style is classically French with some similarity to patterns in the wine industry. New world wine makers, such as those in California, while expressing a range of styles, have done very well with big, sometimes lively reds like Zinfandel and Syrah that are often drunk young. On the other hand, the French, stereotypically prefer to age their wines longer to develop more subtly and elegance. Could it be the same with chocolate – not the aging part, but the elegance and delicacy?
This theory would hold water if it weren’t for other French chocolate makers like Francois Pralus and Valrhona making bolder bars. Is there a classical European style embodied by producers like Bonnat, most Belgian and Swiss chocolatiers as compared to a contemporary style like that of Valrhona and the new world? While I have an unfortunate tendency to look for patterns where there may be none, I have to admit that such geo-cultural generalization in chocolate are dangerous. The good news is that there is something for everyone with each chocolate maker applying their own unique style. If you prefer delicate, subtle and silky chocolate, this is the one for you.
We had fun savoring these chocolates and are feeling pretty smug that we could pick the best of the two of the best ever.
 I was given these bars from a friend who has no connection to Bonnat Chocolatiers.
 I rated the Chuao Villages bar slightly higher at 92 in the previous tasting and called out somewhat different flavors. I don’t feel that this is any contradiction. Cacao is an agricultural product after all and we can expect variations in flavor from year to year not to mention changes in my own perceptions.