Nov./Dec. 2010 California Country magazine
Story by Kate Campbell
Photos by M.J. Wickham
Wine-chocolate sauce makes a holiday splash.
Dalia Ceja, left, and her mother Amelia often team up in the kitchen to create adventurous versions of favorite family dishes. That includes desserts dressed up with Ceja Vineyards Cabernet Chocolate Sauce.
The holidays offer sweet, familiar smells and none is more delectable than the aroma of chocolate. It's enjoyed in everything from cookies to cakes, but for those who love wine, it also can be savored in a special cabernet sauvignon chocolate sauce that complements many desserts.
Chocolate is a traditional Mexican ingredient beloved worldwide, points out Amelia Ceja, who is a founder of Ceja Vineyards in Napa Valley's Carneros winegrape-growing region. A former vineyard worker whose family came to California from Mexico as seasonal agricultural workers, she now helps direct a thriving family farm, vineyard, winery and restaurant business.
She said food historians note the first people known to have made chocolate were the ancient Mayas and Aztecs. They mixed ground cacao seeds with various seasonings to make a spicy, frothy drink, similar to the hot chocolate and cinnamon beverage popular today.
Ceja said each morning her mother-in-law, Mamma Juana, prepares a similar version of this hot chocolate drink before she tends the vineyard's vegetable garden and olive groves.
Warm bread pudding drizzled with the sauce provides a new twist on an old-fashioned favorite.
"Trying to incorporate chocolate into our wines just made sense to us," said Ceja's daughter Dalia. "We worked with well-known Napa chocolatiers Anette and Brent Madsen and came up with our cabernet chocolate sauce.
"We improvise a lot with traditional Mexican dishes—moles, enchiladas, ceviche, posole and tamales—adding our own flavor touches," she said. "But we especially like moles, which, of course, have a chocolate base."
California strawberries are available nearly year-round and dipping them in wine-chocolate sauce is an easy holiday dessert offering.
The Ceja family often enjoys their signature Ceja Vineyards Cabernet Chocolate Sauce at home, she said. And, because the vineyard and winery's founders—Pedro, Amelia, Armando and Martha—come from large families, a typical holiday dinner easily includes 65 people.
That calls for simple, elegant desserts that can be made ahead and dressed up at the last minute, the mother and daughter point out. Drizzles of chocolate sauce over old-fashioned bread pudding, flan, ice cream or fresh fruit easily add a festive touch without too much fuss in the kitchen.
"I don't necessarily prepare Mexican dishes in the traditional way," Amelia Ceja said. "I like to say we're developing a world cuisine in our kitchen that includes flavors from many countries. Creating the wine sauce is just part of our adventure."
The confection is available online (www.cejavineyards.com) and at the Ceja Vineyards tasting room and salon in downtown Napa.
Kate Campbell is a reporter for California Country. She can be reached at 800-698-FARM or email@example.com.