A chocolate of apparent discordance that requires much personal time to fully appreciate, Vanuatu presents “interesting” smoky notes that are actually not entirely unique to its origin. Is this a common trait among the Pralus line, or is it a flavor inimitable to the geographic region?
Alex Rast: 12-May-2006
“”Oddball”" would be a good description of this chocolate. If you want something to challenge and confound, this is the chocolate for you – one that just doesn’t taste like any other you will have had. Fortunately, in this case strange is good – or at least not bad – a passable effort that as long as you can get beyond the bizarre delivery, is actually quite enjoyable. It’s a bit like experimental theatre – you might like it or you might just feel completely befuddled. Not, however, a chocolate for beginners – this one is aimed, like experimental theatre, at refined, highbrow audiences who are perhaps jaded by the usual.
Vanuatu is among Pralus’ darker varietals – something that becomes clear in a side-by-side display. It leans decidedly towards the purple, but Pralus’ good finish and handling keep it looking sleek and elegant. A few mould imperfections are apparent on the reverse, nothing major, though, and there’s no immediate sign of severe problems.
Aroma is typical for Pralus – very dark and smoky. Licorice dominates along with leather and tobacco, sort of a “”tan”" aroma that is at once elegant and rustic. One thinks of the salt-of-the earth farmer or rancher – a man of many years and much wisdom, too practical to be concerned with frippery or excessive refinement, comfortable enough with who he is not to feel it necessary to make any bold or aggressive statements. The flavour on the other hand is like a young punk kid eager to make the most outrageous statement possible. A very brief strawberry flash immediately defies the aroma, and then the Pralus smokiness comes in, bringing with it a rich molasses. This study in contrasts is already extreme enough, but then a really off-the-wall flavour of pumpkin arrives for the finish, as if to say “”no, you can’t understand me!”" Slight bitterness throughout contributes an edgy note that again seems to countermand the expectations of the aroma and by the time you’re done you wonder what hit you. Is this chocolate or something completely new?
In texture, the bar can’t really offer anything genuinely bizarre – it’s quite good, really, although superb snap does seem to go against a slightly waxy mouthfeel. But with flavour and aroma seemingly at odds, one is left to wonder what to make of this chocolate. Good or just strange? A straight component analysis, however, suggests good. Nothing here is actually unpleasant, even if there is a feeling of stumbling upon a father-son argument. It’s the kind of argument you can give a wry smile to and understand is part of the natural process of life. Sons will argue with fathers. And chocolatiers will present us with new flavours that go against our preconceptions. It is up to us to be sufficiently tolerant to embrace the novelty rather than reflexively condemning it.
Hans-Peter Rot: 10-May-2006
As usual for Pralus, the bar is masterfully tempered and molded, shining brilliantly despite the annoying backdrop of bright yellow tissue paper, which somewhat conflicts with the muddy brown/pumpkin hue of the chocolate. And the aroma is definitely staggering, perhaps a bit of a wake-up call to the senses, portending of a flavor that could be anticipated with dread, excitement, or perverse curiosity. ItĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s heavily smoky and dark, suggesting smoked turkey due to subtle meatiness underneath, but cowering as low notes are light fruits that try to escape the smoky cloud. ItĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s as if the main course and dessert are both presented in one bar.
Despite the aromatic introduction, the flavor is still startling as smoke and leather immediately saturate the tongue, which is a sensation that evokes images reminiscent to leather boots stomping out smoldering campfires amidst the Southwestern plains. But like the smothered fire, this flavor dies down as the fruitier elements shine through more clearly, thereby bringing a sense of normalcy to this Twilight Zone chocolate. However, making this transition isnĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t smooth because the smokiness never completely vanishes. Rather, it settles into the background and lingers constantly like a fine cigar, which is an impression that could either be a bewildering anomaly to some or a welcome reprieve for others. ItĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s your call. Texturally, expect no surprises or anything short of smooth since this is the manner in which the chocolate melts, albeit rather quickly.
It seems Pralus prefers smoky and leathery chocolate, bars that shock and bewilder rather than comfort and coddle. A liberal in the extreme, the chocolate is definitely for adventurous palates who feel consummate with any flavor, or in other words, the average Zotter fan. Because smoke and leather are often the results of improper drying methods, Pralus has created a bizarre topiary of flavors beyond the conventions of fermenting and roasting. Therefore, and in accordance with E.B. Tylor, this chocolate could be interpreted as occupying the proverbial Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“liminalĂ˘â‚¬Âť state; being neither here nor there, the chocolate borders the perceptions of acceptability and utter intolerableness, with a mitigating fruitiness to bring some sense of familiarity to an otherwise alienating chocolate. Weird indeed.