Unfortunately, Valrhona demonstrates either its lack of mastery or unsuitability of style with ultra-percentage chocolate once again. What one might hope would be an improvement on the lackluster Noir Extra Amer turns out, if anything, to be a diminishment, and the resultant chocolate arrives harsh and difficult. Valrhona teases some interest early in this chocolate but squanders it late.
Alex Rast: 14-May-2007
The indication of origin on the box is a pretty good hint of the colour one finds upon unwrapping: forbiddingly dark black. Just why Valrhona is insistent on using African cacao, normally the least amenable bean to very dark interpretations, in its 85%’s is unclear but they seem to be decisive about it. Other than the colour, though, the finish is immaculate, with no bubbling at all and a mirror-smooth finish.
The aroma, however, is anything but immaculate: it is, in fact, suspiciously flat. Very dark notes predominate entirely: coffee and earthy. Some slight suggestions of blackberry and molasses make a brief appearance but otherwise the aroma is depressingly lifeless, and portends badly. However, in an initial relief, the flavour starts out well, with a bright, fruity, currant freshness that is pure archetypal Valrhona. Is all not lost? Hopes are soon dashed as the flavour sinks into coffee, then into flattish peanut, and then into a combination of very bitter ashy and very sour balsamic. It verges on the inedible from 2 directions simultaneously.
Valrhona, as usual, makes no such mistakes on the texture, which is smooth and creamy, although it might be noted in passing that it doesn’t have the effortless melt as its best efforts, surprising especially in an 85% with 50% cocoa butter. But the primary focus of criticism must remain in the taste, whose crash after the hopeful start is devastating. Really, this looks to be a problem of inappropriate bean selection, and the earthy, dark beans that African cacaos produce don’t mix well with Valrhona’s style. Why did they not render this bar with their more fitting origins, like Madagascar or Venezuela? This is the chocolate equivalent of the “”choke”" in sports: Valrhona, brimming with confidence, seems suddenly to collapse under the pressure of the expectations they realise are riding on this bar.