Amano have been building an enviable reputation over the last few years and there can be little doubt that it is well deserved. The previous batch of their Madagascar I tasted was, at the time, the best of their range and offered a blend of the region’s typical vibrant, often quite acidic citrus characters and some more unusual notes for the region. If one thing can be said of Amano it is that they seem to have largely succeeded in building on the early batches of their bars, consistently improving overall quality and refining their chocolate; if this trend continues, the latest batch of their Madagascan should be remarkable.
The finish inspires confidence; the light colour often associated with the origin is on full display, with a very fine temper and a clean, high pitched snap. This might be the best looking bar I have had from Amano. The surface offers a good shine with few blemishes aside from the odd tiny bubble and some swirling that can be expected where there is no addition of soy lecithin.
On the nose there is an immediate and strikingly balanced complexity in the form of refined high notes of raspberry/strawberry and lime on a bed of fresh tobacco leaves, subtle mint, tarragon and other fresh herbs. With time and upon snapping some deeper notes of blueberry, plumb and a light woodiness also begin to show themselves. This is a carefully handled and beautifully weighted aromatic profile with little of the prominent vanilla sometimes found in Amano’s work.
Taken onto the palette there is a fresh, creamy softness at first, the strawberry sits at the fore surrounded by a mix of herbs/tobacco that flirts with becoming mildly floral and heathery for just a moment, before a wave of citrus begins to take centre stage. There is acidity now to be sure but it remains delicate enough to avoid dominating proceedings; lime, hints of sweet tangerine mixed with fresh cream, a sprig of mint, strawberry and subtle touches of sweet balsamic find a near enough perfect union in the mid palette. The finish is quite light and fresh with restrained tannins, hints of cedar, an unexpected touch of pecan and faint echoes of fruit.
The mouth-feel is as good as I have come across with Amano. The flavour delivery is clearly excellent, taking advantage of a medium paced melt that while it is perhaps just a little grainier than some, is only a shade away from the very best.
Amano seem to have produced the definitive benchmark for a Madagascan bar then; the real genius of this take on the origin, aside from the undoubted quality of the beans, being in the handling of the sheer intensity this origin can so often display. I personally adore the raw, bracing and deeply intense Madagascans offered by some other producers but there can little doubt that they are frequently a little unrefined and can be anything but subtle. What Amano have done here is to retain much of the citrus and a perfectly weighted level of acidity but twinned that with a contrasting, balanced softness that succeeds in showing a high degree of complexity in both aroma and flavour. Quite an achievement indeed, and a masterpiece of chocolate making.