By Benjamin Skipper
Ghirardelli's 86% Midnight Reverie is a chocolate I've been long in getting to. Time to throw out another worthy competitor to the likes of Lindt and Green & Black's, no? (Though, I do believe Ghirardelli is owned by Lindt.) I've been especially intrigued in this since some of my friends have been enjoying this particular one, and I always have an incredible curiosity for whatever good sweets my friends are eating. Say you're eating chocolate and you'll know what question I have.
The packaging is very fitting for a dark chocolate bar: black as midnight, just as advertised. The front is very simple with its nightly colors, rigid text, and portrait of chocolate pieces. I feel somewhat prejudiced towards liking Ghirardelli's bird mascot, for birds are my favorite animals, eagles being one of them. On the back is a silver contrast that reminds me of the stars at night, and the space is filled with flavor descriptions, tasting notes, and an extremely basic overview of the chocolate making process, the last being oversimplified and perhaps not worth including. I like informational reading with my chocolate; can't learn enough about it. The tasting notes promise a crisp snap and a taste of roasted flavors with hints of the red fruits cherries and plums. We'll see.
My own sensation is that the dominant attribute is that of a sort of roasty smokiness. Vanilla plays a subtle role, but is strong enough to surely stand out on its own. Red fruit seems to be too specific an identification, but there is a tart attribute reminiscent of tart fruit in general, which cherries and plums could certainly be a part of, but not be the first members to come to mind. Most of the experience is subsumed by the smoke and roast attributes, especially emphasized in the aftertaste inherent on the breath, and the fruitiness becomes most noticeable on the backmost sides of the tongue. The aftertaste on the breath might linger, but in the mouth the memory easily departs.
Each bite has a slightly viscous melt. It does indeed deliver on the crisp snap, and the melt comes at a moderately decent pace, transforming somewhere between a thin goo and a cacao butter. Ah, it can easily coat your entire mouth. Be sure to let it.
Appearance-wise the bar mimics the packaging quite well. It's black as midnight in its flesh, but given the right lighting source the dull shine makes it look as if the moon were glowing on it, beckoning to the back of the box. Each square is mathematically precise in its shape and textured symbol of the Ghirardelli medallion (I always love those signatures), and the back, while of the same tone as the front, has a odd sort of blobby and spotty shine. Inwardly the gradient is almost absolutely smooth, explaining the even melt.
More fruit makes itself apparent in the aroma, though oddly ones that don't really make an appearance in the bar. I am impressed dominantly with cocoa and raisins, and more generally with that of dried acidic fruit. Berries? Whatever the case, the raisins stick to the scent and delegate the flavor roles to other fruits.
A very important question to ask at this point is: How does it stack up to its competitors? So far I've reviewed Lindt's 90% (I'm skipping the 85% review), Green & Black's 85%, Chocolove's 77%, and Endangered Species' 88%. Most importantly, the flavors showcased in this variety, in order of increasing intensity, are tart fruits, vanilla, roastiness, and smoke. Few, if any, of the others contains this array of attributes, making Ghirardelli a unique contribution. Lindt and G&B's emphasizes sugary cocoa and a deliciously strong and boozy vanilla note; Lindt is the economical choice, but I favor G&B's for its density and heavenly mouthfeel. Endangered Species' very strongly emphasizes the bitterness of the cocoa and has no noticeable vanilla hit, which I don't like since I'd rather just go for a 100% cacao baking bar if I wanted bitterness. Chocolove is just too mild to give much of an impression of anything, so I wouldn't even consider it.
Quality-wise, I'd say this comes down to a choice between Ghirardelli, Lindt, and G&B's. Ghirardelli has the roast, smoke, and fruit whereas Lindt and G&B's has the intense vanilla and sugary cocoa. Between Lindt and G&B's, G&B's has an incredibly greater mouthfeel. My choice would be to have both the Ghirardelli and Green & Black's bar, as in one mood I could go for fruit and smoke and in another for vanilla drinks and a velvety mouthfeel. The world can be made grander with more choices.
In the end, I regret holding off on reviewing this variety; its merit has been too neglected. It has a thin, buttery mouthfeel; a complex orchestra between strong savory impressions and quietly sweet supporters, and a smell that harks back to childhood boxes of raisins. Certainly it's worth the eat.