Where to find the finest, fanciest sugary stuff? It’s clear that making chocolates is best left to experts, since the truly good stuff requires elaborate ingredients starting with international chocolate bases in various sugar concentrations from Callebaut of Belgium, E. Guittard of San Francisco, El Rey of Venezuela and Valrhona of France. Then, there’s pure, all-natural heavy cream from Clover Stornetta, the highest quality cacao, sugar, vanilla and cocoa butter, locally sourced fruits and nuts, and even precious gold leaf for décor.
Here are some Wine Country confectioners who handcraft bonbons sure to delight even the pickiest sweet tooth.
Woodhouse Chocolate, St. Helena
Ravishing chocolates come in the shape of buffalo, alligators, elephants and dark chocolate snails. The flavors are just as inventive in the more traditionally shaped chocolates, like fresh mint, Thai ginger, amaretto almond, praline noisette, peach marzipan and mocha cream. The shop is a family affair, from wife and husband Tracy Wood Anderson and John S. Anderson, plus her daughters Christina Wood Anderson and Caroline Wood Anderson. Be sure to try the hot chocolate mixes, too, made pure, velvety chocolate and spiked with treats like chipotle pepper or caramel cappuccino.
1367 Main St., St Helena, 707-963-8413, woodhousechocolate.com.
Annette’s Chocolates by Brent, Napa
Brent is the chocolate maker, while Annette runs the store, and together, they turn out delectable confections such as assorted truffles in an array of milk and dark flavors like almond, hazelnut, mimosa, Port, winter Cabernet, summer Cabernet, Danish toffee, extra dark, white chocolate, raspberry, milk chocolate, Brandy Gold Rush, cappuccino, Almandi Sabori and tart cherry.
1321 1st St. Napa, 707-252-4228, anettes.com. Also at 610 1st St. (in Oxbow Public Market), Napa.
Gandolf’s Fine Chocolates, Santa Rosa
Owner Guy Daniels makes exquisite candies that are remarkable for their tempered chocolate and ganache daintiness in shapes like tiny horseshoes, flavors like marbled Kahlua, and irresistible truffles such as salted caramel. Custom designs, like logos and monograms are another specialty.
Available online and sold Saturday mornings at the Santa Rosa Farmer’s Market from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., at in the parking lot of 50 Mark West Springs Rd, Santa Rosa, gandolfsfinechocolate.com.
Recherche du Plaisir, Santa Rosa
Chocolatier Lucy Gustafson woos with truffles like the spicy-sexy dark chocolate slicked in ganache and fiery ancho chile dots. Besides this bestseller, she tempts the soul with real, feather light French macarons, dark chocolate hearts stuffed with white chocolate and peppermint, and a melt-in-your-mouth Violet Beauregard, which marries white chocolate and homemade blueberry preserves. Her award-winning Bordeaux walnut us another must, as toasted English walnuts kissed with a hint of Bordeaux the dipped in semi-sweet ganache and a dark chocolate.
3401 Cleveland Avenue, Santa Rosa, 707-843-3551, rdpsweets.com.
Sonoma Chocolatiers, Sebastopol, Glen Ellen & Sonoma
No one else offers such Wine Country variety as chocolatier David Gambill. Signatures include Cabernet, Zinfandel, Champagne, Amaretto and Port. But there is also jasmine green tea with lemon honey, boysenberry-blackberry honey, and periodic specials like garlic, cheddar white truffle, and rosemary goat cheese flavors. To sample, customers can stop by his chocolate tasting rooms at the Jack London Village in Glen Ellen and off the Sonoma Plaza.
Sonoma Chocolatiers, 6988 McKinley Street, Sebastopol, 707-829-1181, sonomachocolatiers.com. Tasting room at 14301 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen, 707 996-1010, plus 414 First Street East, Sonoma.
Tip: Cap off the Valentine’s romance with a ride in a Pure Luxury limo. Ask about optional sparkling wine, flowers and chocolates waiting in the car.