The first stop on the CBTB Napa Valley chocolateering tour is the closest one to SF: veteran chocolatier Anette’s Chocolates in downtown Napa. Anette’s flagship store is an attractive space with a long curved display case of chocolates in front of a wooden backdrop that looks like dripped chocolate.
A nook next to the display case is lined with their house-made brittles and chocolate sauces, with some free samples. On the other end of the case is a small rack of chocolate bars and an ice cream/coffee/hot chocolate counter. The ice cream is made in the kitchen behind the ice cream counter.
Finally, the wall across from the case is full of yet more attractively displayed chocolate treats. With so many temptations to look at, it would be almost impossible to walk out without buying something. I wasn’t able to resist the 2 times I’ve visited.
In addition to all the chocolate and other sweets for sale, Anette’s offers Chocolate Flight Tastings, which take about 45 minutes and include a little history about chocolate and Anette’s Chocolates in particular. The Chocolate Flight Tastings are by reservation only, take 45 minutes, and cost $25/person. We did not have time in our road trip schedule, so we bought chocolates instead to try later.
Two locations in Napa
Anette’s Chocolates has a second Napa store in the Oxbow Public Market. This compact space offers a slightly smaller selection, but you can still buy their truffles, bars, brittles, and sauces there.
If you don’t make it to either location, you might still encounter Anette’s Chocolates elsewhere in the Napa Valley. Some vineyards offer chocolate and wine tastings that feature Anette’s Chocolates (e.g., Vermeil Wines has a $35 3-flight pairing), and outside of Napa, Williams Sonoma’s house brand chocolate is made by Anette’s.
Of the Anette’s Chocolates we have tried so far, we found the truffles very satisfying; the single-origin bars delicious and a good, non-disappointing way to sample single origins; and the truffle bars an interesting riff on candy bars.
European style truffles
I was skeptical about Anette’s truffles before trying them because when I hear that someone has been making chocolate for a few decades here, I assume that means American style which skews too sweet for me. Luckily, Anette’s truffles are more European: not too big, not too sweet, with thin shells and smooth ganaches. Their flavor options are classic: fruits, nuts, wines & liqueurs, caramels, nothing unusual. But we found them all delicious, so I can’t fault them for making what pleases most people.
We tried a combination of pieces that looked interesting to us and pieces the staff recommended, mostly dark chocolate. We found them all well made, not too sweet, and very chocolatey. Whatever couverture chocolate they are using is top notch.
The first piece we tried was the cocoa-dusted Chocolate Velvet Truffle, AKA a pavé. Since a pavé is basically just chocolate ganache rolled in cocoa powder, it showcases a chocolatier’s ganache making skills. It also requires quick consumption because without a hard shell, it doesn’t stay fresh very long. Anette’s pavé was a very firm, smooth ganache that filled the mouth with a good chocolatey flavor that lingered. And the light powdering was nicely done. A very competent piece.
We found the rest of the pieces equally well made. Of the wine based truffles we tried, I liked the Gold Rush Truffle with brandy best. It’s an attractive dome splashed with gold leaf on top. It had a thin dark chocolate shell and an immediate hit of brandy that intensified as it melted.
They offer 2 Cabernet truffles, a Summer and a Winter, basically the same piece but one in milk and one in bittersweet chocolate. The Summer Cabernet was interesting with a thick, almost chewy, milk chocolate ganache; and it achieved a nice balance between the wine flavor and the milk chocolate.
I preferred the Winter Cabernet with its stronger wine and chocolate flavors. Instead of a balance between the two flavors, the Cabernet made the bittersweet chocolate more chocolatey, and the chocolate had a little bit of a coconut overtone.
The last wine based truffle we tried, Port, had a layer of jellied wine underneath the chocolate ganache, like a wine pâte de fruit. We thought that was really cool, but the port flavor was so mild, I wouldn’t have known it was port without a label.
The other ganache filled truffles we tried, Tart Cherry and Cappuccino, were great. As with all of Anette’s ganaches, they were very smooth and chocolatey. The Tart Cherry was a dark ganache with a dark shell topped with a whole dried cherry, which gave it a good cherry flavor. The Cappuccino was a pretty milk chocolate piece with a dark chocolate molded coffee bean on top. It had an immediate coffee flavor that lingered afterwards.
Other pieces we tried were cream filled, nut brittles, and caramel/marshmallow. They make everything themselves, and it was all good. The Lemon Zest had a liquid creme center with a taste that merited its name. Very lemony, very zesty!
The other creme piece we tried, the Belmont, was unique: Vanilla cream in chocolate shell rolled in roasted almonds. It was delicious, not too sweet, with a nice vanilla flavor and a good crunch from the almond bits.
Of all the nut pieces we tried, I liked the Danish Toffee Truffle best. Not too hard, instead it had a crisp crunch in a dark exterior/milk interior with pronounced flavors of nuts and cinnamon. The similar Roasted Hazelnut Morsel was also very good: Crunchy, nutty hazelnut brittle in good dark chocolate.
The Peanut Crunch was like a Butterfinger improved by adding big pieces peanuts and replacing the milk chocolate with a good dark chocolate. The Dark Chocolate Peanut Cluster had crunchy sugared peanut bits in good dark chocolate. Even with that extra sugar, it managed to not be too sweet.
The Marshmallow Caramel had a cute chocolate swirl on top and 2 layers inside: a dense caramel and a thin layer of marshmallow. It was a very chewy and buttery piece, and made me wish I had gotten more of their caramels to try.
The weirdest piece we tried was the Coconut Dainty with a dark chocolate shell sprinkled with chocolate and a white filling (creme?) packed with bits of coconut. The weird part was the flavor which while it was very coconutty was also a little marzipan-ish and fruity. It wasn’t bad, just unexpected.
Single origin starter kit
We have also tried Anette’s single origin and truffle bars. The single origin bars are all well made with a very smooth texture, which is not always the case with single origins. They also had distinct flavors and all were tasty, so they would make for a fun single origin sampling party.
The Madagascar 65% was my fav, with a fudgy, light chocolate flavor that lingered. The Peruvian 65% also had a light chocolate flavor that lingered but it tasted fruity, a little coconutty, and ended with a fermented taste. The Ecuadorian 65% was a more savory chocolate with nutty and caramel overtones. Finally, the Hawaiian Milk Chocolate 38% was very milky, a little malted tasting, with some caramel too. It was sweet, but it was a good milk chocolate with an excellent mouth feel.
The Truffle & Caramel Bars are interesting: Like taking ganache or caramel and shaping it into a log, then covering it in chocolate. We liked them all — once we got into them.
We were stumped at first on how to open the wrappers. The bars are wrapped in gold foil with extra long ends tucked in, then surrounded by a wrapper that is an adhesive label that completely seals the foil. For freshness, I assume, but it’s impossible to open without tearing the label, making it hard to refer to the info on it anymore. We ended up cutting off the end of each bar, then pushing them through. (Retain these instructions for future reference when you purchase one of these bars.)
The bars are kinda like Anette’s greatest hits truffles in bar form. The Danish Almond Toffee Truffle Bar is the Danish Toffee truffle, but it looks like a fat Twix bar. The bar has a good almond/cinnamon flavor and good toffee texture, that breaks easily. The only disappointment to me was that this is a milk, not a dark chocolate bar. It’s a good candy bar, but I prefer the dark chocolate truffle version.
The Milk Chocolate Himalayan Salted Caramel Bar was a little less sweet with the salt on top cutting some of the sweet. It was a very chewy, yet soft, caramel that dissolved well. The salt was good until the end when it left a salty aftertaste, which I didn’t enjoy.
The Dark Chocolate Cherry & Cabernet Truffle Bar was sweeter than I expected, but it finished a little bitter. I liked the cherry pieces, they gave the bar some oomph. It reminded me of those old school chocolate covered liqueur filled cherries, only better.
The Dark Chocolate & Cabernet Truffle Bar had a very boozy smell through the wrapper. You can tell it is a Cabernet truffle before you even try it. It has a very fruity chocolate taste, with the Cabernet taste lingering afterwards. (Keep this one in a sealed container until finished so you don’t smell it all day.)
A Napa non-wine tradition
Anette’s is a long-time Napa business, started in the early 1990s. It’s also a family business: The business’s namesake, Anette Madsen Yazidi does sales and marketing, her brother Brett makes the chocolates, and their kids help out in the store. The first time we visited, Brett’s son waited on us and told us about the business.
He told us they make everything themselves, including the baked goods and ice cream. They used to make everything on site, but they moved their candy making operation to a new factory near the airport, so the current store is only 1/4th the space they originally occupied in the same building. But with the factory and second store in the Oxbow Public Market, they actually have expanded their business quite a bit, while reducing their downtown footprint.
When they downsized the downtown location in 2018, they took the chance to remodel, hence the shiny, new, luxurious look of the space. There is also a small seating area out front, so you can enjoy your chocolate/coffee/ice cream while people watching.
Anette’s Chocolates’ 2 locations, downtown Napa and Oxbow Public Market, are open 7 days a week. You can also buy most of their chocolates online, but you cannot choose individual truffles, so road tripping to one of their Napa stores is the best.