Wine and Chocolate

With Easter approaching my mind thinks of chocolate. And when I think of chocolate I think of enjoying it with a glass of red wine, one of my favourite combinations.

Wine and chocolate have a lot of similarities; they’re both considered aphrodisiacs and they both contain flavanols (antioxidants). Despite these striking similarities, it’s important to note that all wine and all chocolate don’t pair well together as the levels of flavanols may end up clashing against each other on your tongue.

Pairing food and wine is subjective and there is often disagreement as to which wine pairs well with chocolate.  Some things to consider are:

  • The type of chocolate, whether it is white chocolate, milk chocolate or dark chocolate.  White chocolate and milk chocolate are often easier to match than dark chocolate.

  • Whether the food pairing is a hot or cold dish.  Cold dishes are often more wine-friendly.

  • Any other ingredients that are on the plate.  

  • Generally, the more full-bodied the red wine is, the higher percentage of cacao (the darker the chocolate) you can pair it with.

For the best tasting experience, begin with a small sip of wine. After a few seconds, take a bite of the chocolate, allowing it to melt and warm up on the palate. Then, take another larger sip of wine and enjoy.

Although I enjoy pairing full-bodied red wines with chocolate, many people do not.  It is a matter of personal preference. For some the wine needs to be sweeter than the dessert.  These individuals will find that lighter dessert wines such as Sauternes, Riesling and Moscato work best with lighter chocolate desserts, and richer ones such as Tokaji and fortified wines with darker, denser ones.

Here are some suggestions when pairing chocolate and wine:

To keep things simple, start with a wine that is slightly sweeter than the chocolate or chocolate-themed dessert. To prevent the two flavours from fighting for dominance, let the wine bow to the chocolate in the form of a slightly sweeter wine partnered up with the chunk of chocolate.

Tried and true “sweet” wine options that cover a wide range of chocolate partners include: Port, Madeira, Pedro Ximénez Sherry, and Grenache-driven Banyuls, as well as several late harvest wine options, and some sweet sparkling wines like Italy’s Brachetto d’Acqui or Moscato d’Asti.

Opt for a similar style and weight between the chocolate and the wine. Try to match lighter, more elegant flavoured chocolates with lighter-bodied wines.  Similarly, the stronger the chocolate the more full-bodied the wine should be. For example, bittersweet chocolate tends to pair well with California Zinfandel or Cabernet Sauvignon.

The darker the chocolate the more dry, tannin texture it will display. However, when you pair this darker chocolate with a wine that also contains a lot of tannins, the chocolate will often overshadow or cancel out the wine’s tannins on the palate and allow more of the fruit to show through.

If you will be tasting several varieties of chocolates, begin with the light white chocolate, move to milk chocolate and end with dark chocolate. Just like when conducting a wine tasting, you will keep your palate from starting on overdrive and missing out on the subtle, sweet sensations found in more delicate chocolate choices.

Wine and Chocolate Pairings

White Chocolate

White chocolate isn’t technically a “true” chocolate because it doesn’t contain cacao.  It tends to be more mellow and buttery in flavour that pairs well with the sweeter styles of Sherry  and the sweet, subtle bubbles of Italy’s Moscato d’Asti.

Other options to pair white chocolate with are:

  • Pinot Noir
  • Beaujolais
  • Ice Wine
  • Late Harvest wines
  • German Riesling
  • Rosé Port
  • ​Zinfandel.

Milk Chocolate

A good milk chocolate is usually about half chocolate and half cream. The fat from the cream makes milk chocolate one of the easiest chocolates to pair with wine.  The ripe, red fruit and often lighter body of a Pinot Noir or a medium-bodied Merlot will work well with the smooth character and cocoa butter components of milk chocolate, a creamy chocolate mousse or chocolate accented cheesecake.

Riesling, Muscat or the range of notable dessert wines tend to also pair well to milk chocolate. On the other hand, sparkling wine or champagne goes well with milk chocolate-dipped strawberries. Ruby Port also makes a great pairing with many kinds of milk and dark chocolate choices.

Dark Chocolate

The polyphenols in dark chocolate mirror those in wine and give both a somewhat bitter taste. It’s also the part of the chocolate that gives you all the health benefits. The bitterness in dark chocolate is what makes wine pairings a challenge.

Dark or bittersweet chocolate (chocolate containing a minimum of 35% cocoa solids) requires a wine that offers a fuller body, robust aroma and intense bold fruit flavour.

Zinfandel with dense fruit, energetic spice, and higher alcohol works well with dark chocolate. The bold structure of Cabernet Sauvignon pairs well for the decidedly drier style of dark chocolate.

Pinot Noir or Merlot also pair well with dark chocolate that contains around 55% cocoa. The full-bodied flavours of Grenache grapes often have their own chocolate nuances. Fortified wines like Tawny or Vintage Port also complement a dark chocolate dessert or truffle.

Chocolate in Combination

Since chocolate isn’t always a solo item, here are pairings for some common chocolate combinations:

Chocolate with sea salt may be combined with a white wine pick like a sweet-styled Late Harvest Gewürztraminer or a fruit-driven Zinfandel or even a fortified Malmsey Madeira.

Chocolate with nuts, including peanut butter cups, could be paired with Madeira, Tawny Port or Oloroso Sherry.

Chocolate with caramel may be combined with Madeira, Tawny Port, Sherry, Vin Santo, Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, or sweet sparkling wines.

Chocolate with mint can be paired with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Shiraz, Moscato d’Asti, or some sweet dessert-style red wines.

Chocolate cake will pair with Madeira, Port, Sherry, Vin Santo or Shiraz.

Final Thought

Personal tastes vary from person to person and a wine and chocolate partnership that works well for one may not find favour with another. However, with a bit of flexibility and experimentation, you are sure to find remarkable wine and chocolate pairings that will work well for you.

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Wine Labels

Wine bottle labels were originally intended to relay information about the wine inside the bottle.  However, over time they have transformed into a form of art. Modern wine labels are more artistic than ever. From classic to contemporary styles, they tell a story about the wine inside.  People, such as my wife, will decide on which wine to purchase solely by the appearance of the label.  Although I am not in favour of this approach I must admit she has had a good track record of selecting wines in this manner.

From a more traditional perspective, wine labels contain a lot of useful information to help you select the perfect wine for you.  The trick is to be able to decipher the information presented.  Generally speaking, European winemakers label their wine in accordance with the location where it was produced, whereas new world vintners (i.e. Australia, New Zealand, North America, South Africa and South America) label their wines according to the type of grapes they are made from. Very simply, if you familiarize yourself with the major wine-producing regions and grape varietals grown, the label will tell you whether the wine is dry or sweet, light and fruity or full-bodied.

European Wine Labels

Begin by locating on the label the name of the country where the wine comes from. These wines are often referred to as “Old World” wine that is from one of the countries that are thought to be the first countries to make wine.   Countries that are considered to be old world winemakers include France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Greece, Portugal, Austria, Croatia, Romania, Georgia, Hungary, Switzerland, Israel and Lebanon.

Old World wines tend to be lower in alcohol content, and lighter and more restrained in taste, although this is not always the case.  The grapes tend to ripen with more acidity and less sugar.  As a result, Old World wines are typically fresh and acidic with a lower amount of alcohol.  New World wines, on the other hand, tend to be very juicy and full-bodied with higher levels of alcohol.

Next check the quality designation.  Each Old World country has its own wine rating system.  Generally they rank from superior quality down to table wine which will have the lowest ranking.  The quality designations for several of the European countries include:


  • AOC (Appellation of Controlled Origin)
  • VDQS (Wines of Superior Quality)
  • Vins de Pays (Country Wine)
  • Vins de Table (Table Wine)


  • QWSA (Quality Wine with Special Attributes)
  • QBA (Quality Wine from Specific Appellations)
  • Deutscher Landwein (Superior Table Wine)
  • Deutscher Tafelwein (Simple Table Wine)


  • DOCG (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin)
  • DOC (Denomination of Controlled Origin)
  • IGT (Typical Geographical Indication)
  • Vini di Tavola (Table Wines)


  • DO (Denomination of Origin)
  • DOC (Denomination of Qualified Origin)


There is only one classification indicating a good quality wine

  • DO (Denomination of Controlled Origin)

Most wines are vintage wines and the label will tell you the year that the wine was made.  If the year is not on either the front or rear label it may be printed on the bottle neck. Vintage wines are made of grapes from the same harvest year. Non-vintage wines are made from a blend of grapes from different harvest years so the year will not appear on the label.

The region where the wine was produced should appear on the front of the label.  The key is that different types of grapes are grown in each region.  For example, in France, Alsace produces fruity, Germanic wines; the Bordeaux region produces Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot; the Champagne region produces sparkling white wines; Beaujolais produces a light red wine that is designed to be consumed right away.

The region is an indicator of quality.  High quality wines are often identified as being produced in a very specific location.  A label listing a town will be of a higher quality than one that identifies only the region.

Lastly, the shape of the bottle will be unique to the type of wine.  In France, straight, high-shouldered bottles contain Bordeaux wines – green glass for red wines, clear glass for white. In Burgundy, the Loire, and the Rhone they use gently-shouldered bottles. Outside of France, this type of bottle sometimes contains Chardonnay or Pinot Noir.

Tall, slender bottles are usually from Germany and Alsace, and tend to contain Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, or Gewürztraminer.

Non-European Wine Labels

When looking to purchase a New World wine the first thing to do is identify the country of origin.  If it isn’t on the front label it should be on the back label.

New World wines tend to vary greatly.  Warmer climates produce wines that have bolder, fruity flavours and tend to be more full-bodied than Old World wines, and usually have a higher level of alcohol.

For New World wines the brand is also the name of the vineyard that produced the wine, and it is often the main name on the label. It will be written in the largest type size, and usually appears at the top of the front label.

As with Old World wines, the wines are usually vintage if they are identified by the year they were produced and non-vintage wines are produced from grapes harvested during different years.

After the brand-name the grape varietal is usually the second-largest identifier on the label.   New World wines label their bottles according to the type of grape that was used to make the wine. In order for a varietal to be identified on the label the wine must contain at least 75% of that type of grape.

The vineyard will often be identified on the label providing the vast majority of the grapes used are from the specified vineyard.  Not all wines will list a vineyard on the label.  If one is identified it is because the vintner believes the vineyard attributes special qualities to the wine produced.

If there is a designated viticultural area, for example California’s Napa Valley, it will often appear on the label.  However, in order for the designation to be included a minimum of 85% of the grapes in the wine must come from the identified area.

If the phrase “Estate Bottled” appears on the label, 100% of the grapes in that wine were grown, processed, fermented and bottled at the same location.

Lastly the level of alcohol will appear neat the bottom of the label.  The percentage of alcohol may range from 7% up to 23% depending on the type of wine.  Sweeter wines will have a higher percentage of alcohol than dryer wines, and overall New World wines tend to have a higher alcohol content than Old World wines.

Common Information

Some information can be common to both European as well as New World labels.  That information may include the following:

Inclusion of the name “ Reserve” sounds impressive but it has no official meaning as there are no rules regarding when it may appear on a wine bottle. Many small producers use it to indicate their top-tier wines but that is not required to be the case.

There are also no rules surrounding the use of the term “Old Vines” or “Vielles Vins”.  Producers use this term to help give a sense to the style of wine contained in the bottle.  Vines can range from 10 to 100 years old.  Also wines with this designation can contain a blend of grapes from young vines as well as the old.

Finally, the phrase “Contains Sulphites” is a requirement for any wine for which it applies.  Sulfites help preserve wine and slow chemical reactions which cause wine to spoil. They generally have no effect on the majority of wine drinkers.  Sulfites in wine are surprisingly lower than in a lot of processed foods.  Wine ranges from about 5 mg per litre to about 200 mg per litre. The maximum legal limit is 350 mg per litre. In comparison, a decent dry red wine typically contains about 50 mg per litre of sulfites

For individuals who have sensitivity to sulfites in foods such as french fries, cured meats, cheese and canned soup, they should probably opt for sulfite-free wines. There are some natural wines that do not use sulfites in their processing.

Final Thoughts

The wine label is essential in helping you decide which wine you purchase.  Whether it be to convey the type and quality of wine you want to drink or whether, like my wife, to decide based on the artistic impression the label makes on you.  Either way, your interpretation of the label will be key in deciding which wine you will buy.

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Israel’s Wines

Israel is located in the Middle East at the very eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. The modern Jewish state’s famously controversial borders were created at the conclusion of World War II. Its wine industry has its roots in the late 19th century, but has largely developed in recent decades. 

A number of ‘international’ wine grape varieties have proven to be successful in Israel. Among these are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chardonnay and even Gewurztraminer.  Several members of the extensive Muscat family, which retains its historic links with this part of the world, are also to be found here.

Although small compared to most modern wine-producing nations, Israel’s wine production has attracted attention from all across the wine world. This is not only due to the development of new cooler-climate terroirs such as the Golan Heights, but also to the quality-conscious approach of the nation’s wine producers.

Many parts of Israel are too hot and dry to be a reliable producer of high quality wine. However there are some suitable microclimates that are either well established or showing good potential.

Throughout much of the 20th century, wine production was focused on Kosher wine to be exported around the globe. These wines were generally sweet and made from high yield vineyards. Carmel Winery was the first to produce a dry table win, as late as the 1960s. Today sacramental wine accounts for only about a tenth of Israel’s wine output.

The revival in quality winemaking began in the 1980s. This was aided by an influx of winemakers from France, Australia and the USA, and a corresponding modernization of technology. The 1990s saw a marked rise in the number of boutique wineries. By 2000 there were 70 wineries and by 2005 this number had doubled.

Today Israeli wine is produced by hundreds of wineries ranging in size from small boutique enterprises to large companies producing over ten million bottles per year.  In 2011, Israeli wine exports totaled over 26.7 million bottles.

It has been observed by several wine authorities that Israel’s approach to winemaking has evolved from being an Old World producer to developing into a stylistic New World producer.

The demand for kosher wines throughout the world has reinforced the development of the Israeli wine industry over the past few decades. However, not all wine made in Israel is kosher.  Modern Orthodox Jews believe that for wine to be considered truly kosher, the wine should only be prepared by Jews. Some Jews consider non-Jewish wine (known as yayin nasekh) to be kosher if it has been heated; the reason being that heated wine was not used as a religious libation in biblical times and its consumption is therefore not sacrilegious.  Therefore, mulling, cooking and pasteurizing wine renders it kosher in the eyes of many Jews.

The modern Israeli wine industry was founded by Baron Edmond James de Rothschild, owner of the Bordeaux estate Château Lafite-Rothschild. Today winemaking takes place in five vine-growing regions: Galilee, Shomron, the Judean Hills, Samson and Negev. Some of the Israeli defined wine-growing regions, such as the Judean Hills, refer to areas that are largely Israeli-occupied territories. Because of this the definition of wines produced in such areas are subject to legal contention abroad.

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Cheese Pairings

Wine and cheese are two of my culinary pleasures, and finding a good match can be a delicious endeavor. As with any wine and food pairing, there are a number of considerations such as texture, acidity, fat and tannin.

The first thing to decide is whether you want to give the starring role to the wine or to the cheese. If it’s the cheese, pick a wine with less character that will complement it. If you want the wine to be the star, select a cheese with less forcefulness.

Cheeses can be divided into six categories:

Fresh Cheese

These are soft rindless cheeses that are made with cow, goat or sheep milk. They’re not aged and have a mild, slightly tangy flavour.  Cheeses considered in this category include:

  • Mozzarella
  • Burrata
  • Chèvre (goat)
  • Feta
  • Ricotta
  • Mascarpone
  • Stracchino
  • Boursin
  • Very young Selles sur Cher

Wine pairings with fresh cheeses include:

  • Crisp, dry and young white wines such as:
    • Albariño Soave
    • Pinot Blanc
    • Muscadet
    • Vermentino
    • Verdejo
    • Arneis
    • Sauvignon Blanc
    • Young Chardonnay
  • For salty cheeses like Feta, off-dry whites such as:
    • Gewürztraminer
    • Riesling
  • Very young, fruity, unoaked red wines such as:
    • Loire
    • Cabernet Franc
    • Pinot Noir
    • Gamay
    • Valpolicella
  • Crisp, dry rosé.

Bloomy Cheese

These cheeses are named for the bloom of white mold that they are contained within. They tend to be the richest and creamiest type of cheese, with a soft, spreadable texture. The rind is edible, and it has a stronger flavour than the inside.

Bloomy cheeses include:

  • Brie
  • Camembert
  • Robiola
  • Chaource
  • Coeur du Neufchatel
  • Crottin de Chavignol (goat)

Wine pairings with fresh cheeses include:

  • A variety of white wines including:
    • Dry, traditional-method sparkling wines
    • Light-bodied, dry, unoaked Chardonnay (Chablis)
    • Dry, light-bodied Sauvignon Blanc (Sancerre)
    • Dry young Riesling
    • Dry Chenin Blanc (Vouvray)
    • Grüner Veltliner
    • Semillon or white Rhône varieties such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc
  • Dry and light-bodied red wines that are young, fruity and unoaked such as:
    • Pinot Noir
    • Dolcetto
    • Barbera
    • Gamay
    • Cabernet Franc

Washed Rind Cheese

These are cheeses that are soaked in brine, beer or wine that produce an orange rind. They are rich and creamy, and will be of soft or semi-soft texture.

Examples of washed rind cheese include:

  • Fontina
  • Epoisses
  • Reblochon
  • Taleggio
  • Langres
  • Chaume
  • Livarot
  • Munster
  • Vacherin de Mont d’Or

Wines that compliment washed rind cheese include:

  • White wines such as:
    • Dry, traditional-method sparkling wines
    • Dry and off-dry, unoaked white wines like:
      • Gewürztraminer
      • Pinot Gris
      • Chenin Blanc
    • Dry, structured whites such a:,
      • Marsanne
      • Roussanne
      • Semillon
      • Riesling
  • Red wines such as:
    • Beaujolais Villages
    • Pinot Noir
    • Poulsard
    • Trousseau

Semi-Soft Cheese

Semi-soft cheeses are not spreadable nor do they break in shards like a hard cheese. They tend to be creamy with a fairly mild flavour. Many are excellent to melt and perfect to slice. Some cheeses like Gouda are semi-soft in younger styles, while when aged, their texture turns hard.

Included in this category are such cheeses as:

  • Gruyère
  • Gouda
  • Havarti

Wine pairings include:

  • Slightly oaked white wines such as:
    • Chardonnay
    • Pinot Gris
    • Rioja
  • Gently oaked red wines such as:
    • Côtes de Rhône
    • Corbières
    • St-Chinian
    • Chianti
    • Mencía
    • Young Bordeaux blends

Hard Cheese

These cheeses are aged and are quite firm and crumbles or breaks into shards. They tend to have nutty and complex flavours. Some are fairly pungent and salty.

Cheeses included in this category are:

  • Cheddar
  • Double Gloucester
  • Parmesan
  • Pecorino
  • Manchego
  • Grana Padano
  • Beaufort
  • Cantal
  • Emmenthal
  • Sbrinz
  • Comté

Wine pairings for hard cheese include:

  • White wines such as:
    • Vintage traditional-method sparkling wines
    • Amontillado Sherry
    • Palo Cortado Sherry
  • Red wine pairings include bold wines with some age:
    • Nebbiol0
    • Sangiovese
    • Aglianico
    • Rioja
    • Bordeaux blends from cooler climates

Blue Cheese

Veins of blue mold run through these cheeses. They can be soft and creamy, or semi-soft and crumbly. Some are sweeter and milder, but all contain a fair amount of sharpness and tang.

Blue cheese varieties include”

  • Cambozola
  • Danish Blue
  • Gorgonzola
  • Roquefort
  • Stilton
  • Fourme d’Ambert
  • Bleu d’Auvergne
  • Cabrales

Wine pairings to coincide with blue cheese include:

  • White wines such as:
    • Noble Rot sweet wines like:
      • Sauternes
      • Barsac
      • Monbazillac
      • Riesling Beerenauslese
      • Trockenbeerenauslese
      • Quarts de Chaume
    • Dessert wines from dried grapes:
      • Vin Santo
      • Jurançon
      • Recioto de Soave
    • Late-harvest wines:
      • Riesling Spätlese
      • Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives
  • Sweet fortified red wines such as:
    • Vintage Port
    • LBV Port
    • Maury
    • Banyuls

If all of this is too mind boggling and you want just one wine to match any cheese the experts suggest choosing one of either Amontillado Sherry, Rivesaltes, tawny Port or Madeira. They complement any cheese as they are not too delicately flavoured.  All of these wines are considered to be crowd-pleasers.

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