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.

Sláinte mhaith

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