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

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.

Sláinte mhaith

Wine and Eggs

If you listen to the ads on television, eggs are no longer just for breakfast and thus could be enjoyed with a glass of wine beyond the traditional mimosa, which is champagne and orange juice.

There’s a reason why mimosas are a brunch mainstay. Dry sparkling white wines like Champagne, Cava, and Prosecco are the number-one pick for any egg-based dish. Eggs, particularly the yolks, are rich and coat your palate with their savory flavor, which means their flavour lingers when you take a sip of wine. That makes the wine taste a little funny; maybe bitter or metallic or it’s difficult to taste at all. Sparkling wines, however, have that effervescence that actually cleans out your palate. They also tend to have high acidity, which does the same thing, as well as cuts through the natural richness of eggs. So that lingering egg yolk washes away and you can taste the wine again.

Below is an assortment of egg dishes that have been paired with a complimentary wine for enjoyment as a lunch or dinner entree.

Quiche Lorraine

Quiche Lorraine is the original form of quiche, from the French region of Lorraine. It is an open savory pie, filled with a cream and egg custard, and usually containing pork in one form or another, often bacon.  Quiche pairs well with Riesling.

Classic Rancher’s Meal

The Classic Rancher’s Meal consists of eggs, potatoes, pork (ham, sausage or bacon), and toast.  The combination, with the exception of the toast, is fried in a skillet.  Due to the nature of this fried meal, it is best paired with a Sauvignon Blanc.

French Toast

Chenin Blanc is a White wine grape variety from the Loire Valley of France. It is high in acidity to help cut the sweetness of French Toast with maple syrup.

Eggs Benedict

Eggs can be poached on the stovetop or in the microwave, and then set on English muffin halves topped with a slice of back bacon and a spoonful of creamy Hollandaise sauce. Chardonnay or Rosé will pair well with this rich delicacy.

Breakfast Sandwich

This ham, egg, and cheese sandwich on toasted bread or an English muffin pairs well with Lambrusco which is one of the oldest wines of Italy.  It dates all the way back to the Bronze Age. 

Huevos Ranchero

Huevos rancheros, or “ranchers’ eggs”, is a classic Mexican breakfast. Fried eggs are nested in a bed of refried beans, sour cream and salsa and served atop a warm tortilla. Try adding a bit of your favourite hot sauce for a touch of heat.  Pair with a Gamay.

Whatever egg dish you choose, there will be a wine that will pair well with it.

Sláinte mhaith