Wine…meet chocolate

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Image:  Chocolate & Wine Festival

            If you’re still working your way through that box of chocolates from your Valentines’ Day sweetheart, why not finish them off with an impromptu wine pairing!

           While some wine enthusiasts say that pairing wine with chocolate can not be done, I say that it can be, if done thoughtfully.  With the right pairings, chocolate and wine can complement each other quite well. 

           Keep in mind that just like wines, there are different types of chocolates – from sweet and buttery white chocolate to a dark, bitter, semi-sweet chocolate – and each type of chocolate requires a different type of wine.  The important thing to consider when choosing the wine is its sweetness.  If the wine isn’t at least as sweet as the chocolate, it will begin to taste sour and bitter.  It might even be better to choose a wine that is slightly sweeter than the chocolate.

Lighter to darker      

           Lighter, sweeter chocolates, such as white chocolate, should be matched with lighter bodied wines, while darker, more complex chocolates are better paired with heavy bodied wines.  As in traditional wine tastings, if you are going to taste a variety of chocolates and wines, it is best to start with the lightest wines and more subtle white chocolate, and work towards the full bodied wines and darker chocolates.

            White chocolate tends to be more subtle and creamy with a light buttery flavor.  Some good matches for white chocolate would be Sherry, Moscato d’Asti or Orange Muscat.  The Sherry and Moscato will highlight the creaminess.  The Orange Muscat will pick up any subtle fruit flavors in the chocolate.  You can also try an opposite approach, and pair white chocolate with contrasting wines.  This can be more dangerous, but it can also lead to incredible results.  If you pair something like a Zinfandel with white chocolate, sometimes you will experience a melding effect, where the fat in the chocolate softens some of the strong tannins in the wine.

            For milk chocolate, chocolate mousse, chocolate cheesecake, and other desserts of this type, you can try matching with Pinot Noir or Merlot.  Rieslings, Muscats, and dessert wines can all go well with many types of mild milk chocolates as well.  For milk chocolate dipped fruits, especially chocolate dipped strawberries, try pairing with champagne or sparkling wine.  There is also the traditional pairing of milk chocolate and Ruby Port.  This match is always a winner.  For the more adventurous, try a 31% milk chocolate with Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc to see how if any caramel notes come forward.

            Dark chocolates pair well with darker, more robust wines.  Often wines that have notes of chocolate are good here.  There are different kinds of dark chocolates.  For dark chocolates at around 55% cocoa or a dark semisweet, try a Pinot Noir or Merlot.  For 72% dark bittersweet chocolate, try a Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel.  These are two wines with a good history of pairing well with dark chocolate.  Another good choice for dark chocolate or dark truffles is Vintage or Tawny Port.        

A variety of chocolates for a variety of wines

           Like wines, there are numerous types of chocolates and cocoa is sourced from several areas around the world including Africa, South America, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean.  So cocoas will vary in subtle differences in body, texture, bitterness and sweetness as wines do in body, texture, acidity and dryness.

           It’s easy to set up your own chocolate and wine tasting.  If you’ve run out of Valentine’s Day chocolates, you can buy several bars of different types of chocolate, along with some of these suggested wines. 

           First try a sip of the wine without chocolate to get a sense for the taste of the wine.  Then try a piece of chocolate on its own.  Understanding how they taste individually is good to see how they complement or change each other when paired.  Then take a nibble of chocolate and a sip of wine while you still have the chocolate in your mouth.  Notice whether there is harmony between the two…did the wine mellow out with the chocolate or was it too harsh or bitter. 

           One word of caution when tasting is to try just a few at a time in one sitting.  Both wine and chocolate are rather intense flavors going on in your mouth, so you don’t want to overload the taste buds.  You want to keep your tasting palate clear and able to pick up on the subtle differences in each of the chocolates and wines and how they play together.  Happy tasting!

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