by Chris Mauch
It seems that everywhere you look: grocery aisles, restaurants, farmer’s markets, your hotel pillow, you’ll find chocolate. I’m not talking about a 50-cent vending machine candy bar, but premium, all natural, gourmet chocolate. Not only is it the rage, you can now argue it’s good for you with more science linking health benefits to eating chocolate. But I’ll save topic for another time.
One could say there was once a time when you couldn’t imagine having wine & chocolate together. Yet wine and chocolate can be described using similar vocabulary, such as “deep,” “complex,” “rich,” and “full bodied.” Both are made from fruit, and are heavily influenced by the soil, climate, and weather conditions they are grown in, chocolate can have a “good year” or a “bad year.” So why not?
Just like with wine and food pairings, there are certain guidelines you can follow to get the best possible pairing for your wine & chocolate. Get the combination right, and the experience can be absolutely incredible! Get it wrong, and it could be disastrous. I know, I know – let’s move on to the most interesting part and what you really want to know about – tasting the two together…
Here are a few of those guidelines:
#1: The wine should be at least as sweet as or sweeter than the chocolate. Otherwise the result will likely be a “sour” taste in the wine because the sugars in the chocolate dominate the sugars in the wine and essentially “shut down” the wine, leaving only the taste of the tannins.
#2: The higher the level of cacao, the stronger and dryer the wine should be. So a sweeter milk chocolate or white chocolate should be paired with a very sweet wine. A stronger more bitter chocolate with higher cacao (i.e. above 70% cacao) should be paired with a dryer wine.
#3: If you are trying different chocolates, work your way from the lightest to the darkest. So the white chocolate should be first, and the highest cacao level (darkest) should be last. Doing it the other way and all you will taste is the first chocolate you tried.
Like all Wine Pairings, Guidelines are just that:
You should always be ready to experiment with different or even unlikely combinations – you never know what you might like! All 5 of our senses will be utilized to enhance the pleasure of combining wine and chocolate.
First, pour some wine into the glass, swirl and breathe it in a bit. Then take a piece of chocolate, and smell that as well. Remember 1-2 & 3. Now, take a sip of the wine – suck some oxygen into your mouth, so that the wine can coat all parts of your tongue, reach all of your taste buds and swallow. Remember what it tastes like.
Now, take a bite of the chocolate, let it mix with the last drops of wine that remain in your mouth… a totally new taste experience! Now, take another bite of chocolate, another sip of wine. Chew the chocolate and wine together, You will get an explosion of flavor in your mouth – Can you feel the fireworks yet??? Dare I say… A near orgasmic experience???
Here are some basic suggestions for plain chocolate that I’ve found work well for my palette:
White Chocolate: White chocolate tends to be more mellow and buttery in flavor, making it an ideal candidate for a Pedro Ximénez Sherry, Muscat from Hungary, a German Eiswein, a Gewurtztraminer or a Moscato d’Asti or any other sweet wine.
Milk Chocolate: Slightly higher in cacao, you need lighter bodied wines such as Pinot Noir From South Africa , a Malbec from Argentina, even Riesling for mild milk chocolates.
Dark Chocolate: Dark or bittersweet chocolates need a wine that offers a roasted, slightly bitter flavor itself. The higher the level of Cacao, the dryer and heavier the wine should be. Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Zinfandels, are very good matches for many chocolates. Even a good Late Bottle Vintage Port. For even higher levels of cacao (80% to 90%), a very dry wine like a Barbaresco or Bordeaux might be good.
While a sweet sparkling rosé adds extra sparkle to chocolate fudge cheesecake.
Champagne and chocolate don’t pair well. Against the sweetness of the chocolate, Champagne appears tart; even the secs and demi-secs (sweet Champagnes) are too delicate to stand up to the cocoa butter mouthfeel of chocolate. Save the Champagne for fresh strawberries. If the chocolate has anything like fruit, nuts, caramel or crème centers, that is a whole different list
If all this is too much to remember, just make a note that in general, dark and bittersweet chocolates go best with stronger red wines while milk and white chocolates pair better with lighter reds and sweeter white wines. However in the end, it’s only your own personal taste that matters! It may seem strange—pairing wine with chocolate, but when you think of wine or chocolate separately, don’t these things make you happy?
So…why not bring the two together and be twice as happy?
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