Wine and chocolate – how we love them both. Two of life’s little pleasures that together might seem a match made in heaven. What better than sitting back to enjoy a bit of velvety chocolate with a glass of good wine, right? Then why is it that so many sommeliers the world over have, until recently, shunned the idea of chocolate and wine as an ideal pairing? The answer lies in the fact that making a good match here is one that can be quite tricky due to the fact that both wine and chocolate engage the same areas of the palate meaning that their flavors can actually compete with one another leaving nothing but a terrible aftertaste rather than that sumptuous harmony one might expect. So, is it better to forget the idea of pairing the two? Absolutely not. New thinking says yes we can enjoy chocolate and wine together as long as we pay attention to the type of chocolate we’re tasting and follow a few important guidelines.
Dark chocolate is the most difficult to pair. The key here is to avoid dry wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir and choose sweeter wines instead such as Italian Moscato d’Asti, Portuguese Madeira or a robust French Banyuls. These particular wines create a balance between the sweetness of the chocolate and the more subtle sweetness and light acidity of the wine. Of course choosing the best wine match depends on the type of cocoa that’s used as well. Different types of cocoa actually possess varied aromas ranging from fruit to vanilla to a mix of spices or a scent of toast. Certain specific types of chocolate such as Apurimac from Peru and Sambirano from Madagascar find their best matches with traditional Recioto della Valpolicella and Primitivo dolce. Another important aspect to pay attention to is any type of fruit or nut that’s been mixed in with the chocolate. For example an almond bark with dark chocolate pairs nicely with a Picolit, Nasco di Cagliari or Syrah while those mixed with dried or fresh fruits are ideal with Barolo Chinato or a dessert wine such as Zibibbo.
In general the higher the percentage of cocoa contained in the chocolate the more difficult pairing becomes. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is to choose wines which don’t present high levels of tannins, as these tannins compete and clash with the bitter flavors of the darker chocolates. As a matter of fact, pure dark chocolate goes best with aged liquors like Rum, Cognac, Brandy and Armagnac. Other kinds of dark chocolates with a very high percentage of cocoa and stronger aromas pair with Jerez, Madeira Malmsey, Marsala Oro or Ambra, Port and Malaga. All wines should be served at room temperature.
Pairing becomes easier with milk chocolates since they present a higher fat content. Both a Tuscan Vin Santo or a French Banyuls are perfect here. Other superb matches can be made with Gewurtztraminer, Moscato Giallo or Passito from the island of Pantelleria. Sicilian chocolate from Modica, with its particular grainy texture, also goes well with any of these wines. White chocolate is by far the easiest to pair because it doesn’t actually contain cocoa but the cocoa fat instead. White chocolates are lovely served with sweet wines. Consider choosing a Lambrusco or a Moscato d’Asti. Piedmont’s bright sparkling Brachetto d’Acqui is also perfect with white chocolate as is a crisp citrusy Chardonnay. Many chocolate desserts can also be served with wines following these same guidelines while keeping in mind the richness of the dessert and the weight of the wine.