What says “Valentine’s Day” better than a bottle of champagne and a box of chocolates? They go together like, well, love and romance. Right?
The answer is yes. And no.
According to the experts, not all wine and chocolate pairings are a match made in heaven. The taste experience can be fabulous or forgettable, depending on your choices. Included below are some pairing guidelines that can help make your life a little sweeter.
The most intense dark chocolate contains 70% to 100% cacao and has fruity, earthy, woodsy, ashy, roasted and/or nutty notes.
Because of its flavor intensity, bittersweet chocolate should be paired with fortified wines and stronger red wines with concentrated fruit notes. With its higher percentage of cocoa butter, dark chocolate keeps red wine from tasting too tannic.
Some pairing possibilities include:
Cabernet Sauvignon: A dry, spicy, tannic wine with dark berry flavors
Malbec: A dry, red wine with an inky dark color and robust tannins
Merlot: A wine similar to Cabernet Sauvignon but with softer tannins
Tawny Port: A port wine aged in oak for at least six years
Ruby Port: A fruity, bright red port, aged in oak for two years
Zinfandel: An “all-American” red wine, complex, dry and tannic
Dark chocolate with 50%-69% cacao has strong, complex flavors, with nutty, spicy, floral, earthy, fruity and/or caramel nuances. The taste is balanced and not too sweet.
Semi-sweet chocolate can be paired with the same wines as bittersweet chocolate. For example:
Ruby Port has cocoa or chocolate in the nose, as well as cherry, raspberry or other berry fruit, and is a classic pairing with chocolate.
Cabernet Sauvignon highlights the fruity-peppery-grapey notes in darker chocolate.
Tawny Port, which has nutty and tobacco/leather notes, is also a good match with semi-sweet chocolate.
Zinfandel enhances dark chocolate’s spicy nuances.
Milk chocolate has a higher percentage of sugar, a lower percentage of chocolate liquor and a higher milk content than bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate. These ingredients create a milder, sweeter product with the flavors of brown sugar, cocoa, vanilla, honey, caramel, milk, cream, nuts and malt.
Milk chocolate should be paired with sweeter wines, or the wine will taste too tart. Possibilities include:
Hungarian Tokaji: A naturally sweet wine made from grapes affected by botrytis (“noble rot").
Muscat/Moscato: A dessert wine with peach and apricot flavors, a popular partner for milk chocolate.
Tawny Port: This fortified wine makes the best pairing with milk chocolate. Its nutty nuances highlight milk chocolate’s honey and caramel notes and enhance the overall flavor of the chocolate.
Made without chocolate liquor, white chocolate is a rich product containing cocoa butter, sugar and milk solids. It has sweet flavor notes including cream, milk, honey, vanilla, caramel, and/or fruit.
The acidity in sparkling wine often produces tart flavors when paired with the cacao in milk or dark chocolate. Since white chocolate contains no cacao, it can be paired with champagne.
Fresh strawberries dipped in white chocolate also make an excellent pairing with sparkling wine.
General Pairing Pointers
Keep it Sweet: Choose a wine that’s as sweet as or slightly sweeter than the chocolate you’re eating. Drier wines are more likely to clash, especially with milk or white chocolate.
Think Red: Because red wines are more complex and have a more “generous” taste, they will match better with the robust flavors of bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolate.
Be Daring: If dry red table wine is your comfort zone, try something new. Choose a sweet dessert wine, such as Late Harvest Riesling or Muscat, or a fortified wine like Tawny Port.
Match Textures: Fine chocolates are rich in texture and mouth-feel. Match them with creamy, full-bodied wines for the best pairing.
Match Flavors: Flavors like raspberry, cherry and nut pair well with chocolate. Red wines often offer berry flavors, and nutty notes can be found in whites. A tip: Taste wine by itself to evaluate the flavors; then choose chocolate with a similar taste.
The most important pointer for pairing wine and chocolate is this: experiment with different combinations and find the ones you like best. And keep trying. What’s the worst that can happen? Even your mistakes can be pretty sweet.
To learn more, come to Crossing Vineyards’ Wine and Chocolate for Lovers, a special Valentine’s Day class on pairing wine and chocolate, scheduled for Sunday, February 16, 2020, at 2PM.
To reserve your place for this “delicious” afternoon, call 215-493-6500, ext. 19 or book on-line: www.crossingvineyards.com. The cost is $35 per person and includes instruction, chocolate samples and award- winning wines from Crossing Vineyards.
Christine Carroll is a Certified Specialist of Wine. She is also a columnist for Wines and Vines Magazine in San Rafael, California, and one of the principals of Crossing Vineyards and Winery. You can contact her at: email@example.com