Monday, February 13, 2012

How to Pair Chocolate with Wine

Wine and chocolate.

Two words that I often hear in the same sentence from many customers, most often when they say, "I have this really great cabernet that would go well with dark chocolate." While I know many chocophiles and many wine connoisseurs who will not pair the two, I'm keeping an open mind. After all, isn't it the height of splurge and luxury to enjoy two decadent treats at once?

With Valentine's Day just days away, I can hear the champagne corks popping. With that in mind, I'd like to share some wine and chocolate pairing suggestions.

I recommend customers don't quaff just any bottle of wine with their chocolate. The experience will be more enjoyable if you put a little bit of thought into your choice of wine and chocolate when creating a pairing. Here are some general guidelines based solely on my own experiences.

  1. Less is more. If you're drinking dry red wine, I recommend going for the highest percent chocolate you can handle (least sweet). The sugar in chocolate tends to fight with dry wines. Less sugar means a better chance of a match.
  2. Choose fortified or sweet wines. Tawny Port, particularly a tawny colheita, can be fabulous with chocolate. The sweetness of the Port marries well with chocolate. In general, fortified or sweet wines like Port, Muscat, Banyuls and ice wine work very well with chocolate. Pair them with a rosemary caramel bonbon or a chocolate truffle for a delicious treat.
  3. Pair like with like. If the wine has tart cherry notes, then you'd probably want to pair it with a Madagascar single-origin chocolate that has tart cherry notes. On the other hand, if your wine doesn't have tart cherry notes, Madagascar probably won't taste good with the wine. In fact it can be quite unpleasant. If you know the flavor profile of the single origin chocolate you've purchased, take it to your local wine store, tell them the flavor profile, and have the sommelier help you choose an appropriate bottle of wine.
  4. Stick to single-origin chocolate with savory flavor profiles. Single-origin chocolates made with cacao from Indonesia and certain African countries, like São Tomé, often pair better with wine because of their smoky, earthy and savory notes. I find that bars from São Tomé often taste gamey, almost like having a chocolate-covered mutton roast with your red wine. Regions such as Madagascar and the Dominican Republic are difficult because of the acidic qualities of their flavor profiles. They can work, or they can be complete disasters. There's no middle ground. Sticking to Indonesia and Africa is a safer, more versatile bet.
  5. Choose inclusion chocolate with a savory addition. Sea salt, chilies, black truffle oil, and bacon go great with chocolate (but probably not all at the same time). The savory qualities they bring often tame the sweetness and help the chocolate pair better with that big red wine.
  6. Stick to dried fruits when pairing with champagne and sparkling wines. The acid in champagne and sparkling wine can be a really tough match with chocolate. I recommend choosing acidic dried fruits dipped in chocolate, such as dried peaches, apricots or pears, as a nice pairing with champagne. The acid of these dried fruits marries well with the acid of the champagne, and the chocolate adds a nice sweetness without overpowering the acid of the fruits.
  7. Enjoy yourself. All that really matters is that you like the pairing. Taste is in the mouth of the taster. If you like it, who cares what the experts say?
Chief Chocophile

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