Recently I was asked to do a TV spot here on one of our Tampa Bay stations, along with our friends from The Melting Pot. The subject was ‘Pairing Wine and Chocolate’.
What a fascinating topic! We often talk about pairing wine and fish, or wine and meat, and all the old shibboleths (“white with fish, red with meat” or its opposite “drink whatever you want with whatever you’re serving”) are trotted out once again for our consideration.
But wine and chocolate pairings are generally something that only true devotees of these twin delights think about. I say twin delights because like wine, chocolate is made from fruit. To be precise, chocolate is made from cocoa nibs, which are the seeds of the fruit of the cocoa tree. And like wine, chocolate can be bitter, sweet, acidic, or fruity.
So how should we pair wine and chocolate?
Our initial reaction might be to pair chocolate with a sweet wine, but this doesn’t always work as well as you would expect. The general idea is to match lighter, more elegant chocolate with lighter-bodied wine, and stronger, darker chocolate with more full-bodied wine.
A lighter, sweeter wine will pair well with white chocolate. I would suggest a Moscato d’Asti (try Ca d’Gal Moscato d’Asti at around $17) which will enhance its elegant creaminess.
With milk chocolate you can go either way. If you like red wine, go with Pinot Noir (Maysara Jamsheed Pinot Noir at $25 is a personal favorite) or a lighter Merlot. Ruby Port will also make a natural pairing. If you prefer white wine go with Riesling, Muscat, or a white dessert wine. By the way, dry sparkling wine or champagne – surprisingly - doesn’t pair well with chocolate (except perhaps chocolate covered strawberries, but then the dominant flavor would be in the strawberry.)
Dark semi-sweet and bittersweet chocolate often demands a more robust and full-flavored wine. A Zinfandel (Paradise Sound Old Vines Zinfandel, $11) will be a natural choice. Also, to many people’s surprise, Cabernet Sauvignon – that hearty staple that pairs so well with steak – is also a perfect match for dark chocolate. Try this experiment – take a sip of Cabernet Sauvignon. Notice all those tannins, that dryness in your mouth that seems as if you’ve been sucking on a teabag? Now – have a bite of dark chocolate and then re-taste the Cabernet. You should notice quite a difference. The cocoa butter mellows out the tannins in the wine and all you get is a mouthful of beautiful, well-structured fruit that in turn makes the chocolate taste better too.
I should add that for non-wine drinkers, Armagnac and Cognac also makes an excellent match for your dark chocolate. And for those of you that like the best of both worlds there’s always Tawny or LBV Port. Port is a fortified wine that doesn’t really pair with most desserts. (Much better to drink your Port with some Stilton or other blue cheese.) But Port with dark chocolate is the one sublime exception. And it’s the perfect way to conclude an excellent meal!
Wine + Chocolate = the components of a perfect equation.
Bill Stobbs, Regional ABC Wine Supervisor for Tampa Bay
(Follow me on Twitter @abcwinebills)