While many oenophiles argue that it can’t be done, wine and chocolate can be an excellent combination if paired correctly. In pairing wine and chocolate, a little knowledge goes a long way.
Only As Good As The Weakest Link
First off, care should be taken in matching wine and chocolate. You want to select the fine wine or gourmet chocolate based on its compatibility beforehand. Some wines just cannot work with any type of chocolate. Additionally, remember the success of a pairing relies that the both the wine and chocolate are high quality. Any inconsistencies or unpleasant notes can ruin both the chocolate and the wine.
Finding the Right Sweetness
Because of the overall sweetness of both wine and chocolate, the taste can easily get muddled. Wine and chocolate are both sweet but in different ways. Chocolate can be sweet as soon as you taste it or it can only have a lingering sweet aftertaste. Wine sweetness is frequently associated with fruity notes, whether grape, berry and citrus. Sweetness therefore can be difficult to gauge.
They both come in varying levels of sweetness, bitterness and acidity. Normally, the sweetness of chocolate is easier to anticipate before you have removed the wrapping, by using the cocoa content as a guide (more cocoa, less sugar). Of course, this isn’t so easy with truffles and chocolate cakes.
Generally, the art of pairing wine and chocolate is for both to remain separate, distinguishable flavors, but to have them to some degree overlap and complement. How do you do that? The simplest way is to decide based on the type of chocolate, following the principle that when the wine is sweeter than the chocolate, the pairing is more successful. So let’s explore each type of chocolate:
White chocolate, which lacks cocoa, is the sweetest of chocolates and should be paired with a light-bodied, sweet dessert wine like Muscat to match the light profile of the chocolate. The contrast between a more middle of the road wine and white chocolate can be jolting so explore sweeter wines, like dessert wines, ice wines or even certain champagnes.
Milk Chocolate & Semi-Sweet Chocolate
Milk chocolate still requires a brighter wine, and benefits from acidity to cut through the fat and dairy elements. The wine can be a little subtler and you do not have to resort to a dessert wine. Farther down the spectrum, semi-sweet chocolate will need less tannins, sugar and acidity than its counterparts. For semi-sweet chocolates, a cream sherry can strike all the right notes, balancing fruitiness with a slightly astringent mouthfeel that can highlight the chocolate without overpowering it. Some wines may initially seem too astringent to pair with chocolate, but because chocolate contains cocoa butter, the creaminess will help mellow out the astringency.
Dark chocolates, with high cocoa content, can work well with bolder, flavorful wines, but still might not work with the more bitter wines. Avoid pairing wine that is too astringent with sweet chocolate, as sweet chocolate can make the wine taste sour. A robust dark chocolate will need an equally full-bodied wine to pair with like a Zinfandel, which will be sweeter than the chocolate but will have the appropriate counterpoint in the rich tannins.
Even though shouldn’t be a huge sweetness gap, sugar on sugar can be cloying, which is why acid is necessary to cut through the sweetness. Pairing a low-acid wine with chocolate with a high sugar content will make the wine disappear into a dull note. Just like any symphony, the notes must harmonize to produce a successful score.
Finding the Right Notes
Many chocolates will have fruity or nutty overtones. Pairing wine with the same overtones can help highlight these characteristics. This marriage of similar flavors may not otherwise seem optimal like a Beaujolais with milk chocolate. If the chocolate has fruity notes, the fruitiness of the Beaujolais will elevate those notes. Wine and chocolate may also be paired around contrasts like pairing a fruity semi-sweet chocolate with a peppery Cabernet Sauvignon. Much of pairing is based on the individual’s palate, however. A tawny port may pair perfectly with milk chocolate for one person but may also be appropriate for the less bitter dark chocolates where, ordinarily, a Merlot would shine.
Though pairing wine and chocolate will often come down to a matter of preference, there are still certain guidelines to follow. Make sure the chocolate and wine can stand up to one another and that the wine’s profile outshines the chocolate’s. Pairing wine and chocolate with the same notes can be an easy success, but don’t be afraid to build based on contrasts either. The best pairing will always be the one an individual enjoys.