I have never been a big proponent of wine and chocolate pairing, but this really takes the, uh, cake. Over the last few weeks we have had a handful of customers come in asking if we carry chocolate wine. My initial reaction was confusion followed by dismay. And then I received an e-mail from Taylor who was in Florida and was similarly dumbfounded by the image above; ChocoVine, really?! I can’t explain it any better than them: ChocoVine is "the great taste of Dutch Chocolate and fine Cabernet wine."
Maybe this sounds appealing to some but it seems utterly disgusting to me. I don't care how many years of research and what Dutch chocolate and which French wine, this is not my idea of bliss. No offense of course to those of you would like to have your (chocolate) cake and drink it too!
ChocoVine did get me thinking about the reality and the "rules" of pairing wine with chocolate. After all, Valentine's Day is right around the corner and wine and chocolate are what some would have you believe are the keys to a perfectly romantic evening.
For starters, wine and chocolate pairing is not a simple equation. There are almost as many varieties of chocolate as there are wines, so a simple “pair chocolate with Merlot” isn’t really enough to go on. Cacao (the seeds/beans from which chocolate is made) is perhaps the most important factor in successful pairing because the higher the percentage of Cacao the more intense, even bitter, the chocolate flavor.
Three overall guidelines that should help you on your way to wine and chocolate bliss are:
(1) The wine you choose should be at least as sweet as the chocolate.
If your chocolate is sweeter than your wine (say a creamy 25% cacao milk chocolate and a tannic Cabernet Sauvignon) the pairing will result in a sharp or bitter flavor. Stick to sweet dessert wines such as Tawny Port with milk chocolate and pair Cabernets and other tannic reds with bittersweet chocolate with 70 to 100% cacao.
(2) A convention in food and wine pairing in general is to match the two components by their weight. It is no different with chocolate.
Light bodied wines pair best with more delicate chocolates and full-bodied wines with more intensely flavored chocolates. A sec or demi-sec Champagne or sparkling wine, or a delicately fizzy Moscato D'Asti, will complement a sweet, buttery white chocolate (0% cacao). A spicy, fruity Zinfandel from California will complement a bolder, semi-sweet chocolate (50-70% cacao).
(3) Another food and wine pairing principle is to pair like flavors, which also works with chocolate.
A dark, toasty Malbec or Bordeaux will pair nicely with dark chocolate with nuts such as hazelnuts or almonds; a dry, nutty Oloroso Sherry will also do the trick. Merlot and Shiraz often pair well with chocolates with mint because those wines often present minty notes on the palate. Hungarian Tokaji, with its rich apricot and caramel notes, will deliciously complement a chocolate that includes toffee or caramel.
The best way to see which pairings appeal to your palate is to give them a try. Even trying pairings that are not recommended will educate your palate. While you do that, I will be ordering up some wine and cheese as dessert! ;) Cheers!