Like Wine for Chocolate

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By Jane A. Nickles

Many people, myself included, just love, love, love to pair wine and chocolate. Together or separate, they are certainly two of my favorite things; but the truth is “wine and chocolate” can be a tough food-and-wine combination.

Here’s why: Chocolate has intense flavor, lots of sugar, and a good dose of mouth-coating fat. All of these factors can be tough on wine. A food’s flavor, sugar, and fat are all major factors in any wine-and-food combination, so let’s take a close look at the complex character of chocolate.

  1. Flavor: Chocolate is one of the most intense flavors on the planet and has a very good chance of being the dominant flavor in any food-and-wine combination. The intense flavors of chocolate can easily overwhelm the flavors of wine. Any wine that is going to be paired with chocolate, in order to have any chance whatsoever to survive the match, is going to need to start out with its own dose of intense flavor.
  2. Sugar: Milk chocolate, dark chocolate and bittersweet chocolate all have a good dose of sugar. Sugar in food will make any wine taste less fruity and less sweet while bringing forward any acidic or bitter flavors in the wine. In order to stand up to the onslaught, any wine that is paired with chocolate is going to need to have either a great deal of fruity flavors, or a degree of residual sugar.
  3. Fat: The fat in chocolate melts at body temperature and will coat your mouth, which will make any wine taste less intense and less flavorful…for a great pairing you need to start with a powerful wine that can cut through and stand up to the fat.

I have two strategies for pairing wine and chocolate; one for wine lovers and one for chocolate worshippers. I call it “One for the Sommelier…One for the Chocolatier.” The pairing strategy for wine lovers will help preserve the delicate flavor and balance of the wine, and the strategy for the chocolate lovers will bring forward and highlight the flavor of the chocolate. Choose your sides, and take your pick!

Strategy Number One: For the Sommelier:

  1. Serve a moderately sweet chocolate dish with a wine with a great deal of fruity flavors or some residual sugar. The sweetness of the chocolate will make the wine taste less fruity and far less sweet, so you want to start out with a wine with enough sweetness/fruitiness to stand up to the change.
  2. For the best results with your wine’s flavors, make sure to use a wine that is as sweet as, or slightly sweeter than, the chocolate dish.
  3. Make sure the wine has enough intensity of flavor to stand up to the flavor of the chocolate, which can be overwhelming. A sweet red wine, such as a Texas Port or Black Muscat, is a good, full-flavored choice.
  4. To make your chocolate a more perfect partner, add some acid to the chocolate dish by using walnuts or fruit in the dish. This will make the chocolate a more balanced match for the wine and give your wine more “power” in the match.
  5. Try this strategy for yourself with one of these wines:
    1. Brachetto d’Acqui – This slightly sweet, sparkling red wine from Italy’s Piedmont region is, according to Miss Jane, milk chocolate’s perfect match. The wine’s slight tickle of strawberry-raspberry-cherry flavors will enhance any chocolate dish – also try it with dark chocolate. My favorite Brachetto is “Rosa Regale” by Banfi Vineyards.
    2. Sparkling Shiraz – Australia’s latest import, Sparkling Shiraz, can be a fantastic match for milk chocolate…what else would you expect from a wine that has been called “Liquid Black Forest Cake”? For a good match, make sure your Sparkling Shiraz has a little bit of residual sugar…some versions are very dry. Try the version called “Vixen” by McLaren Vale’s Fox Creek Winery.
    3. Ruby Porto – A Ruby Porto, and there are many good ones at reasonable prices, has the sugar and the tannin to stand up to the sugar, fat, and bitterness of just about any chocolate dish. Miss Jane sez…”Ruby Porto is the one and only wine I categorically recommend with chocolate.” Graham’s Six Grapes and Taylor Fladgate First Estate Ruby Porto are two of my favorites.

Strategy Number Two: For the Chocolatier:

    1. Pair a sturdy, fruity, spicy, big-flavored dry red wine with dark chocolate. This type of pairing will enhance the flavor of the chocolate, while slightly changing the flavor of the wine. This combination will make the wine taste “thinner” and bring forward the acidic and bitter flavors of the wine, while highlighting the flavor of the chocolate. It’s quite a transformation for the wine, but if you start out with a big, flavorful wine, you will love the end result!
    2. To try a flavor match, find a red wine that has a subtle flavor of cocoa, mocha, or chocolate. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir and Merlot often exhibit these flavors. These flavors will combine with and enhance the aromas and flavors of the chocolate.
    3. To try a flavor mix, pair a red wine, such as Zinfandel or Syrah, with spicy flavors such as cinnamon, clove, or black pepper, with chocolate. These flavors in the wine will contrast with the flavors of your chocolate and give it a delicious, added complexity.
    4. To put this strategy into action, try some of these Texas Wines:
      1. Cabernet Sauvignon – Cabernet often has a chocolate/cocoa/mocha flavor…find one like this, and watch out! When these flavors combine with a chocolate food, the flavors are pronounced. Remember to find a Cabernet with pronounced Chocolate, Mocha, or Cocoa aromas. A great choice is Crios Cabernet Sauvignon from Mendoza, Argentina.
      2. Red Zinfandel – Red Zinfandel can be the fruitiest, spiciest wine around. To get a really good match, try one of the deep, rich, full-boded Zins from Lodi, California. Some of my favorites include “7 Deadly Zins” by Michael David Vineyards and Oak Ridge Winery’s “OVZ” Old Vine Zinfandel.
      3. Australian Shiraz – This is another big, spicy, fruit bomb of a wine. Try one of these: d’Arenberg “The Footbolt” Shiraz, Marquis Philip’s “Sarah’s Blend”, or Charles Cimicky Shiraz. You’ll love it!

Miss Jane’s Final Word on Wine and Chocolate:

Wine enthusiasts will want to pair chocolate with a full-bodied, fruity-to-all-out-sweet wine so that it stands up to, and rises above the flavor and texture of the chocolate. Chocolate lovers will want a dry wine so that the chocolate’s flavor shines. People who love both must grope their way through a maze of variables to find the individual pairing that suits them best. But take heart…there are tougher ways to spend an evening than taste testing some wine-and-chocolate combinations yourself.