With Valentine’s Day coming up, many of you may be wondering what to give your loved one. Well, how about wine and chocolate? – After all, what more could your sweetheart ask for? (Some may actually prefer beer and chocolate, and if that’s the case read “Beer and Chocolate – The Perfect Pairing”). This post is slightly altered from an article I wrote last year that was published on Suite101.com titled, “Great Wines to Pair with Chocolate”. During weekends in February, the wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake are featuring “Days of Wine and Chocolate”. Participating wineries will feature a VQA wine paired with a decadent chocolate dessert.
Sommeliers and wine aficionados the world over have forever been searching for the perfect wine to pair with chocolate. Matching wine and chocolate needs to be done with some care, however, because the sweetness, fattiness, and bitterness in the chocolate can mean trouble for many wines. But there are some wines that make harmonious companions to the most delicious chocolates and chocolate desserts.
One of the most important things to remember when pairing wine and any dessert is to always make sure the wine is at least as sweet as, or sweeter than the dessert. If the dessert is sweeter, the wine will end up tasting thin.
The lighter and more elegant flavoured chocolates need to be paired with lighter-bodied wines. The stronger and richer the chocolate, the richer and more full-bodied the wine should be. Look for wines that have enough stuff to cut through the richness of the chocolate and that have similar flavours.
White chocolate is not really chocolate as it contains no cocoa at all, but many people find it a real treat. Slightly fizzy and sweet, Moscato d’Asti is a fine match to white chocolate’s mellow flavours and creamy butteriness. Moscato d’Asti is made in the Piedmonte region of Italy from the Muscat grape. It is very low in alcohol (usually between 5 and 7% abv.), has pleasant grapey, tropical fruit flavours, and is easy on the wallet.
Another wine to pair with white chocolate is a sweeter, demi-sec Champagne or sparkling wine. Avoid the drier Brut styles as they will seem thin and watery next to the white chocolate.
Cabernet Franc Icewine and some other Red Icewines from Ontario can also be a pleasant pairing with white chocolate. In fact, I’ve often noticed notes of white chocolate in some of the wines themselves. Vidal Icewine may also be tasty with white chocolate.
Milk Chocolate is the sweetest of all chocolate as it contains the highest amount of sugar. Vintage Port works well with milk chocolate. Vintage Ports are fortified wines made in Portugal and come from one specific vintage (most other Ports are a blend of several vintages). They are full of sweet fruit flavours, which complement most chocolates and add a degree of complexity to the pairing. As Vintage Port can put a serious dent in your pocketbook, you can look for a Ruby Port or Late Bottle Vintage Port as much less expensive alternatives, but not quite as complex and rich.
From Ontario, sweet Framboise wine is also a great match with milk chocolate (Keep an eye out for Framboise from Southbrook Vineyards). Chocolate and red berries always go well together.
Semi-sweet chocolate is a darker chocolate that has a less sweet aftertaste than milk chocolate. Banyuls has always been a sommelier’s go-to wine when it comes to pairing wine with chocolate.
Banyuls is a sweet, fortified wine produced in the southwest of France and made from the Grenache grape. It is just one of a style of French wine known as “vins doux naturels,” which simply means, “naturally sweet wines.” These wines are made by the fermentation being halted by the addition of grape spirit before all the sugar has been converted to alcohol. After fortification, they are about 15% abv. Their inherent flavours of coco, dried fruit, and roasted nuts gives them similar flavours to darker chocolate. Banyuls also work well with rich and creamy chocolate desserts.
Tawny Port, an aged fortified wine from Portugal, is also a good match with semi-sweet chocolate. Dried fruit flavours, nuttiness and full-body characterize this wine, making it a harmonious match with many chocolates and chocolate based desserts.
Bitter-sweet chocolate is the least sweet of all the chocolates because it contains less sugar. They do, however, contain the most amount of cocoa giving it bitter and roasted flavours. A strong red wine may be acceptable with this type of chocolate. Try a big Zinfandel, Merlot, or Cabernet from New World regions, especially California, or an Aussie Shiraz. Ontario also has some great examples of Cabernet and Merlot that would pair well with bitter-sweet chocolate. These wines have certain chocolatey notes in their flavour profiles.
A wide range of Port wines also go with this type of chocolate especially when there are nuts involved.
Yes, wine and chocolate can go well together, it’s just that the pairing needs to be done with some care. Besides, what better way to spend an evening than experimenting with two of the best discoveries in the world – wine and chocolate.