Pairing Wines w/ Chocolate
Rule #1, the wine should be at least as sweet, if not a touch sweeter, than the chocolate you are serving it with. Otherwise, the taste may quickly veer towards sour.
When pairing wines with chocolate, your best bet is to match lighter, more elegant flavored chocolates with lighter-bodied wines; likewise, the stronger the chocolate, the more full-bodied the wine should be. For example, a bittersweet chocolate tends to pair well with an intense, in-your-face California Zinfandel.
Similar to “formal” wine tasting, if you will be experimenting with several varities of chocolates, work from light to dark. Start with a more subtle white chocolate and end on a dark or bittersweet chocolate.
White Chocolate Wine Suggestions
White chocolate tends to be more mellow and buttery in flavor, making it an ideal candidate for a Sherry (try Manuel de Argueso Pedro Ximinez $18), a Moscato d'Asti (try 2002 Marcarini Moscato d'Asti at $15), from Italy’s Piedmont region offers a hint of carbonation, or an Orange Muscat (such as Quady Winery’s 2002 Orange Muscat for $17). The Sherry and Moscato d’Asti will pick up the creaminess of the chocolates and the Orange Muscat will pick up any fruit tones present.
Milk Chocolate Wine Suggestions
Pinot Noir (Beaulieu Pinot Noir Coastal 2003 $7) or a lighter-bodied Merlot (Try Hogue or Columbia Crest) will complement a bar of milk chocolate, a creamy chocolate mousse or chocolate accented cheesecake. Rieslings, Muscats (try Bonny Doon's Muscat Vin de Glaciere 2004 for $15) or dessert wines tend to hold up well to mild milk chocolates.
Dark Chocolate Wine Suggestions
Dark or bittersweet chocolates need a wine that offers a roasted, slightly bitter flavor itself, with perhaps a hint of its own chocolate notes. Cabs and Zinfandels have a history of perfecting the dark chocolate match, resulting in an unparalleled tasting combination. A Cabernet Sauvignon or a Zinfandel (try Robert Mondavi Private Selection 2002 Zinfandel at $11) will more than fill your chocolate pairing expectations.
Tips for Throwing aa Chocolate & Wine Pairing Party
- Invite 4-8 friends (interaction should be easy, so a small to medium-sized group is best).
- Encourage each guest or couple to bring a bottle of wine. To ensure that each guest brings a different variety, feel free to offer recommendations.
- The party can be organized around a specific grouping of wines, such as red, white or sparkling, or a specific country, or even a wine region, like German Reingau.
- Hold the wine tasting in the early evening. (Make sure the tasting takes place one or two hours after dinner so taste buds are rested!)
- Create a relaxing atmosphere with background music and candles.
- Entice guests with chocolate desserts to enjoy after the chocolate-wine tasting.
To prepare for the party, select six different chocolates. Make sure to have plenty of unsalted saltine crackers and water on hand to cleanse the palate between each sample.
- Cleanse the palate by eating an unsalted cracker and taking several sips of water. Repeat this process after each tasting.
- Start the tasting with mild flavors, such as white or milk chocolate and white wines, and finish with the stronger flavors, like dark and bittersweet chocolate and robust red wines.
- Break off a small piece of chocolate. Look at the color and smell the aroma. Enhance the aroma by rubbing the chocolate between two fingers until it softens and starts to melt. Take tiny sniffs.
- Take a bite of the chocolate. Chew it several times and let it slowly melt on the tongue. Note how it feels. Is it smooth, velvety, creamy, soft or gritty? It should not be waxy or hard to melt. Savor the chocolate-roll it around on the tongue to taste the many flavors. (The tip of the tongue senses sweetness, the front sides sense sour flavors, the back sides of the tongue taste salty flavors, and the very back of the tongue detects bitter notes.)
- Pour 1/3 glass of wine. Swirl the wine in the glass and smell it in short sniffs. Take a sip and swish it gently around the mouth so it mingles with the chocolate. Note how the chocolate flavors have changed. Are some flavors more prominent than others?
- If desired, each guest can fill out an evaluation form to capture the different flavors. Then discuss the different chocolate-wine combinations and preferences as a group.
Chocolate Matching Suggestions
A full bodied Zinfandel is another wonderful complement to Chocolate, especially dark Chocolate. Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon are made with more concentrated, ripe fruit.
Strawberries dipped in sweet chocolate are always a hit and usually they are served with a white zinfandel. This wine usually has a hint of a strawberry taste, so the three are natural bedfellows.
Truffles are often filled with Winter and Summer Cabernets, Merlot, Champagne, Port and Chardonnay, so it follows that these wines will complement your chocolates.
Chocolate is fast becoming an item to pair with beer. A very dark beer, such as Grant's Imperial Stout, will be a winner if paired with your favorite chocolate dessert.
And "Have some Madeira, my Dear?"… a perfectly charming selection. Liquors with a wine base that are aged in large barrels, like Congnac or Armagnac, have amber colors, the aromas of oak, leather and dried flowers. And these aromas find total expression with a chocolate of high cocoa solids.
Marsala, an often forgotten classic wine, partners well with chocolate. The process of making Marsala includes slowly simmering, unlike most other wines. Both chocolate and Marsala have 'empyreumatic' aromas and flavors… the result of heating and roasting.
Try a creamy chocolate cheesecake with a soft Merlot.
Pinot Noir, a red wine that is lighter than Merlot works so well with chocolate mousse.
Sweet natural wines with flavors of dried fruits, spices, and oak compliment milk and white chocolate … the marriage between the two will be tender, bold.
Try Rieslings, Sauternes, Italian yin santo, and semi sweet white sparkling wines with chocolate, especially Moscato d'Asti which has just a prickle of carbonation.
Rich Bittersweet Chocolate with an equally rich Cabernet Sauvignon is an outstanding tasting experience. Both have a slight bitterness, a roasted flavor, and an earthy quality. The Chocolate helps take away some of the astringency and the dryness of the wine. Try melding the two to make an extraordinary sauce to add to desserts.
Chocolate desserts which have a hint of bitterness can readily be enjoyed with young red wines, wines of the Loire, the Beaujolais and the Bordelais.
Gild a warm bittersweet chocolate cake with orange-muscat and serve it with raspberries and port ice cream. Using both muscat and port together is exotic and your dessert will be unforgettable.
Some fortified orange muscat wines made in California are intensely flavored and will go well with any kind of white chocolate.
Dixie's White Moose White Chocolate Brew is a great example of the myriad of recent innovations in the microbrew revolution. It’s clearly in full swing! Many new fruit microbrews, compare to a port or a dessert wine, and will pair well with desserts…. Pyramid Apricot Ale and Belgian Lambic are two examples.
White chocolate is often combined with fruit and berries. In general semi-dry white wines with a burnt aroma and a little sweetness will complement milk or white chocolate.
The grape variety Pedro Ximenez is dried in the sun and mashed into a paste. Cream Sherry made with these grapes sweet and thick.