Pairing Wine and Chocolate is a Labour of Love
Every year, around St Valentine’s Day and the Easter celebrations, we get the same questions.
What are the best wine and chocolate pairings?
Yes, it can be tricky to match up these two favourites, so I decided to put pen to paper and give you some recommendations.
Some say that chocolate and wine just don't mix, but I disagree. If you know how to pair the right type of chocolate with the right type of wine and enhance the flavours of both, well then you are on a winner.
Wine and Chocolate Terroirs
Pairing wine and chocolate can get quite technical to be honest. One could get lost in polyphenols and flavonoids. I promise to do my utmost to avoid any such technicalities. I will mention the word terroir though because I’ve explained it in numerous blog posts, on this site.
The thing is that both wine (grapes) and cocoa (chocolate) are very terroir-driven products. They both reflect the flavours of the land in which they’re grown and the environment in which they’re processed.
Like wine, chocolate is also sourced from across the globe. Each region has a unique terroir that results in distinct and nuanced flavours. The challenge is to find two flavour profiles that complement one another.
Flavour Profiles and Bitterness
Chocolate has a natural bitterness. The darker the chocolate, the more bitter it is because of the higher concentration of cacao and lower sweetness levels.
So, when pairing, picking a wine with low tannins is paramount because of chocolate's natural bitterness. High tannin wines will clash with darker chocolates because tannins highlight bitterness, making the pairing unappetizing.
Ultimately, you want to avoid both the wine (tannins) and the chocolate (phenols) overloading your palate with said bitterness. Here’s an easy rule of thumb: Pair lighter chocolates with lighter wines, and dark chocolates with fruit-forward wines.
Here are some other considerations:
- Soft and juicy wines are chocolate’s best friend. As mentioned above, a dark chocolate and a powerful red wine can overwhelm the palate. I think it’s best to choose wines that are a little bit softer and juicier than the chocolate you're pairing it with.
- Try sweet wines. While it might sound counterintuitive, a wine that is sweeter than the chocolate itself works quite well. Some fruit-forward wines also have a nice balance to the bitter flavours of cocoa.
- Watch the flavour intensity. Less intensely flavoured chocolates go well with lighter-bodied wines, while chocolates with more intense flavours can stand up to fuller-bodied wines.
- Go from light to dark when tasting. Start with white chocolates and light wines and save the richest, dark chocolates and wines for last.
- Other ingredients. If your chocolate contains other ingredients such as nuts, fruit, or caramel, consider how these flavours will play with the wine. For example, a chocolate mixed with dried cranberries might go well with a fruity red wine.
- Resist the urge to serve chocolate with Champagne. Unfortunately, Champagne tends to be too dry and astringent to be enjoyed with chocolate. If you’re attached to the notion of bubbly and chocolate, consider rosé Champagne or a demi-sec or sweet sparkling wine instead of the dryer original.
Recommended Wine and Chocolate Pairings
At this stage, you might be craving a little chocolate and perhaps you’re wondering what wine to drink with it? Well, here are some of the Green Acres wine team’s favourite pairings:
White chocolate isn’t technically a “true” chocolate because it doesn’t contain cacao (the brown part with all the flavanols). However, it is one of the few chocolate-like sweets that will match with dry red wine. Red wines such as Pinot Noir and Beaujolais or whites such as Riesling and Moscato d'Asti all work. A rosé port or ice wine is also yummy.
A good milk chocolate is usually about half chocolate and half cream. The extra fat from the cream makes milk chocolate one of the easiest “true” chocolates to pair with wine. Milk chocolate requires a wine that is light to medium in body, with a ripe fruit character. Pinot Noir and Merlot would work and for a white wine, a Gewürztraminer would be nice. A ruby port would also pair nicely.
As I’ve said, dark chocolate and heavy, powerful red wines can accentuate the bitter taste in your mouth. But it’s also the part of the chocolate that gives you all the health benefits (polyphenols)! The bitterness in dark chocolate is what we’ll want to balance out with a properly selected wine pairing.
The wines I recommend would be port, fruit-forward red wines (Zinfandel, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon), and Pedro Ximinez sherry which adds nutty and raisin-like flavours to dark chocolate and even goes well with espresso.
Also, when you have dark chocolate within a dessert, such as cake or cheesecake, it’s possible to have enough fat and starch in the dessert to counteract the bitterness in both chocolate and wine.
A Labour of Love
Wine and chocolate are two of the most amazing things on earth. Both can bring you joy in their own way, so it’s always tempting to pair the two together. I would summarise my tips above as follows:
- Match sugar with sugar
- Match intensity with intensity
- Pair flavours with flavours
My general rule of thumb would be that your wine should be as sweet, if not a bit sweeter, than the chocolate you are eating. Otherwise, the taste may veer towards sour.
Learning how to appreciate the subtlety and complexity of flavours that both wine and chocolate have, as well as being able to pair them well, is a real labour of love. It is one I am looking forward to experimenting with, again, over the coming weeks.
Happy Easter and stay safe.
Talk soon – James