In celebration of #worldchocolateday I thought it would be fun to rehash the age-old topic of pairing Chocolate and Wine. It’s actually a wide misconception that any bold Cabernet and dark chocolate is a home run pairing. Don’t worry, if you thought those two went well together, you’re not 100% wrong. In fact, the pairing of red wine and chocolate can be done, but there’s much more to it than simply dark and simply red when it comes to the type of chocolate and wine. So why is this pairing not so surface level?
For starters, wine and chocolate have some similarities. Both have tannins. So, if you choose an extremely dry red wine to pair with a very high percentage (80%) dark chocolate you’ll end up with a very bitter sensation due to the overload of tannins. You will immediately notice the imbalance.
The cocoa bean is naturally fruity which means it can be paired with a fruity (red) wine.
Cocoa beans are naturally purple (prior to roasting). Not all grapes are purple, but we know some varietals we grow end up purple in their final harvesting state. Contrary to popular belief, there are very rare white cocoa beans harvested in Peru. Once roasted these white beans do turn brown, but they are special. More on this later…
Lastly, cocoa beans are also fermented. Aren’t grapes fermented? They are! The process isn’t exactly the same, however cocoa beans are fermented in order to round out and soften the flavor and to remove some of the tannins.
As with most all food pairings, it’s best to pair lighter chocolates with lighter wines, and heavier more rich chocolates with heavier fuller bodied wines. But of course, food pairings are subjective. There is always a chance you may have that person in your group who likes the unconventional pairing.
Chocolate Shopping Tips
When setting up a chocolate and wine pairing of your own it’s always best to skip the candy isle, and opt for more expensive, higher quality chocolates. This doesn’t mean you need to break the bank, but you’ll have a better experience if you don’t reach for any old favorite childhood candy bar.
To achieve that sought-after red wine and dark chocolate pairing, and pair the two well, look for dark chocolate made with the extremely rare white cocoa beans. Verbiage on the wrapper will read “blanco” or “Porcelana”. Usually if you’ve found “Piura Blanco” or “Gran Blanco” you’re on the right track! The chocolate content of the bar will still be 70% or more but made with the elusive white cocoa beans. These special beans are less bitter, produce a more mellow, and less acidic chocolate due to the white skins. There are less tannins in the white cocoa beans versus the everyday purple cocoa beans because the tannins are mainly found in the purple skins. Pair a 70% Blanco chocolate bar with a medium bodied Merlot and you’re sure to have a delicious pairing.
Find chocolate with hints of fruit to mirror in your wine pairing such as orange zest or dark cherry. If the wine you’re pairing also has those flavors on the nose of the wine the two may make an excellent pair. You can even use a Champagne, sparkling wine, or white wine to oppose or cut through the richness of a darker chocolate with similar fruit nuances to wipe your palate clean.
Traditional Wine Pairings
Here are the more traditional wine pairings that you can turn to when looking for a sure thing.
Milk Chocolate is the most versatile of the three chocolate categories (dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate) to pair wine with. Traditionally, milk chocolate is half chocolate half cream. Depending on the chocolate you purchase, you may get more fat (cream) or more chocolate (percentage of cocoa) content in your bar, so exact pairings may vary slightly.
Milk Chocolate Pairing Recommendations:
Sweet sparkling red wines, Late-Harvest Red wines (port style wines such as Syrah, Pinot Noir, and Petite Sirah), Ruby Port, Banyuls or Maury French “Port”, Tawny Port, Madeira, Rutherglen Muscat, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Merlot.
The polyphenols in dark chocolate are where all health benefits are housed which is why you might hear some people say dark chocolate is the healthiest of the three types of chocolate. It is also the part which gives it the bitter taste (another way to describe the tannins).
Dark Chocolate Pairing Recommendations:
Port, Pedro Ximinez, Chinato, Port-style Red Wines (but not coming from Portugal) such as Zinfandel, Malbec, and Petite Sirah, Vin Santo del Chianti, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Dolcetto.
White chocolate isn’t really chocolate. We’re not talking about the blanco cocoa beans that were previously mentioned. We’re talking about the white chocolate you know and love (or love to hate) which is typically made with cocoa butter and cream, not containing actual cocoa beans.
White Chocolate Pairing Recommendations:
Moscato d’Asti, Orange Muscat, Brachetto d’Acqui, Ice Wine, Rosé Port, sweet Rosé, sweeter Riesling, Tokaji, Sauternes, Late Harvest wines, Pinot Noir, Beaujolais.
Pairing Dry Red Wine with Dark Chocolate
We all want a big beautiful glass of Cabernet Sauvignon to pair with a piece of dark chocolate. It just sounds like the appropriate pairing. But in order to make this taste as beautiful as it sounds we need a few things to happen:
• The red wine we’re pairing with the dark chocolate needs to have some residual sugar (RS). Many, what we call “value” red wines, or wines often at $15 or less usually match the needed profile of approximately 10 – 60 grams per liter of RS. Examples you can look for on the shelves are Jam Jar Shiraz, Malbec, or Red Blends like Ménage à Trios, and Zinfandel.
• If you have a dark chocolate within a dessert, like cheesecake, it most likely contains ample amounts of fat and starch to counteract the bitterness in the chocolate and the wine.
As with any pairing, we want to merry the flavors in both the wine and the chocolate and accent nuances. If there is some caramel in your chocolate think of a wine with some age such as Tawny Port. Or if you’re pairing chocolate dipped strawberries think, sweet sparkling red or Champagne. You’re always wanting to play off the subtle flavors of the food using the wine and vice versa. Try and match flavor profiles with like flavor profiles. And always try your own pairings! Don’t just go straight for what is supposed to pair well. Your tastes may be different than others’.
Next Halloween have some of your closest friends over for a chocolate and wine pairing party. Costumes recommended. Have tasting cards out. Perhaps, you can assign wines, and chocolates to each friend so that everyone is involved in the some portion of the party and pairings. Decorate a cute table with the wine and chocolate laid out for everyone to sample and pair with their tasting cards. Take notes and have fun with it! Compare notes with your friends to see what pairing everyone liked best and what didn’t work. This will give you creative license to try several chocolates with several wines. Nothing will help you become an expert better than getting first hand experience. And I certainly wouldn’t complain about eating chocolate and drinking wine with friends. Cheers!