We love to talk about pairing wine and chocolate, but most wine lovers and chocoholics would agree that the pairing is often very difficult to successfully pull off.
Much like wine, chocolate is simultaneously sweet and bitter, fruity and acidic. Trying to line up each of these qualities to a specific wine and have them complement, rather than clash, can be monumentally difficult. Additionally, the pairing can be quite subjective with one person’s divine pairing another’s dreadful flop. Given this, the best thing to do is experiment with a variety of different chocolates and a variety of different wines. And who can complain about that?
With that in mind, here are a few general things to think about when pairing wine and chocolate. Rules don’t tend to work too well with wine and chocolate pairing, but if you have to have one, try pairing lighter chocolates with lighter wines. Similarly, pair darker chocolates with darker, full bodied wines. Some say that the wine should be as sweet or sweeter than the chocolate; others disagree. I personally like to try the wine first and then the chocolate and then the two of them together, but you can change this order and it can affect the perception of the pairing as well.
Below are a few examples pairing wine and chocolate with four different wines – all of which make great Valentine’s Day wines: Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut Rosé (widely available), 2010 Forgeron Cellars Late Harvest Riesling ($19, West Seattle Cellars*), 2010 Walla Walla Vintners Merlot Walla Walla Valley ($28, Metropolitan Market*) and 2009 Brian Carter Cellars Opulento Red Wine, a Port-style wine ($19, Wine World & Spirits*). For the chocolates, I used a variety of samples from Theo in Fremont.
For me, the Forgeron Cellars – a dessert-style white wine - worked beautifully with the chocolate covered caramels from Theo. In particular, the Honey Saffron caramel was a great pairing where the wine really accented these flavors. For the Walla Walla Vintners Merlot – a medium bodied red wine – I thought that the Theo Cherry and Almond bar was a perfect fit, accenting the cherry flavors of both the bar and the wine. I should note that the folks at Walla Walla Vintners, foodies at heart, recommended strawberries dipped in chocolate and a chocolate cheesecake with raspberry sauce (now that is a Valentine's Day pairing!). For the Brian Carter Opulento, the Ultimate Dark Chocolate bar from Theo brought out the richness of the bar wonderfully.
I used the Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut Rosé essentially as a ‘control’ wine/palate cleanser. I wasn’t expecting it to go particularly well with any of the chocolates and it didn’t, often tasting a bit too acidic with the chocolates. Personally, I find slightly sweeter sparkling wines, like a demi-sec, to go better with chocolate than most brut sparklers.
I’ve listed in bold in the grid below the combinations that worked best for me. Equally importantly though are a number of combinations that did not. This is not the fault of the wines or the chocolates. Wine and chocolate pairing can be very tricky business, and when it doesn’t work, it can go monumentally poorly. And that should be the real take away. Wine and chocolate don't always love each other as much as we love them. But it's always fun to try.
Happy Valentine’s Day everybody!
* Known Seattle-area retailers. Also available at other locations.
Fig, Fennel & Almond Dark Chocolate (70% Cacao)
Bread & Chocolate Dark Chocolate (70% Cacao)
Cherry & Almond Dark Chocolate (70% Cacao)
Ultimate Dark chocolate (85% Cacao)
Domaine Ste. Michelle (Control)
Unimpressive but doesn’t clash.
Wine seems a little too tart
Goes okay but nothing spectacular.
Awful. Really draws out the tannins and makes the wine taste bitter.
Pink Salted – Accents the acid strongly.
Ginger Rose – Acid too intense.
WWV Merlot WWV 2010
Clashes. Makes the wine taste bitter and somewhat tannic.
Absolutely terrible combination. Wine tastes extremely bitter.
Great combo. Draws out the chocolate and cherry flavors of both the chocolate and wine.
Chocolate bowls over the merlot.
Pink Salted – A spectacular flop! The sum is less than each of the parts.
Ginger Rose – Draws out the acid of the Merlot considerably but works. Works better going from the chocolate to the Merlot than from the Merlot forward.
Brian Carter Opulento 2009
Goes nicely. Draws out the flavors of the fennel in particular. Complements well.
Interesting pairing. Draws out acid in the chocolate in a way that is quite enjoyable.
Opulento overwhelms the chocolate.
Focuses the flavors of both the wine and the chocolate. Draws out the alcohol just a touch.
Pink Salted - Works pretty well although the alcohol overpowers the chocolate a bit.
Ginger Rose – Decent but the alcohol gets accented a bit.
Forgeron LH Riesling 2010
Wine bowls over the chocolate.
Goes together nicely. Neither elevates the other but they fit together well.
A slightly uncomfortable pairing although it doesn’t clash. Accents the cherry notes although there is a bit of bitterness.
Clashes across the board.
Honey Saffron Caramel- Wow! This makes the caramel pop as well as the pear on the wine with the saffron a nice accent.
Pink Salted - Works well with the chocolate but not going backward.
Ginger Rose – Works pretty well. Accents the ginger.
Lavendar Jalapeno – Works well surprisingly.