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Like Water for Chocolate

Can chocolate and wine ever achieve the famed status of everyone’s favorite golden couple, cheese and wine?  Many people will argue that they can.  Consider, they will say, that chocolate, just like cheese, is a dairy product.  And, they will point out what those gastronomic trendsetters, the French and the Italians, have decisively demonstrated, time and time again, that the proteins and fats in dairy products soften a wine’s astringency.  Shouldn’t chocolates have a similar effect on the harsh tannins and acids in a wine?  Chocolate proponents will also stress that, like both cheese and wine, their product is crafted in an endless variety of styles, flavors and textures that reveal aspects of the particular country, region and culture that produced them.  For these reasons, wine aficionados can and should strive to develop an affinity for these delicious goodies and master the art of pairing them with wine correctly.

Good points, all.  Now I can confidently unite chocolate and wine at every gathering without hesitation, right?  Wrong.  While cheese and chocolate do share a number of similarities, which at first glance seem to indicate that they can both lend themselves to successful pairings with wine, chocolate boasts an added component that tarnishes the flavors of most wines.  That ingredient is sugar.  The more sugary the chocolate the more difficult it is to pair with wine successfully, because the sugar will overpower and overshadow all but the most robust wines.  I know that it may seem like a good idea to serve those brownies with your favorite Cabernet (it says on the label that it has cocoa flavors doesn’t it?), but for the sake of that innocent bottle, please restrain yourself.

That being said, it is not my intention to dissuade you from serving chocolate with wine, but rather to encourage you to be extra particular and prudent before setting down a wine with your truffles.  A successful pairing of wine and chocolate can prove just as rewarding as a chocolate and cheese combo, but it takes more energy on the part of the host to unite the two.  This shidduch demands a matchmaker of extraordinary skill and knowledge.   

If you have no such maven around to make your chocolate and wine matches for you, you can follow the guidelines I have listed below.

1.  Wine should be at least as sweet if not a touch sweeter than the chocolate you are serving it with.  If you are serving a decadently, sweet chocolate fudge cake with icing do not serve it with a Brut Champagne or a dry Prosecco!

2.  Anything made from bittersweet chocolate works nicely with more robust and full-bodied reds.  Some great examples are big California Zinfandels, Australian Shirazs, and jammy Cabernet Sauvignons.  If you want to stick with a dessert wine, an easier match to make I might add, try it with an unapologetically sweet and hearty bottle of well-balanced port.

3.  White chocolate is more buttery and creamy in texture that other chocolates and is less robust in flavor.  This is because it is not made from actual cocoa solids or cocoa liquor (smooth liquid form of chocolate made by taking dried, fermented, and roasted cocoa beans and grinding them into a non-alcoholic liquid).  This confection will pair nicely with lighter Muscats, sparkling Moscatos and Sherries.  Some examples of good wines to try with your white chocolate are Bartenura Moscato, Carmel Young Carignano, and the Noah Muscat.

4.  Milk chocolate has milk powder or condensed mild added, has less cocoa solids and tends to have more added sugar.  This translates into a sweeter, richer dessert that is complemented by richer dessert wines.  I especially like milk chocolate served with wines made in the late harvest, botrytis or ice wine techniques.  Try Baron Herzog Late Harvest Chenin Blanc, Carmel Shaal Late Harvest Gewurztraminer, the Yarden Heights Wine, or if you want to splurge, find a bottle of Sauternes.

5.  For semi sweet chocolates ?" they tend to have a touch more sweetness than the bittersweet ?" pair them with light, sweet reds.  A good pairing would be with the Byblos Sweet Bonarda or the Ramim Cabernet Franc.

6.  Let’s kill a popular misconception right now: Champagne is not a good wine to serve with your chocolates.  Most Champagnes are actually bone dry and their delicate aromas and flavors will suffer next to chocolate.  If you are going to serve a champagne or champagne style wine with your chocolate make sure the bubbly says demi-sec or deux on the label.

7.  As a rule of thumb, when you start out pairing chocolate and wine start  out with dessert wines and ports.  It is much more difficult to go wrong like that than by playing around with dry wines.

8.  Stay away from Cabernets or other wines with a lot of oak!  The woodsy taste dries out your palate and makes the chocolate taste coarse and unappetizing. 

 

Chocolate and wine pairing, does prove a challenge, but if done correctly can highlight the special flavors, aromas and textures of both foods.  This Valentine’s day treat your loved ones to a special chocolate and wine pairing and prove to them that this match can be just as satisfying as the more popular cheese and wine coupling.