Wine and chocolate, Anthony and Cleopatra, peanut butter and jelly: some things just go together.
If you haven't paired wine with chocolate, Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to see what the fuss is all about. Impress your significant other with a private wine-and-chocolate tasting for that special day.
Using a little advice from experts, you too can successfully pair wines and chocolates, perhaps to the amazement of your Sweetie.
Norman Love is a French-trained pastry chef and former executive pastry chef at The Ritz-Carlton who heads a chocolate empire. Since opening Norman Love’s Chocolates in Fort Myers, Florida, his tasty creations have been named among the best in the world.
"Playing matchmaker with chocolates and wines can be a fun taste exploration," encourages Love. "When looking to bring out the best flavor of the chocolate, I look at the acidity of certain foods such as fruits. Red fruits can accentuate chocolates, which is one of the reasons that red wine pairs so nicely with chocolate.
"Identifying the wine characteristics can help bring out the underlying chocolate flavors," Love continues. "In fact, wine and chocolate share many similarities, such as how the geographic region influences the underlying flavors. Generally, the more bitter the chocolate such as high cocoa dark chocolates, the more it needs a sweeter pairing."
Love pairs high-cocoa-intensity chocolates – those containing 70 percent cocoa liqueur or higher – with a red Bordeaux.
"Because I really love Italian wines, a wonderful Barolo with a well-balanced intense dark chocolate tastes wonderful to me," says Love. "White wines and sparkling wines are best paired with fruitier flavors – strawberry, orange, mango, passion fruit. Chocolates containing those flavors pair well with acidic white wines.
Love says that dried fruits, nuts and cheeses are a good complement to wine-and-chocolate combos.
Jaclyn Stuart is the co-author of "The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Wine and Food Pairing" and a certified sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers, Wine & Spirits Education Trust and the French Wine Society.
"One of my favorite candy-counter chocolate pairings is Peanut M&Ms with a fruit-forward California Pinot Noir, like Hook & Ladder from Russian River Valley," Stuart says."There is something about the nuttiness of the M&Ms that really picks up some of the oak and spice notes in the wine. Simple Life Pinot Noir and Meiomi also work and may be more commonly available.
"Malbec is wonderful with dark chocolate, especially a dark, plummy Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina, with a 75 percent or more dark chocolate," she continues. "I love Gramercy Cellars Syrah, Whoa Nelly Syrah, Navarro Correas Malbec or Trivento Malbec specifically. Chocolate with dried cherries or other berries can be wonderful with wine, too. The berry notes can create a bridge between the chocolate and wine and add more complexity to the pairing."
One of her favorite chocolates is from Tabal Chocolate in Milwaukee and is made with Rishi Blueberry Rooibos Tea.
"It is a 70 percent dark chocolate that pairs well with Charbono (which also has blueberry aromas) or Syrah Port from California," explains Stuart. "A favorite, classic pairing is dark chocolate with sea salt with Ruby Port. The sweet-salty pairing really works wonderfully together and leaves you wanting more."
Milk chocolate bars, like Hershey’s or Ghirardelli, are good with Tawny Ports, which match the chocolate's sweetness levels, advises Stuart.
"Ghirardelli caramel squares are delicious with Tawny port, too, as the nutty/caramel notes in the wine really jive with the caramel filling in the chocolate," she says. "Brachetto (a grape that is made into sweet, fizzy reds in Northern Italy) with chocolate-covered strawberries and raspberries really works well together, but it is definitely a pairing for people with more of a sweet tooth.
"Rosa Regale is a popular Brachetto, but thanks to the popularity of Moscato, there are more Brachetto options on the market now, since it drinks a lot like a red Moscato."
White wine is tough to pair with chocolate, says Stuart, as chocolate tends to overpower the more delicate notes in white wine.
"But I have had coconut/chocolate (like a Mounds bar) with Chardonnay and it worked fairly well," adds Stuart. "Real white chocolate (not the sweet confectioners glaze stuff) can pair with some semi-sweet Gewurztraminers and Rieslings, or sweeter options like Cream Sherry or Moscato."
Based on these suggestions, I have increased my own chocolate-and-wine pairing experiments. I paired peanut butter cups and peanut butter bars with an Amontillado Sherry, Madeira and a white Chenin Blanc + Viognier from Pine Ridge Winery in California with success.
Mona’s Chocolates on Whidbey Island, Washington, creates fantastic dark chocolate/sea salt combinations that I paired with a Malene Rosé, which is totally against most advice, but I liked it.
I enjoy unusual chocolate flavors — such as the Rosemary Carmel, Maple Carmel and Lavender Carmel from Kathryn Taylor Chocolates of Orcas Island, Washington — that sometimes are hard to pair with wine. I found a couple of wines that complement all three: Bogle Vineyards' Chardonnay and Stainless Chardonnay from Chamisal Vineyards, California.
Neither wine overpowers the delicate lavender and rosemary flavors and they bump up the maple flavor. I also paired Maple Carmel with my favorite wine from Uruguay, Bogeda Garzon Tannat, a rich fruity dry wine.
I love to pair dark chocolate/mint, like a Ghirardelli’s combo or an Andes mint, with Seghesio Family Vineyards' old vine Zinfandel.
The take-away for pairing wine and chocolate is that you will not like all combinations. Don't worry, keep experimenting and have fun.