Perfect Pairs – What could be more appropriate this month bringing all the romance of Valentine’s Day?
Wine and chocolate are two of life’s great pleasures and best of all when shared. Get the pairing right and you’ll be in for a great taste treat, indulge in what you love.
But there are a few things you should consider so you don’t ruin the taste of both of your treats.
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With February bringing all the romance of Valentine’s Day that lasts throughout the month, now is the time to try our favorite chocolate and wine pairings to sweeten up this season of love!
Wine and chocolate are two of life’s greatest indulgent pleasures. When paired together properly, the experience of enjoying both together can be absolutely amazing.
Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to try one of the tastiest wine and chocolate pairings possible: the chocolate-covered strawberries. The general rule is to pair the wine with the chocolate you use for the strawberries. If you want to get even more romantic, grab a little champagne and place strawberry quarters in the glasses for extra sweetness and flavor.
Both the wine and the chocolate bring you joy in their own way, so it’s always tempting to pair the two together. But there are a few things you should consider so you don’t ruin the taste of both of your treats.
Polyphenols in wine and chocolate also affect the pairing. Scientifically, polyphenols are the components within wine and chocolate that make them beneficial — anti-inflammatory, for instance. Yet polyphenols are responsible for giving dark chocolates their bitter notes and for giving wines their tannic notes. If you pair a dry wine with bittersweet chocolate, the experience won’t be pleasurable due to an overload of polyphenols.
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. As you pick chocolates to pair with wine, keep in mind that any chocolate over 80 percent cacao will have a bitter taste that will clash with wine. Instead, opt for more mellow chocolate, like milk chocolate or even white chocolate, to enjoy alongside your wine.
And to be sure you match up these two favorites in a way that benefits both, here are my tips to help you pair wine with chocolate.
Unlike most pairings in life, where striking a balance is key, when it comes to matching chocolate and wine it’s best to avoid opposites. Sweeter chocolate like white chocolate does better when consumed with sweeter wines and bitter chocolate like dark chocolate enjoys being paired with dryer wines. Think of it as matching sugar with sugar. A good rule is to always pair wines that are equally or slightly sweeter than the chocolate being eaten with it.
It’s not enough to just match sugar with sugar, you also want to match the intensity with intensity. If you pair an incredibly delicately flavored dark chocolate with a heavy, full-bodied red, the intensity of the red will totally blow away any of the subtlety that might have been present in the chocolate. The same is true in reverse, a strong-tasting chocolate will destroy a delicate wine. Always remember: light-flavored chocolates enjoy being paired with light-bodied wines and intensely flavored chocolates prefer being paired with full-bodied wines.
Flavor notes in wine can draw out similar flavor notes in chocolate and vice versa. For instance, certain chocolates are naturally more fruity than others and do really well paired with fruity wines like Moscatel. Or enjoy chocolate-covered nuts alongside a nutty wine like a Madeira.
Avoid serving chocolate with Champagne
Chocolate and sparkling wine sound like an irresistibly romantic pairing, but, in truth, 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 a rosé, a demi-sec, or a sweet sparkling wine instead of the dry one.
And now, follow some of my more specific pairing suggestions!
Milk chocolate is the most versatile of the chocolates and therefore the safest bet, and the easiest to pair when you want to enjoy a wine pairing. Its higher milk and sugar content and lower cacao make it more likely to pair well with your drink of choice.
Try some different sweeter wines with milk chocolate such as a Port wine. Avoid anything that’s too heavy when pairing red wine with milk chocolate, as the wine will overpower the chocolate.
On the white side, you will want to seek out a late-harvest sweet Riesling, which harmonizes with the same level of sugar, but usually have a high acidity to balance. Try this: Quinta da Lagoalva de Cima Late Harvest (https://www.lagoalva.pt/en/produto/quinta-da-lagoalva-de-cima-2/ ).
Another perfect combination with milk chocolate is the Madeira wine from the Malvasia variety, the sweetest category, that has some salinity which makes a perfect pairing. A good example is Blandy’s 5 years Malmsey Madeira (https://www.blandys.com/en/wines/blended-wines/5-years/ ).
Dark chocolate is the healthiest for you, but it’s also the trickiest to pair with wine. They tend to contain more polyphenols, which gives them a bitter taste offset with notes of fruit or spice.
The darker the chocolate, the more cacao is used. If you are opting for dark chocolate, I recommend that you stay under 80 percent cacao. Also the tannins found in dark chocolate can come to blows with the tannins in wine, leaving a nasty taste in your mouth.
Thus, they require bolder wines to stand up to the match. Any wines that have subtle chocolate notes of their own make for an interesting pairing with dark chocolates.
Savor these kinds of chocolates with more full-bodied wines like a Vintage Port, or a Syrah, it will taste stunning. Try this: Joao Clara Syrah Red (http://joaoclara.com/product/syrah/ )
Cabernet Sauvignon is another red to consider because this grape tends toward berry flavors, which often work well with chocolate, and they are high in tannins without being too bitter. I recommend this: Quinta do Francês Red (https://www.quintadofrances.com/online-store/QUINTA-DO-FRANC%C3%8AS-p288074022)
While chocolate lovers dismiss this as “not a true chocolate,” you may want to include white chocolate in your wine pairing.
Since white chocolate is the creamiest and most mellow of the chocolate choices, pair it with a sweeter rosé bubbly drink like Filipa Pato 3B Rosé Sparkling (http://www.patowouters.com/en/vinhos/info/our-expression-of-the-region_21/ ).
Another fun pairing is your favorite dessert wine, which is sweeter than a typical dinner wine and comes packed with flavors of dried fruits like apricot and nectarine. The intense flavor of dessert wine pairs perfectly with the mild flavor profile of white chocolate.
Alternatively, try seeking out a white wine with a balance of fruitiness, alongside a bit of refreshing acidity and a touch of creaminess. White chocolates pair beautifully with fortified wines from the Moscatel variety. A surprising but interesting combination, as the acidity will help to hide the fat present in this type of chocolate. Try this: Horácio Simões Moscatel de Setúbal 2019 (https://www.portugalvineyards.com/en/setubal/541-horacio-simoes-moscatel-de-setubal-2019-5609450101128.html)
Alternative Chocolate Styles
The combination of filled chocolates with wines must be made from the flavor of the filling. In other words, chocolate with orange goes well with wines with hints of candied oranges, like a 10-year-old White Port, but chocolate with nuts will be great company for a Tawny Port.
- Spicey chocolate
Sometimes you like a little heat in your chocolate. Sugar neutralizes the pepper’s heat, so a sweet red like a Ruby Port will do the trick with spicy chocolates. On the other side, if you want to kick things up a notch, a nice full-bodied and very tannic Cabernet will spice things up, as the tannins intensify the already existing heat (this goes for spicy dishes, too).
- Salted Caramel Chocolates
The caramel adds a little something extra to chocolate, and not just sweet salinity. Caramel chocolates are the perfect coordination of sweet, salt, and rich mixed with bitterness.
Any type of sweeter wine such as a Tawny Port or Moscatel de Setúbal is wonderful with a bar of caramel chocolate because they add a nutty complexity to the richness.
- Creme Filled Chocolates
A nice oaked Chardonnay will make creme-filled treats even tastier by adding a little oak and body to the lightness of the cream. My suggestion is Coelheiros Chardonnay White 2016 (https://www.coelheiros.pt/en/vinhos/chardonnay/coelheiros-chardonnay/ ).
- Hazelnut Chocolates
Chardonnay works well when paired alongside the hazelnut’s rich nature, but so will something like a Pinot Noir or a Merlot. Try Quinta da Covela Reserve Red (https://covela.pt/en/covela-reserva-tinto/ ).
Perhaps the best rule of all, with wine as with chocolate, is to indulge in what you love. Be guided by these pairing suggestions, but if you find a combination you particularly enjoy, go with it!