A Guide to Chocolate and Wine Paring
By Matthew Fitzsimmons
Chocolate and wine are delicacies in their own right. While sampling them together is easy, pairing them so their flavors blend harmoniously is more difficult than people realize.
Anne Tucker, senior manager and pairing guru at Fabbioli Cellars, explained what makes the perfect pairing. “When pairing wine and food the art is in the balance. Making sure all flavor components complement one another, not fight each other. It is about knowing what flavors go together along with textures and aromas. It’s a relationship between wine and the perfect harmonious bite.”
The biggest problem in matching the two is how to work around chocolate’s natural bitterness. When chocolate is paired with wine tannins, it increases the perception of bitterness in the wine. The more cacao a chocolate has, the more these ingredients will clash. This means pairing chocolate and wine with matching intensities is often the preferred way to go.
While chocolate and wine pairings can be tricky, it can be done. Carl and Donna Henrickson, owners of Wine Loves Chocolate and the Little Washington Winery, are experts in this field. Their approach is to match flavors that are similar to one another. In the wine and food pairing world, this is called “like with like.”
“Winemakers use malolactic fermentation to finesse the aromas and flavors of wine. Chocolatiers ferment cacao and also might add a ganache (creamy center) to finesse a rich milky component to chocolate.
There are three basic kinds of ganaches that you can make – white, milk and dark chocolate based. Milk and dark chocolate based ganaches add an immense amount of chocolatey flavor and richness which you cannot replicate.
White chocolate is the most versatile. Our chocolatiers came to the conclusion that a truffle that has a creamy ganache center is much more compatible to wine than a plain chocolate bar – like with like.”
Tips for Wine and Chocolate Pairings
According to Leesburg Gourmet owner David Mercado, “There is actually a lot of versatility in parings. It’s when you have the wine first, then the chocolate, then you get that 3rd experience.
It comes down to the wine and chocolate either being complimentary or contrasting. A complementary pairing would be a cardamom and honey-centric chocolate with riesling; sweet with sweet. A contrasting pairing would be a dry red wine like a Bordeaux blend which would go more with something like a saffron or blackberry chocolate.
For white wines, you may have a chocolate with sea salt & olive oil, so it’s more a smooth culinary tasting vs a confection tasting. The contrast would be a dry chardonnay.
The pairing experience is steering people to explain what they are getting. You can steer people towards definitions but you want people to taste the pairing on their own and get them to explain it. That’s part of wine education.”
Here are some general rules for your next chocolate and wine event:
Rule #1. Match with the right type of chocolate (white, milk, or dark)
White chocolate is made of cocoa butter with sugar. As white chocolate lacks cocoa powder, it technically isn’t even a chocolate. White chocolate’s mellowness and buttery flavor favor pairings with sweeter wine.
While it’s often paired with riesling or late-harvest wines, try some lighter reds. David explains, “For white chocolate, we may go with a white wine or a hazelnut with nuts that will go well with a gamay. But you need to get a higher quality white because those tend to be more sugary; good white chocolates have some weight. Gewürztraminer with vanilla infused white chocolate pieces pair well.”
Recommended pairing: Fabbioli Cellar’s Raspberry Merlot.
Milk chocolate pairs well with lower tannin wines, such as merlot, pinot noir, or barbera.
“In milk chocolate we’d go with a lighter wine as it will be creamier, so we’d go with a pinot. The good pinots give you an experience of strength on the back end, while dark chocolate usually smooths it out,” according to David.
Recommended pairing: A Little Washington Winery Merlot.
Dark chocolate is the most difficult to pair as it has the most cocoa. The darker the chocolate the more it accentuates wine tannins. Fortified wine is a good choice, but you can also try a cabernet sauvignon or petit verdot.
According to Wine Loves Chocolate, the rule of thumb with this type of pairing is ‘big with big’.
“Big in chocolate means dark, less sugary chocolates, high cacao desserts, and truffles. Red wines likewise come in different levels of big-ness.
The bigger the wine the higher the cacao percentage your chocolate needs to be so that each element stands up and doesn’t overpowered the other.”
Recommended pairing: A Bluestone Vineyard petit verdot or a Rogers Ford Farm Winery petit verdot-based Snake Castle port-style.
Rule #2. Match Sweet with Sweet.
Wine will taste dull if the food is sweeter than the wine.
White chocolate and milk chocolate have a lot more sugar than dark chocolate. A very sweet chocolate can overpower a sweet wine, taking it from a dessert style wine to something dryer and more mainstream.
Rule #3. Match Citrus with Citrus.
Many white wines have lemon, lime, grapefruit, orange and passion fruit nuances. Pair them with citrus flavored desserts and truffles. Lemon bars, key lime, passion fruit, chocolate covered orange slices, our limoncello truffles.
But always remember – the most important rule to any pairing is if you enjoy the two together, you’re doing it right!
About the Author: Matthew Fitzsimmons is a blogger who has visited nearly every winery in Virginia – most of them twice. Follow his progress at https://winetrailsandwanderlust.com/.