Pairing wine and chocolate is not a task to be taken lightly. While there are fantastic rewards for the lover of both wine and chocolate, many combinations of these two passions can make the chocolate become bland and the wine taste bitter or sour.
The general rule of thumb is to match the intensity of the wine with the intensity of the chocolate. A deeply bittersweet chocolate for a robust red wine, and lighter chocolate for more delicate white wines. As an example, I would suggest no less than an 85% cocoa for a heavy wine such as a Cabernet Sauvignon, though an even darker chocolate would be preferable. It is also important that the chocolate not be overly sweet, even when pairing with a white wine. Nothing will ruin the taste of a dry Chardonnay like a overly sweet piece of milk chocolate. A creamy chocolate is always preferable to a sweet chocolate when pairing. In most cases, the chocolate should be no sweeter than the wine itself. Below you’ll find a few combinations to illustrate more of the basics of wine and chocolate.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Chocolate Bonnat 100%
The King of Red Wine, a Cabernet is incredibly full bodied and strong. This potent wine has a high content of tannin that gives it a kick that some would even describe as spicy. The flavor of the wine is enough to wash out all but the strongest chocolates. As a result, I would suggest the finest in absolute dark chocolate, Bonnat's 100%. This pairing is not for faint of heart, it's not far off from eating cacao beans straight. However, paired correctly this is best opportunity to examine the true flavor of cacao. If anything could rival the bitterness of 100% cacao, it would be a Cabernet from Bordeaux. The tannins acclimate your senses to the cacao's bitterness, which pull back the curtain of the chocolate flavor and allow you to taste the subtle intricacies you could have never noticed before.
Chianti and Vosges Dark Chocolae Bacon Bar
Chianti is long heralded as the most versatile wine for food, and occupies a permanent seat alongside italian cooking. The secret to a Chianti lies, in part, within its high acidity that gives it structure without being as heavy as the tannin laden Cabernet. Acid in wine pairs well with salt and tangy flavors, and in chocolate the Vosges Bacon bar is exactly that. The medium body of Chianti gives more room for a lighter chocolate to express itself, and the acidity accents the salt present in the bacon. Conversely, the tangy smoky notes of the bacon dull the Chianti's bite, to allow the more subtle fruity flavors of the Chianti to shine through. The result is a vibrant explosion of flavor that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Merlot and Dolfin Pear and Almond
Merlot is an accessible wine with good body and good bite but is also very smooth. It's the perfect red wine to match with a slightly sweeter chocolate. For wine pairing, Dolfin's Pear and Almond bar is almost the perfect package. The sweetness of this dark chocolate comes from the fruity tones of the pear, and the complex sweetness has less impact on the wine than sugar would. Meanwhile the dark chocolate subdues some of the tannin in the Merlot, releasing a strong fruit flavor from the wine itself. The result is a refreshing fruity mix alongside the chocolate and wine flavors. The almonds, however, are the masterstroke of the combination, their salty, nutty notes, help add to the structure of the wine, whose mild medium body would fall apart otherwise, leaving a flat taste without as much complexity.
Black Muscat and Al Nassma Fig Bar
Our owner has a particular wine she enjoys with chocolate, Elysium Black Muscat Dessert Wine (2008). With their sweetness, dessert wines have a bit more flexibility in chocolate pairing. The lush lychee flavor of the Elysium Black Muscat is an excellent lure for the uninitiated wine drinker. For sweet wines, I would suggest a unique approach through camel milk chocolate, and Al Nassma's fig in milk chocolate bar is the perfect match for a Black muscat. We've talked about Camel Milk Chocolate, before, and with a creamy milk chocolate light on sweetness, it can't be beat. The flavor of the wine, draws out the subtle warm flavors of the camel milk chocolate that stand up in the face of sweetness. The combination creates a perfect frame for the figs, which absorb some of the fruity notes of the wine to create a smooth flavor sensation.
Chardonnay and Chuao Potato chip Bar
As I discussed with the Chianti, a high acid content in a wine matches well with salt and tangy flavors. Traditionally, white wines have a much higher acidity which gives them their dry texture and complex structure. As such, a good salty chocolate bar will pair very nicely with a dry white wine, like a Chardonnay. My family has been partial to J. Lohr Chardonnay for quite a while, and its dry almost buttery notes work incredibly well with Chuao's Potato Chip bar. Chuao uses a deep milk chocolate for their bar, with a touch of sweetness that doesn't upset the Chardonnay, but, rather, emphasizes it's elegant structure. The salt pairs incredibly well, shining like a beacon in the center of your mouth. The subtle nutty elements of the potato come into sharper relief in the presence of the savory Chardonnay, to create a unique and savory experience.
Pinot Grigio and Neuhaus White chocolate
For the last pairing, I wanted to make mention of the only white chocolate I have ever loved: The White Chocolate Tablet from Neuhaus. Many white chocolates are simply too sweet for wine pairing, but the Belgian Neuhaus makes a white chocolate so creamy and mild that I enjoy it, even when I can't stand most other white chocolates. For a white chocolate, a white wine is necessary, and a Pinot Grigio is a great match. Not quite a dry as a Chardonnay, the Pinot Grigio is smoother with a medium full body and will accept the mild sweetness of the White Chocolate without compromising the structure of the wine. In fact, in this case, the touch of sugar actually accents the body of the wine, to accent some of the peppery notes that the Pinot Grigio is known for. The combination is a vast and flavorful plateau of sweet and strong notes.
A difficult endeavor, the road to a successful pairing of wine and chocolate is narrow, but fortunately it is long and there are many wonderful stops along the way. Truly there are excellent rewards for the bold and adventuresome; and plenty of chocolate and wine besides. For those less inclined to trial and error, Neuhaus makes a Sommelier Collection of truffles, complete with a booklet of wine pairing suggestions, which you can pick up at our little shop.
In the meantime, enjoy the best.