Wine and cheese is the classic pairing, wine and chocolate a little less. However, that does not mean it can't be done to great effect! Learn how to pair wine with chocolate well.
Rules for Pairing Wine and Chocolate
If you've tried wine and chocolate together, odds are you've had a pairing that wasn't so successful. Wine and chocolate sound like a great idea because both have intense, fruity notes and both are sweet. Unfortunately, this can be too much of a good thing where the pairing doesn't resonate on the palate because of the similarities. For this reason, you will want to look for wine and chocolate pairings that play up the differences between the two 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 a bittersweet chocolate, the experience won't be pleasurable due to an overload of polyphenols.
How, then, to succeed? Start with the lightest in both wines and chocolates and work your way toward more intense pairings. By starting light and working your way dark, you will be able to taste the subtler notes at play. If you began with a dark chocolate and then tried white or milk, you'd miss out on a lot of the flavors. Likewise, saving fuller-bodied wines for later in the tasting ensures that you will appreciate the notes in lighter wines while your palate is fresher.
While a general rule of success is to pair sweeter wines with chocolates -- everything from ice wines to fortified wines such as sherry or port -- these wines can be syrupy, and they may not be what you're after in a wine event.
Wines to Pair With White Chocolate
While chocolate lovers dismiss this as "not a true chocolate," you may want to include white chocolate in your wine pairing. Since its dominant flavors are cream and butter, white chocolate pairs well with light or playful wines. It's fun to start things off with a bubbly, such as Moscato d'Asti, which highlights the creaminess in white chocolate. Sherry works too, as does muscat.
For a bold move, try pairing a big New World Zinfandel with white chocolate. The heavy wine seems like it would dominate the subtle chocolate but when you find the right Zin with the right white chocolate, the match can be heavenly.
Wines to Pair With Milk Chocolate
Of all the chocolates, milk chocolates vary the most in taste, so taste your chocolates first. Do they have nutty flavors or fruity notes? Are they balanced, tasting mainly of milky cocoa butter?
The best wine pairings for balanced milk chocolates are sweet whites or mild reds. Think light Pinot Noirs or Merlots on the red side, or sweet Rieslings and Muscats, along with dessert whites. Avoid anything that's too heavy when pairing a red wine with milk chocolate, as the wine will overpower the chocolate.
Sparkling wine works for milk chocolate, too, especially those varieties that have fruity flavors. For nutty milk chocolates, port is a natural pairing.
Wines to Pair With Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolates tend to contain more polyphenols, which gives them a bitter taste offset with notes of fruit or spice. 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.
Zinfandels stand out here, because they have full bodies, higher alcohol levels, and tend toward flavor notes of fruit and spice. Cabernet Sauvignon is another red to consider, or if you prefer New World wines pick up a Shiraz. Cabs tend toward berry flavors, which often work well with chocolate, and they are high in tannins without being too bitter.
Lighter dark chocolates, such as those with around 55 percent cocoa, pair well with Merlots and Pinot Noirs. If you've tried these wines with milk chocolate, look for a fuller bodies, more tannic Pinot or Merlot to pair with your dark chocolate to keep things exciting for the palate. If this is your final pairing of the night, conclude with a nice port.
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!
This article was first published on the EHL blog.