A box of premium, extra rich chocolate and a bottle of vintage wine – that stands for nothing less than an epicure’s idea of heaven! The art of pairing wine with chocolate, and the various possible permutations and combinations thereof, is what we would be discussing here.
Marry off a chocoholic to an oenophile and you can rest assured that no ‘difference’ between them could ever be ‘irreconcilable’ – not when fine wine and gourmet chocolate is always present in the house to take care of all ‘reconciliation’ issues (wink!)! While a wine-and-chocolate combination sounds like a match made in heaven, pairing the right wine with the right chocolate is a serious affair as the right combination truly results in the ‘perfect super couple’ of gustatory hedonism. However, while attempting to find a particular wine to pair with a certain flavor or variety of chocolate or vice versa, one must remember that both chocolate and wine are, individually and in their own rights, extremely powerful luxury foods insomuch as each defines the benchmark of gustatory (and olfactory) luxury, besides being classic mood enhancers that induce a feeling of well-being in the consumer. Therefore, care must be taken to pair them wisely and with utmost sensuous dexterity.
Wine and Chocolate Pairing Tips
The chief ingredients that impart those distinctive flavors and aromas to wines and chocolates are tannins and cocoa (the solids as well as the butter), respectively. Now, exactly how delicate or rich a chocolate tastes depends primarily upon the percentage of cocoa solids it contains and its proportion to the amount of sugar, milk solids, other additives and artificial flavoring agents put together. Higher the concentration of cocoa, richer the bittersweet flavor of the chocolate. Likewise, a wine that contains more tannins is drier on the palate and leaves an aftertaste that is somewhat bittersweet, the bitterness being more prominent than the sweetness and acidity. On the contrary, wines having less tannins taste milder and are easier on the palate.
Barring certain differences of opinion here and there, the majority of connoisseurs agree upon the ‘complementary pairing’ approach as opposed to the ‘contrasting notes’ concept. In other words, it is always good to match those chocolates and wines together whose innate flavors and underlying notes, as felt by the palate, appear to get along easily so that the combined taste is picked up by the taste buds smoothly with no pursing of the lips and/or scrunching of the nose involved. It means that a particular wine should be paired with a chocolate that has similar gustatory characteristics and the flavors are able to blend in such a way that the taste compounds in each is brought out by the other in a pleasant, agreeable manner. Following are some pointers that summarize exactly how a chocolate and wine pairing should go about:-
- As discussed earlier, the taste of wine and the flavor of chocolate with which it is meant to be paired should be complementary and not contrasting. Hence, dark and bittersweet chocolates, that have high cocoa (say, 85% – 99%) and low sugar content, go best with stronger, drier red wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Beaujolais, Merlot, Cognac, etc.
- Semi-sweet chocolates having around 60% – 80% cocoa content may be paired with fortified wines as well as full to medium bodied wines that have a moderate amount of tannins present along with fruity or spicy undertones, such as Ruby Port, Orange Muscat, Zinfandel, etc. Medium or semi-sweet chocolate can also be paired with strong red wines as mentioned in the previous point, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, dark ruby Banyuls, etc. In fact, if you’re experimental enough, you may try pairing semi-sweet chocolate with stronger, full-bodied red wines and bittersweet chocolate with fortified and medium bodied wines with fruity undertones. You could be swept off your feet by some unconventional combinations!
- Mix and match as much as you wish in the bittersweet and semi-sweet categories but you must be careful when picking up a wine to pair with milk, white or any other predominantly sweet chocolate that has a delicate flavor and a subtly fragile aroma. Sweeter wines such as Muscat, Aszú, Sauternes, Sherry (the sweet variety), Tawny Port, etc. are the usual choices to accompany, rich, creamy, fruity-nutty milk chocolates. The more delicately flavored white chocolate may be paired with the mild and exotic flavored Riesling as well as any sparkling wine, such as Champagne. An interesting thing to note here is that while sparkling wines are not the ideal pairs for cocoa-based edibles, they get along just fine with white chocolate as this kind of chocolate does not contain any cocoa solids. The cocoa butter content of white chocolates hardly interferes with the acidity of sparkling wines, thereby, sparing your palate the tartness that may be experienced with a cocoa-rich chocolate and Champagne combination!
Wine and Chocolate Pairing Chart
If you are familiar with the aforementioned chocolate and wine varieties, you would know exactly what the above-mentioned pairing tips imply. Since the ground rules of pairing have been established, we can now proceed towards the wine and chocolate pairing chart that would serve to summarize and exemplify the proper way these exquisitely sensuous indulgences should be paired.
Dark, Bittersweet and Semi-sweet Chocolate
◆ 85% – 100% cocoa content makes a chocolate bitter or bittersweet
◆ 60% – 80% cocoa content makes a chocolate medium or semi-sweet
◆ Flavor undertones could range from roasted nuts to woodsy and earthy to tart and fruity
With Dry, Full to Medium Bodied Red Wines
◆ Good options include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Bordeaux, Grenache, Marsala, Cognac, Malbec, Beaujolais, Zinfandel, etc.
◆ Wine undertones to look out for would be fruity, nutty, woodsy, earthy and spicy
◆ Chocolate liqueurs, such as Crème de cacao, can also be paired with bittersweet chocolate.
How They Click
Strong chocolate flavors complement the dryness and weight of full to medium bodied wines without being overwhelmed by the latter’s astringency and bold flavor elements. This makes sure that the chocolate’s identity is enhanced, rather than suppressed, by the accompanying wine. Also, a chocolate with high cocoa and cocoa butter content balances the tannins and astringency of a dry wine.
Milk or Sweet Chocolate
◆ Less than 40% cocoa solids
◆ No hint of bitterness, not even as a subtle aftertaste
◆ Milk solids and sugar content higher than cocoa content
◆ Lighter in color, sweeter in taste and softer in texture
◆ May have added fruit, nut or vanilla flavors
With Sweeter, Medium to Light Bodied Wines
◆ Dessert wines such as Sweet Sherry, Tokaji, Sauternes, Moscato, Riesling, etc.
◆ Fortified sweet wines such as Madeira, Tawny Port, Ruby Port, etc.
◆ Other good pairing options would include Pinot Noir and Merlot
How They Click
In conformity with the ‘complementary’ approach, a sweeter chocolate asks to be paired with a sweeter wine with simple undertones of tropical fruitiness. Drier wines with complex undertones to their flavor would taste sharper than desirable, assuming a somewhat bitter-sour feel on the back of the tongue.
◆ No cocoa solids contained; only milk solids and cocoa butter constitute the chief ingredients, along with various flavoring agents, stabilizers, preservatives, etc., as additives.
◆ Delicate flavors such as vanilla, honey, butterscotch, caramel, strawberry, etc., are mostly preferred as additives in white chocolate
With Sweet, Fruity Flavored Wines
◆ Riesling, Orange Muscat, Gewürztraminer , Sherry, etc.
◆ Sparkling wines, such as Champagne, also seem to agree with the buttery flavor of white chocolate
◆ If you feel like experimenting a bit, you may try and pair a slightly high-tannin wine, such as the medium bodied Zinfandel or Merlot, with white chocolate.
How They Click
While breezy fruit undertones and the high sugar content of sweet wines complement the sweet taste and delicate flavor and aroma of a premium white chocolate, the high cocoa butter content softens the acidity of sparkling wines, which are, otherwise, not a usual favorite with darker chocolates. You might also like the way the buttery texture and fat content of the chocolate softens tannins of wines like Zinfandel and Merlot, resulting in a kind of ‘gradually yielding’ feel, if you know what I mean. Then again, it all depends upon individual perception of tastes and blending of flavors and the resulting notes on the palate.
That was an elementary pairing table that puts down the best possible match of wine for the very basic categories of chocolates. Chocolates also come in a lot of different variants of added flavors and aromas and it would be wise to have some idea about what wines would go with which category of flavors of a basic variety of chocolate. Check out the following points to get an idea:-
- To pick a wine for bittersweet chocolate spiked with a latent note of chillies or cinnamon, a fortified sweet wine that has fruity undercurrents would be the perfect match to balance off the chocolate’s spicy essence.
- Bold red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Madeira (even Port) go extremely well with fruit flavored chocolates, especially the cherry and berry (cranberry, strawberry, blueberry, etc.) flavored ones as the tartness of these tannin rich wines complement the sharp sweetness of berries.
- After mint liqueurs, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel are the preferred wines when it comes to pairing mint flavored or mint crème filled chocolates.
- Coffee liqueurs or chocolate and cream liqueurs complement coffee flavored chocolates the best. This is, perhaps, the most obvious example of the ‘complementary’ approach of matching alcohol with chocolate.
There, that was all about how wine and chocolate ought to be paired. Are you wondering about the absence of the classic dark chocolate and Champagne pairing from the table above? Well, as much as Hollywood would like us to believe in the ultimate romance of cocoa-rich chocolate and Champagne’s passionate affair, that is not quite the case in reality. The high cocoa content of dark chocolate (bittersweet, semi-sweet, or milk) brings out the tartness of a sparkling wine, making the gustatory experience stray quite unpleasantly from the desired results. However, that doesn’t mean these two cannot be paired – as I said earlier, it all depends upon an individual’s perception of tastes. Whatever your tastes, the fact remains that chocolate and wine, put together, pay the highest tribute to luxury and your dedication towards the finer things in life. Get yourself the best quality and variety of both so that you lose yourself to the ultimate indulgence as the rich chocolate flirts with your taste buds and the vintage wine makes love to your finer senses.