Friday, June 28, 2019

The Ultimate Guide to Chocolate and Wine Pairing

Guest post by Nicholas Rubright of Jordan Winery

The Ultimate Guide to Chocolate and Wine Pairing

When it comes to wine and chocolate, there are several similarities. For example, both are used in Valentine’s Day advertisements, and both are made up of antioxidants making them heart-healthy when consumed in moderation.

But do wine and chocolate pair well together? Of course they do!

The rules to wine pairing are tricky, and when you’re trying to pair wine with chocolate, this is no exception.

I’ve put together this guide to help you match your wines with the right chocolate.

What makes pairing wine and chocolate so hard?


Chocolate and wine both have a variety of flavanols, otherwise known as tannins. Tannins are widely found throughout nature, particularly in fruits, berries, and cocoa. While for humans it’s perfectly safe to consume, lingering tannins are a natural defense in plants to ward off predators. 

In wine, tannins come from ingredients such as grape skin and the wood from the barrels used in the aging process. The natural chemical helps preserve the wine in the process. 

Meanwhile, in chocolate, the tannin is concentrated in the cocoa bean, making it bitter-tasting in its natural state.

Knowing this, it makes sense why you wouldn’t pair dark chocolate with dark wine. The two together will clash, and the chocolate will only bring out the bitter and sour flavors in the wine, making it gross to mix together. 

Luckily, when you pair the two correctly, the experience is delicious.

Milk Chocolate

Milk ChocolateMilk chocolate is loosely made up of chocolate with milk mixed in as either a powder, liquid, or condensed form. The fats found in the milk and cocoa butter soften the tannins in the chocolate and make it easier to pair with wine.

Recommended wine pairing for milk chocolate

Ruby Port - a classic dessert wine choice that pairs well with chocolate (in all varieties). While Port wines are high in tannins, the tannins are outweighed by its flavor profile of sweet, fresh fruits like blackberry, plums, and dates.

Brachetto d’Acqui - this Italian wine has a great balance of sweetness and freshness, making it perfect for milk chocolate. When you pour yourself a glass, you’ll immediately notice the notes of floral rose and ripe red fruit, such as strawberries and blackberries. 

Rutherglen Muscat - this Australian wine is known to be one of the sweetest wines in the world. Its flavor comes from the Muscat grape (which also makes Moscato) and has very complex notes throughout. There is no denying that this wine is a dessert wine, which makes it a great option to complement your milk chocolate craving any day.

Lambrusco di Sorbara - this is a sparkling red wine (yes, they exist!). There is a variety of Lambrusco wines and this Italian wine happens to be among the lightest ones. It has a flavor profile of strawberry and rhubarb, with little to no tannins, which will pair well with your milk chocolate because the flavors won’t overpower each other.

Dark Chocolate

Dark ChocolateThe flavanols in dark chocolate are almost as strong as those found in red wines. If we go by the definition, dark chocolate will contain at least 35% of cocoa solids.

The cocoa concentrate is the part of dark chocolate that is full of tannins and gives the chocolate a powerful source of antioxidants. This is also what gives the chocolate its bitterness, so you’ll want to balance it out with the right wine pairing.

Recommended wine pairing for dark chocolate

Port Wines - these wines come from the region of Portugal. They have a wide range of intensity that can pair well with a variety of chocolates. Popular pairings include Zinfandel with cayenne chocolate or Petite Sirah with chocolate covered espresso beans.

Original Port - this wine has rich notes of cinnamon spice and pairs perfectly with dark chocolate that has a high percentage of cocoa in it.

Merlot - this medium-bodied wine is actually a nice choice for dark chocolate desserts, but only up to the 55% cocoa mark. Anything higher than that will change the flavor of your wine for the worse.

White Chocolate

We all know that white chocolate isn’t real chocolate. The chocolate confection is actually made up of cocoa butter instead of the actual cacao fruit, along with milk solids and sugar. 

Since it doesn’t contain any tannins from the cacao fruit, it’s the perfect chocolate to pair with bolder wines.

Recommended wine pairing for white chocolate

Pinot Noir - this medium-bodied wine pairs perfectly with white chocolate. Since white chocolate has no tannins, the creaminess of the dessert really allows the flavor notes of Pinot Noir to shine through. Flavors in the wine such as that of red cherries, strawberries, and raspberries pair well with the smoothness of white chocolate.

Moscato d’Asti - this sparkling, sweet wine is light both in body and alcohol, matching very well with the delicateness of white chocolate. This Moscato variety makes the pairing all the more creamy with its fizziness and flavor profile of peaches and cream.

Rosé Port - this wine is the newest variety of Port wines. It has beautiful shades of pink and its flavor profile of tropical fruits and exotic wood is carried through when matched with a white chocolate dessert. 

Ice Wine - this wine is made from grapes that have frozen on the vine. Some wines that are made from these grapes are Riesling, Cabernet Franc, and Vidal Blanc. Depending on how the wine was harvested, the flavor profile generally has notes of pineapple, lemon meringue, and creamy candied oranges. Imagine all those flavors when paired with white chocolate - delicious! 

Flavored Chocolate Pairings

Flavored ChocolateChocolate will rarely be made on its own - it’s too good not pair it with caramel, nuts, fruit, and more.

Here are some wines you can pair with different flavored chocolate combinations.

Chocolate and Caramel
A sweet combination like this is paired with an aged dessert wine like Tawny Port (20+ years) and Moscatel de Setubal. Both are aged with oxidation and have nutty flavor notes that will compliment the caramel.

Chocolate Covered Strawberries
Sparkling wines are perfect for these. It’s not a coincidence that fancy restaurants and hotels pair their chocolate covered strawberries with their finest bottle of Champagne. The fusion of bubbles and bright acidity brings out the fruitiness of the strawberry while blending well with the chocolate coating.

Chocolate Mint
This chocolate mint flavor fusion is fresh and crisp. Since this is an herb that mixes so finely with the chocolate, it actually pairs well with Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah Port. These are two bold wines that won’t clash with this flavor combination.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups
For those nutty chocolate lovers, great wines that will pair nicely are Madeira, Oloroso Sherry, and Marsala wine. Marsala wine has a flavor profile of vanilla and brown sugar that enhances your chocolate treat.

Exceptions

Not all wines and desserts are created equal. While dry red wines usually shouldn’t be paired with dark chocolate, there are some exceptions to the rule. 

Exception #1: Fats and Starches Counteract the Tannins

Sometimes your dark chocolate dessert recipe will call for extra fats and starches, like in a cake or cheesecake. These ingredients will soften the bitterness in the chocolate, allowing a bolder wine pairing. You can also tailor your desserts to go with red wines and add fruits like raspberries to your dark chocolate cake.

Exception #2: Residual Sugars In Wine Will Make For a Better Pairing

Residual sugars (RS) are the natural sweetness leftover from the fermentation process. The alcohol found in wine actually comes from the fermentation process where yeast eats the sugar found in the wine grapes and turns it into ethanol (alcohol).

The dryer the wine, the higher the alcohol level because the yeast transformed all of the natural sugars into liquor. That is unless the yeast is stopped in the winemaking process to make the wine sweeter, at which point the wine has a lower alcohol level. 

Red wines with more RS will always pair better with dark chocolate because it offsets the bitterness in the chocolate. This is hard to measure with a naked tongue, so instead, we use grams. 

Value brands of Shiraz, Malbec, and Zinfandel will display a profile of approximately 10 - 60 grams per liter of residual sugars. These are full-body wines that can be enjoyed with dark chocolate if the RS is just right.

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Author Bio

Nicholas Rubright is a digital marketing specialist for Jordan Winery - a California Wine company that specializes in producing high-quality Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Champagne, and other delicious products. Currently, his wine of choice is Syrah.

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