Pairing Wine with Chocolate

Today, K and I went to a class about pairing wine and chocolate with a couple of friends for my birthday and Valentine's Day. You know... two birds, one stone. It was a very interesting class! I think a lot of people believe it's easy to pair wine and chocolate, but this class taught me that it's actually surprisingly difficult.

I'll go into the details of the wine and chocolates we had, but here is a good summary we were given about pairing chocolate and wine:

  • For white chocolate... pair with Moscato d'Asti, Beaumes-de-Venise or Orange Muscat
  • For milk chocolate... Brachetto d'Acqui, Madeira, Beaumes-de-Venise or Orange muscat, tawny port, Vin santo
  • For dark chocolate.. Banyuls, LBV port, PX sherry, Oloroso sherry, ruby port, tawny port, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel

I think the most intriguing thing to take away from this list is that normal table wine doesn't really pair with chocolate. You can see big, bold reds like Cab, Syrah, and Zinfandel can be paired with dark chocolate, but otherwise, it's not really a great pairing. The reason why is you always want the wine to be as sweet or sweeter than the chocolate you're eating; otherwise the wine will taste flat. I have always eaten whatever table wine I am having with my dessert, but I have noticed that it doesn't always taste great, so this was really interesting to learn.

The chocolates we had were all from a local chocolate shop called The Secret Chocolatier. I was so excited to try them! Our selection for the tasting were:

  • Dark chocolate covered strawberry
  • Blueberry-chili dark chocolate bark
  • Brown sugar caramel
  • Lemon white chocolate truffle
  • 55% dark chocolate
  • 80% dark chocolate 

Below are the wines we had, what chocolate was paired with it, and my thoughts.

  • Bodegas Gutierrez de la Vega Casta Diva, Recondita Armonia, 2009, Alicante Spain, $29 - This is a late harvest wine from the south of Spain. The grapes get overly ripe, so there are lots of sugars in the grapes when harvested. In order keep the wine from becoming to high in alcohol, the fermentation process is stopped which results in lower alcohol content and some residual sugar in the wine. This wine had a very mixed berry jam flavor and was paired with the Chili Blueberry Bark. It was a great pairing as the sweetness of the wine balanced the heat that came with the chili. Another interesting tidbit is you do not want to pair something spicy with a high alcohol wine as it accentuates the spiciness, so this wine was a great choice.
  • Ferreira 20 Year Tawny Port, Duque de Braganca NV - Duoro Portugal, $65 - Let's just say that this tasting made me realize I am definitely not a fan of port. It's just too sweet and strong in flavor for me. Port is a fortified wine from Portugal that is typically served with (or as) dessert. This port was nutty in flavor with some hints of caramel, so we paired this one with the brown sugar caramel. I will say it tasted better after eating some of the chocolate, but port will definitely not be a regular choice of mine.
  • AR Valdespino Pedro Ximenez Sherry El Candado - Jerez, Spain, $45 - Sherry is the fortified wine of Spain. This one had the strong aroma of fig, dates, and rootbeer and was super viscous. When you swirled the glass, there was a coat of brownish yellow liquid that had very slow moving legs. To me, this wine tasted like liquid raisins which was interesting. We also paired the Blueberry-Chili bark with this wine as the extreme sweetness paired well with the spice. I would never order this wine on my own, but it was definitely interesting to see how it paired with the chocolate in this setting.
  • Marenco Brachetto d'Acqui Pineto, 2014 - Piedmont, Italy, $24 - This was by far my favorite wine and the favorite of the majority of the class. It was effervescent, so there was a slight carbonation to it. It was sweet, but not overly sweet, so it was really the perfect wine to have with dessert, in my opinion. Plus it was pink, so it is the perfect choice for Valentine's Day! This wine paired great with the chocolate covered strawberry and the lemon white chocolate truffle. The wine had a strawberry flavor which is what paired well with the chocolate covered strawberry. With the white chocolate, the wine actually seemed less sweet because of the lemon. The flavor of the wine was definitely different when paired with the two chocolates, but both were great pairings.
  • Shane Wine Co Syrah, The Unknown 2012 - Sonoma County, California, $40 - This wine was very dark and concentrated with a black fruit aroma and flavor. This wine was paired with the 55% dark chocolate and it worked well because neither were particularly sweet. I just flat out didn't like the 80% dark chocolate, so I didn't give it a try with the wines, but it would have probably paired fine.
  • Lady Hill Cabernet Franc, 2013 - Columbia Valley, Washington, $29 - I didn't take too many notes on this one because I was focusing on finishing up the bits of chocolate I had left! But this wine was similar to the Syrah in the sense that it was a dark and full bodied wine with some spice. I really enjoyed this wine by itself and it also paired well with the 55% dark chocolate. 

To summarize, typical wine that you and I drink doesn't pair well with chocolate. Big, bold, dry, full bodied wines pair best with dark chocolate, but otherwise, it's not a great combo. Pick up a bottle of sweet wine or fortified wine to pair with your chocolate. Remember that your wine should be sweeter than your chocolate. With all of this said, also keep in mind that if you like the way something or a combination tastes and it doesn't fit into these "rules", you keep on keeping on! Ultimately wine is a personal experience so drink and eat what you like!