What to consider when pairing wine with chocolate

On a number of occasions at the winery tasting bar, I am asked about matching wines with chocolate. It’s not my intent to make blanket statements when it comes to the principles of matching these enticing components in life. Suffice to say, the underlying rule remains: the wine must be sweeter that the dessert, otherwise the wine will taste thin and even bitter; devoid of character.

I am not of the opinion that red wines, in general, match up with chocolate desserts. High-quality dark chocolate can be extremely bitter. Try a 70 to 85%  bar, and if you’re not used to it, you will be begging for sugar!  Look instead for red wines with a degree of sweetness, such as Port, Madeira, Marsala, Oloroso Sherry and vins doux naturel [Banyuls and Maury]. Here’s why….

Chocolate is at once bitter and sweet [bitter from the cocoa base and sweet from the additions of milk, cream and sugar]. Unprocessed cocoa beans, from which cocoa liquor is extracted to make chocolate, are typically high in tannin. Like wine, the cocoa beans go through a fermentation process which reduces the natural level of tannin. So the higher the percentage of cocoa liquor in the chocolate, the higher the level of tannin it will contain. Fortified wines are similar: both bitter [from the skins and tannin of red grapes] and sweet [from the residual sugar]. Thereby, they reflect one another’s aromas and flavours; a synergy. Fortified wines pick up the chocolate’s smokier, burnt sugar or caramel notes as well as displaying the textural comparison between the two: the silkiness of the chocolate melting in your mouth and the viscosity of the wine on the palate.

And now…..bring on the hazelnut chocolate mousse or four-spice cocoa nib truffles or even an almond, sesame and vanilla praline!