Chocolate? Good. Wine? Even better. But together? Not for me.
Before you call me a hack, hear me out.
While chocolate companies, large-scale wine brands and pop culture rom-coms try to sell you on the romantic idea of wine and chocolate pairings — whether for Valentine’s Day or general gift giving — beverage experts tend to agree: Still wine typically fails as a dance partner for chocolate.
“I’m not sure why everyone is always trying to pair chocolate with red wine, other than the fact that everyone loves red wine and chocolate,” says Los Angeles-based sommelier Whitney Adams. “It’s rare that I enjoy wine with my chocolate.” Adams says to step away from dry red wines — zins, cabs, pinots — and instead reach for other categories, namely dessert or fortified wines like port or Madeira.
“Madeira is like a slightly sweet, salty and nutty hug in a glass,” says Adams. “I’d reach for some Rare Wine Co. Madeira for a special treat.”
Chocolate, by nature, is bitter. Like wine, it also contains tannins, the astringent compound found in red wine that cause your gums and cheeks to dry out. Pairing a wine — also typically higher in acid — with bitter chocolate just throws your palate out of whack.
“There’s nothing wrong with eating chocolate and wine, but if you’re going for a specific pairing and a great experience, dry reds are just jarring and clashing,” says Michael Matonte, manager of Vin Chicago and an advanced sommelier. “You want a little sweetness. A little bit of Lambrusco can be quite nice with chocolate.” Lambrusco, a sparkling red wine style from Italy, tends to have a fine bubble and fruitier profile, lending a soft cleansing of the palate between bites of richer chocolate.
For Katrina Markoff, chocolate expert and founder of Vosges Haut Chocolat, the wine and chocolate pairing should be much more nuanced. In fact, her company trains employees in perfect chocolate and beverage pairings with a 100-page tasting guide just for this purpose.
“Wine and chocolate are often diametrically opposed in flavors, so the trick is to look at the whole experience,” says Markoff. Known for incorporating ingredients like fennel pollen, paprika, star anise and horseradish into her chocolates, Markoff suggests “pulling out flavors from the chocolate that can be mirrored in the wine.”
If the chocolate is already very sweet, a dessert wine can be too much — an eau de vie, or fruit brandy, is the way to go. The higher acid in the brandy provides balance and lift. If you insist on red wine with a dark chocolate, at least avoid tannic styles. “Go for something juicier,” she says. Try California merlot or Australian shiraz.
Personally, I take a different tack: brown spirits like whiskey and rum. Sure, the buzz doesn’t hurt, but the alcohol also has more body, coating the tongue from the chocolate’s tannins. Additionally, a brown spirit’s spicy and caramel flavors lend themselves well to the darker, earthy flavors of chocolate.
If you’ve read this far and still disagree, fine. Far be it for me to prevent your enjoyment of two of God’s great culinary gifts. I just want you to know: There’s a better way.