There are fallacies in wine like there are fallacies in food. Chocolate causes acne; salt raises the blood pressure. Wine is great with chocolate; wine is great with cheese. Maybe there is some grain of truth in all of these, so they are more like exaggerations than myth. And that’s the case with wine and chocolate, an awkward match that surfaces every Valentine’s Day.
If you are planning to embark on this risky path to romantic celebration, think twice about pairing wine with chocolate. Sometimes it’s better not to share the occasion with wine. But if you must, we have some recommendations.
Because of the sugar and fat content of chocolate, the palate is jerked in a direction that is totally opposite dry wine. That’s why crackers and bread are served during wine tastings.
Here are five recommendations to make your chocolate-wine pairing a success:
Serve good chocolate and try to stay away from those syrupy fillings. Bars of white, milk, and dark chocolate from a reputable confectioner are far better than a box of Whitman’s.
Match sweetness with sweetness. Ports are decent matches with dark chocolate. Late- harvest riesling, sauterne, tokaji, muscat, or moscato d’asti, are good choices for white chocolate. For milk or dark chocolate, we like late-harvest zinfandel. All of these wines have significant sugar content.
Although you can spend a lot of money on dessert wines such as ice wine, there are inexpensive alternatives. A ruby port or Graham’s Six Grapes port are easy to find and cost less $20. Moscato is cheap and late-harvest rieslings, like that from Chateau Ste. Michelle, are inexpensive.
Serve small proportions if you are having a tasting. Many of these wines come in half-bottles (375ml). Port usually comes in a full, 750ml bottle which can easily serve 12-15 people. If people want to drink more wine, get them off the sweet stuff because an overdose of sweet wine will lead to a nasty headache the next morning. And, heavens, think of the calories from sweet wine and chocolate.
If you don’t want to serve sweet wines, look to zinfandel and syrah/shiraz. You may not realize it, but many red wines have residual sugar – just not as much as the wines listed above. These wines include Meomi, Menage et Trois, and Apothic Red. If you want to improve the quality, consider California zinfandel.
Don’t serve anything with chocolate. With many of us struggling with diets, a small piece of chocolate can end a perfect evening without the need for wine. Maybe the best combination is to cap the occasion on a sweet note and start with it with bubbles.
Here are some recommendations for sparkling wine and champagne:
Champagne Collet Brut ($45). We loved this smooth non-vintage brut on first sip. And, it was very popular when we served it at public tastings. All three champagne grapes – pinot noir, chardonnay, and pinot meunier – are used to create a lush, full-bodied champagne with citrus and apple notes.
Champagne Bruno Paillard Premiere Cuvee ($55). Citrus, raspberry and currant flavors dominate this luxurious blend of 25 different vintages since 1985. Generous aromas, full body and length make it a champagne hallmark.
Champagne Palmer & Co. Reserve Rosé ($80). This blend of chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier exudes luxury. Unusually enriched with a 40-year-old solera of pinot noir, it has more complexity and depth than most champagnes. Fresh strawberry flavors abound.
Champagne Palmer & Co. Brut Reserve ($60). A medium bodied champagne made from 50 percent chardonnay, 40 percent pinot noir and 10 percent pinot meunier. Pleasant yeasty nose with pear and apple elements and a nice creamy texture. The addition of about 30 percent reserve wines and extended lees aging is clearly evident.
Champagne Moet & Chandon Rosé Imperial ($55). Beautiful color, fine bubbles, and effusive strawberry and red currant notes.
J Vineyards & Winery California Cuvee Brut ($27). This is a reliable wine year after year and a good value in the California sparkling wine category. A blend of chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier, it has simple pear flavors and generous aromas.
Mumm Napa Brut Prestige ($24). This is Mumm Napa’s signature sparkling wine that has been dazzling crowds for years. Good complexity with bread aromas, apple and citrus flavors and a long, creamy finish.
Eberle Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyard Selection 2016 ($25). We tasted this Paso Robles cab in a flight of considerably more expensive wines and it held its own. A great value, it has a medium body with forward blackberry and black cherry flavors, herbal aromatics, a dash of chocolate and smooth tannins.
Prophecy Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($11). This sauvignon blanc is true to its New Zealand profile with grassy, grapefruit flavors, but they are not as aggressive as many sauvignon blancs from this region. Crisp acidity.
Klinker Brick 1850 Degrees Red Wine 2015 ($20). From a legendary Lodi producer known for its old-vine zinfandel, this splendid blend of cabernet sauvignon, petite sirah and zinfandel is delicious. Forward, ripe fruit character redolent of raspberry jam and plums, it is dark in color (thanks to petite sirah) and dense. Hints of licorice and cinnamon make it a special quaff.
Lük Gamay Noir 2016 ($30). Known more for its light wines of France’s Beaujolais region, gamay noir (aka gamay) makes for a delicious wine. It’s a lighter version of pinot noir but silkier. This version from the Willamette Valley has incredible purity. Black cherries, long in the finish and impossible to stop at one glass.
Sidecar Off the Wagon Claret 2016 ($25). Carmenere, a common grape in Chile, comprises 35 percent of this blend and provides a unique profile to this Oregon wine. Cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and malbec make up the rest of the blend. Mouth-filling wine with dark fruit flavors and quaffability.