Pairing Wine and Chocolate – Tips and Tricks

Wine and chocolate pairings can be tricky when you factor in the sheer variety in today’s chocolate confections alongside the diversity in personal palate preferences.  Whether it’s chocolate themed desserts, artisan 80% dark chocolate bars or chocolate creations dotted with nuts, sea salt crystals, mint infusions, dried berries or simply caramel, there are versatile wine and chocolate pairings that can accommodate even the pickiest of palates.

White Chocolate and Wine

White chocolate is built on the back of cocoa butter, some milk solids, and a snazzy sweetener (usually sugar) — there’s really not much in the way of cocoa bean kicking in white chocolate.  Soft, mellow and buttery in flavor, white chocolate emphatically advocates for a sweeter styled wine.  Easy pairing partners include, late-harvest dessert wines, ice wines, or a light-bodied semi-sparkling Moscato d’Asti. Gotta have bubbles? No worries, snag an off-dry, demi-sec style of sparkling wine or Champagne. Prefer fortified favorites? Give Pedro Ximenez Sherry a swirl — melding the smooth, creamy textures of the fortified wine with the allied palate profile of today’s white chocolate offerings. A go-to red wine? Check out Italy’s snappy, sparkling dessert red, Brachetto, a match made for all avenues of chocolate. Or shoot for the contrast, with the higher alcohol and full throttle intensity of a jammy red Zinfandel. The meek and mild textures combined with the creamy character of white chocolate absorbs the wine’s heat and spice and pops the ripe fruit up to the surface for a “berries in cream” themed experience.  Something completely out of the ordinary? Reach for Orange Muscat, a highly aromatic, brimming with lively acidity, dessert wine which promises to pick up and deliver the subtle, sometimes fruity nuances of white chocolate.

Top Wine Picks for Pairing with White Chocolate: Alvear Pedro Ximenez 1927, Fizz 56 Sparkling Brachetto, Saracco Moscato d’Asti, Veuve Clicquot Demi-sec

Milk Chocolate with Wine

SanSaMilk chocolate carries a tasty mix of cocoa butter and bean. The tannins in milk chocolate are mild and malleable and the perfect wine partner will bring a similar, subtle tannic appeal. The red forward fruit, supple tannins and medium-bodied character of Pinot Noir and many Merlots will partner up extraordinarily well with the creamy textures and cocoa butter synergy of basic milk chocolate confections, chocolate mousse or cream-filled chocolate ganache themes. Think Pinot Noir, to bring out the wine’s forward red fruit with the tasty backdrop of milk chocolate, or Merlot to complement the smooth and supple structure of the chocolate itself.  Have mint chocolate in mind, opt for a Coonawarra Cab with its own minty eucalyptus medley in the bottle. Rosé sparkling wine or Champagne delivers delight when well married to milk chocolate-covered strawberries, as the ripe berry themes in the wine focus even brighter against a chocolate canvas.  Have milk chocolate and caramel in the mix? Tawny Ports will highlight both with ease, as the Port’s nutty, caramelized nuances work with the velvety textures of the chocolate encased caramel. Tuscany’s famous  dessert wine, Vin Santo, provides a remarkable springboard for milk chocolate pairings, delivering a rich full body profile, off-dry character along with classic nut-filled nuances that promise to play particularly well with the trending textures and lively flavors of modern milk chocolate creations. A fan of chocolate with nuts? Steer towards the complementary classics of Tawny Port, Pedro Ximenez Sherry or Madeira. And last but not least, creamy chocolate desserts, highlighted with fresh berries, coffee flavors or swirls of bitter chocolate find their home in Banyuls, a sweet red wine from the southern Roussillon region of France.

Top Wine Picks for Milk Chocolate: Gerard Bertrand Banyuls, Moet & Chandon Rose Imperial,  Santa Ema Reserve MerlotSchug Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Terra d’Oro Zinfandel Port

Dark Chocolate with Wine

With often significantly higher cocoa content (a minimum of 35% cocoa solids), dark chocolate can be considerably more dry and tannic in taste. This is where like characteristics can complement innate flavors. For example, when pairing a more tannic Cabernet Sauvignon with 70% dark chocolate the stout tannins in the wine will literally cancel the sturdy tannins in the chocolate unveiling more of the fruit character in the wine itself. On the other hand, when pairing a chunk of dark chocolate with a relatively low tannin red, like Zinfandel, the tannins in the chocolate can provide a bit of lift for the wine and showcase a snazzy synergy between the chocolate and the wine.  Fortified wines find their ultimate calling with the bittersweet profile variations offered up by today’s enticing medley of dark chocolate offerings.  From ruby port to tawny ports, and late bottled vintage ports to the full-throttle, fortified profile of Banyuls, from Southern France, the heavier body, rich textures, and sweet palate impressions work their magic on a sliver of dark chocolate.

Top Wine Picks for Dark Chocolate:  LangeTwins Zinfandel, St. Supery Cabernet SauvignonTaylor Fladgate 20 Year TawnyWines of Substance Cabernet Sauvignon