Sunday, June 1, 2008

Chocolate & Wine: Dry Reds, Sweet Wine, or Milk?

There's a great debate in the wine world concerning the pairing of chocolate and wine. It goes something like this: are they simply the best, most romantic duo ever, or are they the worst pairing cliche since Ross and Rachel?

At the request of Vin de la Table readers, I decided to put the question to test. It's a hard job, but someone gets a discount on wine and that someone's husband also works at a gourmet food shop where they sell Michele Cluizel chocolate. So the burden falls on my shoulders; the task falls on my table. Husband's input also included.

Before I divulge the results, however, it's important to note that the pairing question inherently needs clarification. Just to start, the chocolate and wine seeker must ask themselves:

When I seek to pair chocolate and wine, do I mean red wine? Do I mean dry red wine? Why? Am I imagining a chocolate dessert like cake or mousse with my wine, or do I really want a flavored chocolate truffle? With caramel or tarragon filling? Or, would I rather consume chocolate with a high percentages of cacao- 65% plus? Lastly, am I only to drink dry red wine, or can I indulge in that sweet or off-dry wine like Madeira or Sherry that I have lounging in my kitchen?

These are things to ask oneself before one's quest begins, because the answers dictate the chocolate and wine tasting results. Let me be your guide in this post.

We'll answer the questions together.

1. When I seek to pair chocolate and wine, do I mean red wine? Do I mean dry red wine?...... Why?

Good freaken question. Most times when people come into our wine shop on a chocolate quest, they request a Cabernet Sauvignon. I ask why. Is it because the pictures of chocolate and wine together feature a hazy, dimly lit, golden photo of a cab next to chocolate chunks? I think so. In my opinion, cab and cocoa is as good together as peanut butter in a dog's mouth. Everything just interferes with each other. The saliva, the chewing action, the sticky peanut butter. The heavy oak, the acidity, the fruit in the wine, all conflict with the chocolate. Yet this is the standard on which people base their wine/chocolate consumption. My advice- if you're going for a red wine, a dry red wine, go for a Petite Sirah, an almost-sweet Zinfandel, or a rich and rustic Tempranillo or Malbec, or chewy red from the Madiran region of France. They are heavy, full-bodied, have a hell of a lot of fruit, smoke, depth, and tannins. All of these blessed ingredients equate to a warm blanket that wraps around chocolate and makes it feel good inside. However, if you love chocolate and Cabernet Sauvignon, rock the two with all your heart and don't let me stop you from your loves.

2. Am I imagining a chocolate dessert like cake or mousse with my wine, or would I rather have a flavored chocolate truffle? With caramel or tarragon filling?

Yikes. If you are lusting after a composed chocolate dessert with your dry red wine, I'd advise you to look elsewhere. It will never treat you right. It is almost certain that the dish will be too sweet. Sugary desserts and red wine don't mix. However, if you are lusting and imagining a sweeter wine with your fourless chocolate torte, three cheers for you! Sweet and sweet? What a match!

3.Or, do I want to consume chocolate with high percentages of cacao- 65% plus, with my wine?

Good thinking. You do want to consume chocolate with high percentages of cacao, from 65%- 75% with your wine. This is best way to go if you are hoping to experience the magic of both subjects. 65% is about as low as you want to go because anything under that, you'd be introducing too much cream or sugar and would out-sweet the wine. Anything over 75%, you are matching tannins in chocolate to those in the wine. Not what you want to do unless you want to whip your tongue and palate into submission. Keep in mind, however, that there's plenty of give and take in the percentages. Play around. Play around a lot. This is an area where red wine, such as Petite Sirah, Malbec, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, and Madrian reds can shine with the wine. Here, the combo of the fine cacao and the wine bring out the fruit in each other. Cherries, berries, cassis.

4. Lastly, can I indulge in that sweet or off-dry wine, or fortified wine like Madeira or Sherry that I have lounging in my kitchen?

Oh my, I hope so. In all respect to chocolate and dry red wine fans together, I don't belong to the same fan club. While "enjoying" the two together, I find myself looking around the kitchen to see if I can find some milk for my chocolate. Or, I imagine the cheese I could be eating. It's sacrilegious, somewhere, I'm sure, but real nonetheless. The pairing isn't bad, per say, but I prefer other flavors in the chocolate besides the blaring fruit and acidity that the chocolate brings out. The wines that I really like with my cocoa are the sweeter types, like Madeira, certain versions of Sherry, Port, or late harvest Zinfandels. Sauterenes is a beautiful wine, but I'd rather have it with my fruit tart. Same goes for late-harvest Chardonnay.

Back to what I tasted. Out of the three wines pictured above that I tried, the best with chocolate was the Tempranillo. It was rich, tannic, fruity, and delicious, and was the perfect chocolate blanket. The Chianti was good, but didn't scream "chug me." The Mas des Brousses (Cab-Merlot blend) was just too acidic for the wine. Lovely with meat, not enticing with sugar.

What do you like to drink with your chocolate? I'd heard beer and peanut butter cups are delicious together.....

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Dragonlife said...

Hi there!
Good reading as usual!
I'm very simple. I just think that red sweet Port or Banyuls is best with chocolate.
Actually, a lot of people agree that Japanese sake marries chocolate very well, too!

Daniel Petroski said...

I just e-mailed you. I have only found one wine that I enjoy with chocolate (in any of its forms), and that is Brachetto d'Aqui. Banfi makes one in a very cool, Champagne style bottle. Great post, thank you for your extensive research and suggestions.

Kirstin said...

Both great suggestions.
Robert-Gilles, I would have never thought to try sake with chocolate, but I'm game. I would have never thought to try it with cheese either, but it's amazing with a wide array of the dairy goodness.
Dan- the research was my pleasure, really. And a lightly sweet red sparkling with chocolate, that sounds awesome. That actually reminds me of how good Amarone could be with dark chocolate. Or Parmesan Reggiano.Thanks on both notes.