Pairing Wine and Chocolate – What Works Best?

Gourmet Chocolates for Wine Pairing

Wine and chocolate. It sounds like a match made in heaven, but quite honestly, the pairing rarely lives up to expectations. Why? The natural tannins in red wines fight with the chocolate, and the sweetness of the chocolate make the wine seem more tannic – a visious cycle.

The solution? Pair dark chocolate with sweet wines.

Though Americans turn up our nose at sweet wines, the truth is they can be heavenly when part of the dessert or cheese course. It has always struck me as odd that the country that consumes Coca Cola (at 10 cubes of sugar per can) won’t touch high-quality dessert wines. I’m not talking about table wines with high degrees of residual sugar – please leave those on the bottom shelf at the wine shop where they belong. For pairing with chocolate, turn to wines made as dessert wines.

But before we get to the wines, let’s talk for a moment about chocolate. Because Mmmmmm.

The Ideal Chocolate:

While most of the chocolates you see on the market, especially around Valentine’s Day, are often milk chocolate, white chocolate, or cream-filled, I recommend pure chocolate bars – the darker the better. Those with almonds also work well, especially with the wines I’ve recommended here, which are known for their nutty characteristic (called Rancio by wine collectors- our wine geek word of the day).

Fortunately for all of us, there has been an explosion of artisinal, single-source chocolate producers in the past decade. Look for Dandelion Chocolate (“bean to bar” chocolates), Dick Taylor and many, many others. Melissa Clark of the New York Times, published a good article last year listing 13 of her favorite gourmet chocolate producers which includes these two favorites of mine plus 11 others.  I also recommend her article on chocolate tasting techniques –  we’ve found the approach she describes to have significantly elevated our tasting experience.

The Ideal Wine:

And now for the wine – the crowning glory in the whole affair!  While some have found pleasure in pairing dark chocolate with highly extracted/high-alcohol table wines (the reds from Rombauer come to mind, as do those from Frank Family, Biale, many Lodi Zins…) I skip this intermediate step in favor of wines specifically designed to pair with dried or baked fruits, nuts and dark chocolates – fortified wines such as these:

 

Value Option: Passagem Tawny Port. $19.99/500ml btl. ($0.04/ml)

Tawny Port

Port is the term for a fortified wine from Portugal’s Douro region. Wines made in a similar style that are NOT from Portugal can’t use the term “Port” (such as the one from the fun and jovial winemaker, Andrew Quady, who calls his Port-style wine “Starboard”). But the real thing is sufficiently affordable to justify a trial purchase. Look for a basic Tawny without any age indication for a deliciously satisfying and affordable Port. Passagem Tawny Port $19.99/ 500ml bottle.

All ports are part of the family of fortified wines – wines whose fermentation was stopped by the addition of a grain alcohol, thus preserving the grape’s natural sugars before they could be fully fermented into alcohol while also raising the alcohol level in the finished wine.

Ports are generally 18%-20% ABV, and because they are so rich on the pallet and high in alcohol, they’re served in smaller pours than regular wine. Most producers of high-end stemware have a line designed specifically for Port, and if you have sufficient storage space, Port glasses make a nice addition to your stemware collection. Otherwise, use the smallest wine glass you have and pour less than half full – about 4 ounces. Ideal serving temperature is “Cellar temperature”, or about 60-65 degrees.


 

Comparing the color of the 10-year Tawyny (L) and the Tawny (R). Passagem’s 10-year Tawny, $33.99 / 500ml bottle ($0.068/ml)

10-Year Tawny

Aged in smaller oak barrels than is a Vintage Ruby port (aged in huge, often century-old wooden casks), Tawnies age more quickly due to the higher ratio of wood-to-juice. A ten-year tawny like this one (left, above) was aged in oak for ten years, while the regular Tawny (right, above) still shows its youthful color and brighter fruit flavors. But it’s color is not the only difference – the older wine exhibits greater nutty, spice and Sherry-like notes that go quite well with chocolates of all styles. Passagem, 10-Year Tawny, $33.99


 

A delightful but obscure dessert wine – Rivesaltes Ambre. $25.99/750ml bottle ($0.035/ml)

Rivesaltes Ambré

Rivesaltes is a town in the South of France and a demarcated wine-making area known for sweet wines – this is one of six types produced there (Rosé, Grenat, Ambré, Tuilé and Hors d’Age). The Ambré style sees at least two years of oxidative aging that yields a deep golden hue upon bottling, and which darkens further with bottle age. The flavor is distinctly nutty with citrus peel spice notes. ~16% alcohol. Read more about this fascinating place here at – Domaine Fontanel 2008 Rivesaltes Ambré, $25.99


  

2003 Banyuls Grand Cru, Cuvee Joseph Nadal. A true treat! $47.99/btl ($0.064/ml)

Banyuls

La Cave de l’Abbe Rous is a co-operative of small growers from the best sections of Banyuls, producing wines at the highest quality level for the appellation. Among the best dessert wines I’ve tasted, but also one of the most obscure (the vast majority being consumed within France), the wine is similar to an aged Tawny Port in both alcohol (~20%), aging (9 years in cask) and flavor profile (nutty with a ginger and spice top note). Read more about it here – 2003 Banyuls Grand Cru Joseph Nadal, $47.99 

Whatever wine you choose to pair with chocolate, I encourage you to experiment with something new – new chocolates, new wines, and maybe, even new friends to share them with. Physically distanced, of course, as long as our health requires it, or even virtually if necessary!


About the Author: Dave the Wine Merchant has been involved in wine for four decades. He now enjoys discovering and sharing global wines that stretch the imaginations of curious wine lovers and encourages them to “discover a new favorite!” 

Recipe: Red Wine Chocolate Brownies (Guest Post!)

People often ask for my recommendations on the best red wine to pair with chocolates and the honest truth is that many red wines don’t pair that well with even the finest chocolates. But cocoa powder! Now THAT’S a different thing altogether. And this recipe for wine-infused brownies from guest author Melissa Gallo proved quite popular on my home front.

Guest Post: Melissa Gallo

https://www.pexels.com/photo/pile-of-baked-chocolate-breads-887853/

Red Wine Chocolate Brownies

What is better than wine and chocolate? Wine in chocolate. If you enjoy sipping a glass of red wine while eating chocolate cake or nibbling on a square of chocolate, try taking your brownies to the next level with the addition of red wine. While adding coffee brings out the bitterness of dark chocolate, red wine enhances the subtle fruitiness. Reducing the wine by half before adding it to this recipe deepens the flavor even further.

For best results, choose a good full-bodied red wine like cabernet or merlot for this recipe and use high-quality, fair trade cocoa powder and chocolate. Although any type of cocoa powder and chocolate will work, using dark (or bittersweet) chocolate will result in an exceptionally chocolaty brownie. For extra gooey brownies, remove them from the oven a minute or two before they’re fully baked.

If you don’t have a double boiler for melting the chocolate and butter, find a heat-proof glass or metal bowl that fits over a medium saucepan. Fill the saucepan a quarter of the way with water, place the bowl over it, and add the butter and chocolate chips or chopped chocolate to the bowl. Continue to follow the procedure as instructed below.

These decadent, fudgy brownies are excellent for special occasions like Valentine’s Day, dinner parties, summer picnics, or even just a midweek chocolate craving. Serve warm or at room temperature with a dusting of powdered sugar or cocoa powder. Enjoy!

Ingredients
1 cup full-bodied red wine
¾ cup butter
8 oz dark chocolate chips or chopped bittersweet chocolate
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup cocoa powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 ¾ cups white sugar
2 eggs
Powdered sugar, for dusting (optional)

Procedure
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease an 8×8-inch metal pan.

In a small saucepan, bring the wine to a boil over high heat and boil until reduced by half, about 8 minutes. Set aside.

In a double boiler, melt the butter and chocolate chips over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Let cool.

Meanwhile, gently whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

After the chocolate and butter mixture has cooled slightly, stir in the sugar until smooth. Add the eggs and whisk well, then add the reduced wine while whisking continuously. Add the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it out with a spatula. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Remove the pan from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Once cool, cut the brownies into squares, dust with powdered sugar (if desired), and serve.

Wine Recommendation
For the best flavor and to fully enhance the fruitiness of the naturally bitter dark chocolate, use a full-bodied red wine like cabernet or merlot.

The Author

Melissa Gallo is a freelance writer and food blogger at recipe-barn.com. She is passionate about cooking, creating and sharing unique recipes or just simply cooking good food. Melissa has also developed an interest in a variety of other things including healthy diet and traveling in new places around the globe to experience different cuisines and learning different cultures.