Pairing wine and chocolate

Some time ago I was asked to put together a wine course for an audience of 30 people, and the subject was "how to pair wine and chocolate". I knew this could become a rather tedious task, because pairing wine and chocolate is actually very difficult. I also knew that a lot of people like to enjoy their dry red wine together with chocolate, but this is not really the greatest match. Of course i couldnt just say that their own pairing of dry red wine and chocolate was a horrible combination without insulting them and their own perception, so i needed evidence. This would become the start of a lengthy research period of trials and errors.

Today i am sharing this research with you so that the whole chocolate and wine pairing experience hopefully will become a bit more enjoyable, and perhaps this will inspire you to do some research on your own. 

 

Chocolate

The use of Cocoa beans can be traced all the way back to the Mayans and the Aztecs as far back as 2000 BC. They blended it into a chocolate beverage. 

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Nowadays the process is a bit different. First the seeds from the cocoa tree is fermented. Afterwards the cocoa beans are dried, cleaned and roasted. After this the shell is removed and the inside is ground into cocoa mass. The cocoa mass is then heated so it becomes liquid, this is then separated into cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Sugar is added and the solids and butter are mixed together to create different categories of chocolate.

 

White Chocolate

White chocolate comes only from the fat and not the cocoa beans. So there is no bitterness in white chocolate whatsoever, thus it is easier to pair with white wine. It is also arguable if it is really a chocolate at all, because of the lack of cocoa.

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Milk Chocolate

Milk chocolate is a dark chocolate with milk blended in. So there is a much lower degree of bitterness than in dark chocolate. There is also often a higher degree of sweetness and fat than in dark chocolate.

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Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate has a varying degree of bitterness from the amount of cocoa. The darker the chocolate, the more cocoa and bitterness it contains. Usually in the form of 30%, 50% and 70%. But also up to 90% which is extremly bitter and impossible to pair with wine.

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Important elements to consider

Bitterness

The bitterness in wine comes from the tannins, and the bitterness in chocolate comes from the amount of cocoa. More cocoa equals more bitterness. So when bitterness in wine collides with the bitterness from the cocoa in chocolate, the experience becomes even more bitter, as bitterness strengthens bitterness.

Sweetness

Sweetness is a very important factor as it lowers the bitterness from both the cocoa in the chocolate and the tannins from red wine. The more bitterness, the more sweetness is needed to create harmony.

Fat

There is a lot of fat in chocolate, so to balance the fat and cleanse the palate we need either acidity, higher alcohol or bubbles to do the job.

Acidity

When bitterness and acidity comes together, the bitterness will become more apparent. Some acidity is ok, and will only make the experience fresh, but too much acidity will only strengthen the bitterness from the cocoa. So if the acidity in the wine is very high, it needs a lot of sweetness to balance out the whole experience. That is why red wine is easier to pair than white wine, because of the lower amount acidity.

 

The pairing

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Regular Wine

Dry White Wine (0-3 grams of sugar)

Not really a match for anything other than white chocolate, because of the acidity and lack of sweetness.

Best Match: White Chocolate

 

Off Dry White Wine (3-6 grams of sugar)

Even with a slight increase in the sweetness, the acidity is still to dominating for anything other than white chocolate.

Best Match: White Chocolate

 

Medium Sweet White Wine (6-12 grams of sugar)

The sweetness helps a bit against the bitterness from the cocoa. The acidity still dominates.

Best Match: Milk Chocolate

 

Dry Red Wine (0-3 grams of sugar)

Here we need to consider the tannins from the wine. Because the wine is dry, there is no help from the sweetness to balance the tannins.

Best Match: Milk Chocolate

 

Off Dry Red Wine (3-6 grams of sugar)

Even though there is a bit more sweetness here to help against the bitterness, it is still not enough to balance a high degree of bitterness.

Best Match: Milk Chocolate

 

Medium Sweet Red Wine (6-12 grams of sugar)

Here the sweetness is starting to help agains the bitterness from the coca. This is actually working quite nice, thanks to the sweetness.

Best Match: Milk Chocolate

 

Dessert Wines

Moscato d`Asti

The bubbles really helps to cleanse the palate from the fat after the chocolate. This works even better than with the Medium sweet red wine.

Best Match: Milk Chocolate

 

Sauternes

Even thoug the acidity is very high here, the high amount of residual sugar manages to balance the bitterness from the lightest of the dark chocolates.

Best Match: Dark Chocolate 30%

 

Tokaj 5 Puttonyos

The acidity is also here extremely high, but the high amount of sweetness helps out a lot.

Best Match: Dark Chocolate 30%

 

Recioto Della Valpolicella

Here there is both bitterness from the Chocolate and the wine. Luckily the sweetness from the wine does its job here as well. But it did not work with a higher degree of coca as the total bitterness became to much.

Best Match: Dark Chocolate 30%

 

 

Fortified Wines

Madeira Sercial

The acidity and the dryness became to much for anything other than white chocolate.

Best Match: White Chocolate

 

Madeira Bual

ven the acidity here is also very intense, the high amount of sweetness managed to balance the bitterness from the 30% dark chocoalte quite nicely.

Best Match:  Dark Chocolate 30%

 

Ruby Port

Ruby port has a high degree of tannins and alcohol. The sweetness helped out a lot here, but it the bitterness became too much when pairing with 50% cocoa.

Best Match: Dark Chocolate 30%

 

Tawny Port

Tawny port has more refined and ripe tannins because of the age, the older the tawny the better the pairing with 50% cocoa. The sweetness also did a very good job here.

Best Match: Dark Chocolate 50%

 

Oloroso Sherry

Dry Oloroso is struggling with anythin other than milk chocolate, but if there is a degree of sweetness in it, the match with the 30% cocoa is very good.

Best Match: Dark Chocolate 30%

 

Cream Sherry

The high amount of sweetness in the Cream Sherry pairs great with the bitterness from 50% cocoa.

Best Match: Dark Chocolate 50%

 

Pedro Ximenez Sherry

Pedro Ximenez has a low degree of acidity and an extremely high degree of sweetness. It feels more like a syrup than a wine. This means that it can carry a very high degree of bitterness, it actually even worked with 90% cocoa!

Best Match: Dark Chocolate 70%

 

In conclusion

The key when pairing wine and chocolate is bitterness and sweetness. When there is more bitterness in the chocolate, the wine needs more sweetness to counter the bitterness. Alcohol and bubbles is also a key factor when it comes to cleansing the palate after the fat from the chocolate. 

So the most versatile and safest chocolate to pair with wine is milk chocolate, because of the lower amount of bitterness from the cocoa.

When it comes to pairing regular red wine with chocolate, i would suggest to have a little bit more residual sugar in the wine, and then pairing this with Milk chocolate. 

Marius has worked in several parts of the wine business for the last 16 years. He is currently working as a Category Coordinator for wine and spirits in the Travel Retail business. He is also a part of a tasting panel for the financial newspaper in Norway and writes articles and lectures in his spare time.Marius has a huge passion and dedication for the wine and spirits industry. He is a certified Sommelier and is currently undertaking the WSET Diploma in wines and spirits education.