Pairing wine with chocolate can certainly be tricky, but the good news is that there’s plenty of room for experimentation.
Sarah Jane Evans MW, a co-chair at the Decanter World Wine Awards, previously recommended thinking about a wine’s flavour, acidity, weight and length, and whether this works with the intensity, sweetness and texture of the chocolate.
Chocolate can have a whole variety of flavour profiles. Added ingredients like ginger or fruit can inevitably make a difference, but the origin and production of the chocolate can also have an impact.
Craft chocolate specialist Spencer Hyman, co-founder of Cocoa Runners, recently spoke about different styles – as well as the importance of texture – during an online tasting hosted by The Wine Society.
Kelvin McCabe, a top sommelier and co-owner of Hackney Coterie in London, told Decanter that for food and wine pairing in general it’s important to consider elements within the food, ‘from texture to sweetness to acidity and flavour profile.
‘It is exactly the same with the wine as well; you have to understand the amount of acidity, the amount of fruit, is it perceived sweetness and ripeness, [or] is it actual residual sugar? All of these things are a factor when you pair them together. It’s all theoretical until you’ve tasted it.’
Which red wine goes best with chocolate?
Personal preference is always a big factor with wine and food matching.
Some people love rich, luxurious dark or milk chocolate with lush reds, such as fuller-bodied styles of Zinfandel with ripe, jammy fruit and elements of sweet spice garnered from oak. Others might find this too much.
McCabe told Decanter that he would personally opt for fresher styles of red as more of a classic match with dark chocolate.
Pairing up the acidity in the wine and chocolate is important, but the ‘bitterness in the chocolate can accentuate the fruit in the wine’, he said.
In terms of bolder reds, it depends on the chocolate you’re eating. In general, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot can all work, but McCabe suggested broadly looking towards warmer climate regions, such as parts of Australia, South Africa or Chile, where you might overall expect brighter, juicier fruit and gentler tannins.
Merlot can be a particular winner ‘because you get that sweeter, plum, almost chocolatey note anyway’, he added.
Going beyond dry reds, McCabe said Banyuls dessert wine, from Roussillon in southern France, can be fantastic with darker chocolate.
‘Alternatively, I would find a slightly aged, but a little bit more complex botrytis wine, maybe something like a Recioto di Soave, which works really well.’
Those looking for a more ‘out there’ match might also give skin-contact white wines a go. A bottling with relatively light skin-contact can be great with salted dark chocolate, in particular.
‘Something that has a couple of weeks of skin contact and quite bright fruit is a little bit of fun with dark chocolate and salt, [and] works really really well,’ McCabe said.
On milk chocolate specifically, McCabe previously suggested trying out riper styles of white wines with a little touch of oak, such as a Viognier or perhaps a Pinot Gris.
Amontillado Sherry, with its nutty complexity, is also worth a go with milk chocolate that contains almonds or hazelnuts, as this Decanter article on pairing wine with Sherry explains.
Wines to pair with white chocolate
White chocolate generally has a milky, creamier character with a more delicate flavour profile. The freshness of Riesling could be delicious here, McCabe said.
‘If you do have a quality white chocolate with creaminess, you could have a little but of fun with a Champagne or English sparkling and a good bit of autolysis – with brioche or buttery notes. I think that’s a fun bit of pairing,’ he said, although added he hasn’t tried this one specifically.
Alternatively, try seeking out a white wine with a balance of fruitiness and salinity, alongside a bit of refreshing acidity and a touch of creaminess. A Greek white like Moschofilero could work, he suggested.
Pairing wine with chocolate desserts
Advice from Decanter contributor Fiona Beckett
Three main things to consider:
1. The type of chocolate – white and milk chocolate being generally easier to match than dark
2. Is the dish hot or cold – cold is more wine-friendly
3. What other ingredients are on the plate? Cherries, for example, might lead you to a sweet red like a Recioto or a late harvest Zinfandel rather than a white.
The idea that chocolate is ruinous to wine is still widely held but, as many of you will know, the problem is overstated.
Yes, it can be difficult to find a wine to match a molten chocolate fondant (PX Sherry just about manages), but there are many other chocolate desserts – and chocolates – which can be flattered by a fine wine match.
In fact, it’s a useful tip to think of the sort of fruit that might work with a particular type of chocolate and find a wine that includes those flavours – dark chocolate and orangey moscatel, for instance.
It also depends on how much of a sweet tooth you have.
For some – myself included – an Australian liqueur muscat would just add too much sweetness to a rich chocolate dessert. I prefer a sweet Sherry or Madeira with more acidity, for others it would be bliss.
By contrast, not everyone would enjoy a Barolo Chinato, which I find the most marvellous match for a slender square of fine dark chocolate.
I’m also not a fan of pairing full-bodied red wines with chocolate, although I know many are.
For me the wine needs to be sweeter than the dessert.
Lighter desserts with lighter wines
In general lighter dessert wines such as Sauternes, Riesling and Moscato work best with lighter chocolate desserts, and richer ones such as Tokaji and fortified wines with darker, denser ones.
Finally, bear in mind it may be a question of you could, but why would you?
If you love Château d’Yquem Sauternes then I’m sure you’ll enjoy it with a Mars bar or a slice of devil’s food cake, but there are so many sweet (and savoury) foods that would show it off better.
Fiona Beckett is a Decanter contributor and a food and wine pairing expert with her own website, matchingfoodandwine.com