Pairing wine with chocolate may sound great, but it doesn't always work out so well in real life. Here are some pointers, and suggested matches for you try out.
With advice from food and wine matching expert Fiona Beckett, plus sommelier Kelvin McCabe, group head sommelier at chef Adam Handling’s restaurants, which includes the Frog in London. Editing and additional copy by Chris Mercer.
Ideas for pairing wine with chocolate at-a-glance:
- Dark chocolate: PX Sherry, Barolo Chinato, Port, Banyuls, Some high-acid fruit-driven red wines
- Milk chocolate: Viognier, Alsace Pinot Gris, Tawny Port, Demi-Sec sparkling wine
- White chocolate: Off-dry Riesling, Rosé, Lighter styles of Pinot Noir
Watch out for: Tannin overload from dark chocolate and a full-bodied, dry red wine may lead to bitterness. Wines with a bit of residual sweetness can help to soften the bitterness of tannins in dark chocolate, which itself has relatively low sugar levels.
Top tip: Think about the flavours that you are trying to match. What characteristics are in the chocolate? Is there cherry, orange, ginger or almond involved, for example?
Pairing food and wine is always subjective to some extent and Sarah Jane Evans MW, a co-chair at the Decanter World Wine Awards, recommends thinking about flavour, acidity, weight and length in the wine and how this works – or not – with the intensity, sweetness and texture of the chocolate.
In short, you’re might to have to ‘endure’ some tasting experiments before presenting dinner party guests with your perfect match. Even then, don’t necessarily expect everyone to be happy.
‘Personally, I prefer reds with a fresher acidity when pairing with dark chocolate,’ said Kelvin McCabe, group head sommelier at chef Adam Handling’s restaurants, which includes the Frog in London.
He recommended Dolcetto as a good match for a dessert predominantly involving cherries and dark chocolate.
‘White chocolate has a very creamy texture on the palate, with a gentle flavour, so I would move towards a light, sweeter Riesling to freshen the palate whilst maintaining the soft notes of the chocolate,’ said McCabe. ‘Consider a good German Auslese or Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling.’
White wine can also work for milk chocolate, he said.
‘Milk chocolate sits somewhere between [dark and white chocolate], depending on its concentration, and can work really well with riper white wines with a little touch of oak, such as a Viognier or perhaps a Pinot Gris.’
He added, ‘With a milk chocolate dessert, I tend to move away from dessert wine styles too unctuous, so tawny ports work really well.’
More from Decanter contributor Fiona Beckett on pairing wine with chocolate desserts
Three main things to consider:
- The type of chocolate – white and milk chocolate being generally easier to match than dark
- Is the dish hot or cold – cold is more wine-friendly
- 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.
‘For me, the wine needs to be sweeter than the dessert’
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
This article was originally published in 2016, but has been updated by the Decanter.com team in February 2019 to include new wines and additional advice, including that of sommelier Kelvin McCabe.