Sherry doesn’t immediately spring to mind as a choice to pair with chocolate at the end of a meal. But Decanter’s associate editor Tina Gellie discovers that the different styles lend themselves to some exciting matches...
Sherry wine and chocolate
Chocolate and wine matching is rarely successful due to the (usually) high sugar content of the chocolate and the relative dryness of the wine – a few jammy, high-octane Shiraz wines aside. But the nature of fortified wines is the reason why Port (particularly LBV) and vins doux naturels such as Banyuls are traditionally our go-to choices for chocolate desserts.
While these fortifieds have some residual sweetness, most Sherries are dry. However, it’s their nutty, dried fruit characters which lend themselves perfectly to a range of chocolates. And what better way to find your perfect pairing than to get a selection of fine bars or individual pieces (no Quality Street please) and a few Sherry styles, and mix and match between them.
‘No right answer’
‘There is no right answer – it really is what you prefer, though some styles of chocolate and Sherry will naturally work better with one another,’ advises Sarah Jane Evans MW, the Decanter World Wine Awards regional co-chair for Sherry who wrote her Master of Wine dissertation on the wine style, and is also a founder member of the Academy of Chocolate.
Evans says the ideal approach is to have a sip of the Sherry and think about all of its components:
Then take one square of chocolate and let it melt on your tongue and, as with the wine, appreciate its sweetness, the flavours, intensity and texture in your mouth. When the chocolate is about two-thirds melted, then have another sip of the Sherry and see how the two marry together.
Perfect after-dinner debate
It’s the perfect after-dinner debate: which Sherry goes best with which chocolate; who agrees with whom. And as Sherry can be kept recorked in the fridge for one to three weeks (the more oxidative the ageing the longer they should last), there are plenty of opportunities to try the experiment again with a different set of wines, chocolates – or dinner guests.
Mix and match: Suggestions for Sherry and chocolate pairings
- Lighter styles of dry Sherry, such as fino or manzanilla, are probably better early on in the meal, either as an aperitif with cheeses and charcuterie, or with a starter course of fish or shellfish. But if you are daring, you could try anything leftover in the bottle with a smoky dark chocolate infused with chilli or almonds that should complement the fresh salinity of these wine styles.
- Amontillados are naturally dry (less than 5g of residual sugar) but can be medium dry up to medium sweet (115g/l). These wines are finos that mature under a layer of yeast called flor. This flor is then killed off by a second fortification, and the subsequent exposure to oxygen gives the wine a tawny colour and rich, complex nutty flavours. This flavour profile lends itself well to milk or dark milk chocolate studded with almonds, hazelnuts or sea salt.
- Palo cortado Sherries also start life off as finos but, unlike with amontillados, here the flor dies off naturally early on. The wine is further aged after fortification with exposure to oxygen, giving a Sherry that is traditionally said to have the nose of an amontillado and the taste of an oloroso: fine, dry and elegant with citrus peel, roasted nuts and tangy saline notes. These complex Sherries need a chocolate that is not too sweet – ideally a high-percentage dark chocolate with complementary nut and fruit notes. Florentines or dark chocolate-covered apricots or gingers would be a good choice.
- Unlike amontillados or palo cortados, oloroso Sherries never see a layer of flor as they are fortified early in their life. This full oxidative ageing means these dry wines are dark in colour and richer and denser in flavour – think figs, dates, raisins, treacle and coffee notes. Chocolates with a caramel centre, pecan praline, nougatine or marzipan, or simple chocolate-covered raisins or coffee beans would work well. Cream Sherries – and there are very good-quality ones out there, not what granny has in her cupboard – are sweetened olorosos (115g/l-140g/l residual sugar) that have been blended with PX.
- Pedro Ximénez (PX) Sherries are made from the variety of the same name (the others are from Palomino), where the grapes are sun-dried and then fortified to give a thick, inky-black nectar that is frequently described as Christmas pudding in a bottle. As PX is so sweet (between 212g/l and 500g/l of residual sugar), a bitter 85% to 100% dark chocolate would be a good counterpoint.
- Moscatel, from the Moscatel de Alejandria grape, is made in a similar way to PX but is not quite as sweet (minimum 160g/l). While still quite dark in colour, its flavour profile is more honeyed, marmaladey and floral, making it an option for chocolate-covered citrus peels or plain dark chocolate.
Celebrate the festive season with fortified wines.