I wrote about wine for nearly 40 years; I no longer do. Nevertheless, while you can lead the horse away from the water, you can’t get rid of the water that’s already in the horse.
I still know something about wine, and so people still ask me a lot of questions about it. This time of year, many, many people ask me about wine and chocolate.
“I’m having a wine and chocolate party,” they’ll say. “What pairings would work?” Or, “I’m giving a present of chocolate and want to include a wine to have with it; what do I buy?” Or, “What wine do I get for our Christmas dinner chocolate dessert?”
My answer to their queries always — always — lets them down. They don’t want my answer; they want their answer.
They want me to respond, “Oh, a nice soft merlot or malbec would be nice. You know, they even have nuances of chocolate in their aromas and tastes.” Or they want me to say, “Try a juicy pinot noir; it’s like the cherries inside a bonbon.” Or, they’d love to hear, “A Champagne would be nice; it’s that time of year.”
But what they hear from me is this: “Most wines, red or white, still or sparkling, truly do not taste good with chocolate. Some make the combination awful. The only wines that regularly accompany chocolate well are noticeably sweet wines.”
We don’t think of chocolate as a food; we think of it as an experience. And, consequently, the last things we want to drink with it are wines that we consider bad experiences: sweet wines, at one end are for the novice wine drinker only, at the other for little old ladies in Boca.
But chocolate is a food, and guidelines that help us to profitably pair wine and food ought rule here as well.
Nearly all chocolate is sweet, even so-called “bittersweet” chocolate. Pure, unadulterated cacao (unprocessed cocoa or chocolate) is unpalatable in quantity. To make it delicious, sugar helps much; much sugar helps more.
Even that bittersweet chocolate contains around 20 percent sugar. And that makes it, as a food to pair with wine, sweet. Sweet foods prefer pairing with sweet wines, of the same measure of sugar or sweetness in both — an apple tart, say, with a demi-sec Champagne.
Think of polar opposites. Would you eat a scoop of vanilla ice cream with a stone-dry Chablis?
The most bitter of chocolate nakedly tolerable to the palate actually registers at a 10 to 12 percent sugar range. Not completely “dry,” to parallel a wine term.
And in particular, chocolate confections — Forrest’s “box of chocolates,” for instance, or many a cake or dessert — are markedly sweet due to the addition of even more sugar into the mix (or batter, for that matter).
Keep in mind that white chocolate is not a true “chocolate,” merely a combo of cocoa butter, sugar and milk solids. It may be the sweetest of the chocolates, so-called.
And don’t let anyone tell you that the fat of cocoa butter acts in the same manner as, say, the rind of fat on a grilled steak, mollifying the tannins of dry red wines such as those in cabernet sauvignon. Sorry, cocoa butter doesn’t deliver that much fat. The match doesn’t work.
I am forever amazed at those who insist that something occur on the palate because we hope, want, or wish it so. If you think that policing what people do in their bedrooms is politically risky, try telling them that the tastes they’re making in their mouths are stupid.
Chocolate truly is one of the great foods. To enjoy it with wine, though, you’ll need to seek out wines that sport a little to a lot of sugar. If you let go and let happen, the combinations can be ambrosial.
Most off-dry or sweet wines will do as a pairing partner with chocolate. But the sweeter the chocolate (or its preparation), the sweeter ought be the wine.
Some general suggestions of types or names of wines to match levels of sweetness in chocolate and preparations containing chocolate follow. If you cannot find the exact wine, a skilled wine merchant will help you find something in stock that’s very similar.
Bitter and bittersweet chocolate: Extra dry Champagne; Brachetto d’Acqui; demi-sec Vouvray; recioto della Valpolicella; some torrontes from South America; Sercial Madeira; Lambrusco amabile;
Chocolate with 50-70 percent cacao: Spatlese riesling (sugar not fermented out); Moscato d’Asti; Bual Madeira; California orange or black muscat; ruby Port
Milk chocolate or other chocolate at 30-50 percent cacao: Late harvest wines of many sorts; Sauternes or Barsac; Tokaji Aszu; Maury, Banyuls, Muscat de Baumes de Venise, vin doux naturel; tawny Port
White chocolate: Sweet moscatel; some passito wines; Rutherglen muscat; many an eiswein
Easy Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix
“Store-bought hot chocolate mix can’t compare.”
From J. Kenji López-Alt, seriouseats.com; makes enough for 18 servings
- 2, 4-ounce bars 100 percent cacao baking chocolate
- 1 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Freeze the chocolate bars until completely frozen, about 10 minutes. Remove form freezer, break into rough pieces, and place in the food processor along with the cocoa powder, sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Process until completely powdered, about 1 minute. Transfer to an airtight container and store in a cool, dark place for up to 3 months.
To make hot chocolate, add 1-2 tablespoons of the mixture, or more if desired, to 1 cup boiling milk and stir or whisk until combined. To thicken it even further, return to the heat and simmer for 30 seconds until thick and smooth.
Reach Bill St John at firstname.lastname@example.org.