A Sweet Pairing

By Jessica Norris Granatiero

I am a chocolate fanatic, which reveals a love that I know I share with many! In the US, we spend approximately $22 billion on chocolate each year, according to various reports. This confirms that I am not alone in my adoration of this sweet treat. At a very young age, my mind swirled with images of chocolate bars and working at Hershey Park in Pennsylvania. I grew up in Delaware and, luckily, had the great pleasure of visiting Hershey Park and Hershey’s Chocolate World during summer vacations, a mere four hours from our home. As a child I waited with bated breath, until I knew it was time to visit.

Fast forward many years, I am keenly aware that there is more to chocolate than Hershey’s. Here in New England, we have a plethora of amazing local chocolatiers keeping sweets as exciting as when I was a child. If the call of chocolate rings in your ears this month, why not pair it with a wine? The marriage will heighten your senses and gastronomic experience.

Chocolate Pairings: As I have shared before, with food and wine pairings, you always want to match the weight and sweetness of the wine with the weight and sweetness of the food, in this case chocolate. Chocolate is the key here; determine your selection and then find a wine to pair with it.

Dark or bittersweet chocolates – Dark chocolates, which have a higher percentage of cacao, possess a bitter, more tannic nature to them. Tannins are what give that mouth-coating, puckering sensation, the same taste when you drink black coffee or tea sans sugar or milk. Therefore, you want a wine that has a higher tannin structure to it. These wines include red Zinfandel or Primitivo, which is the Italian version of Zinfandel. They can stand up to the tannins in the dark chocolate. Vintage Port, a Portuguese wine that is fortified with brandy, is also fabulous as a partner with hints of deep dark berry notes. 

Chocolate-covered strawberries or chocolate truffles with cherry or raspberry – Brachetto d’Aqui is my go-to with these chocolate choices. Brachetto d’Aqui is a light, slightly effervescent Italian red wine with sweet cherry, raspberry and strawberry notes. Brachetto is the name of the grape and produces a beautiful frothiness. A sweet Lambrusco is also a good match with chocolates that are laced or filled with cherry or raspberry, like truffles. Another slightly bubbly Italian wine, Lambrusco’s red and black cherry, plum and raspberry notes dovetail well with the chocolate’s sweetness. Be careful not to select a dry Lambrusco as it will be too austere to match with chocolate.  

Milk Chocolate – Milk chocolate has a soft, creamy texture to it with lower tannins and bitterness than dark chocolate. Its velvety, round mouthfeel allows it to work well with a tawny port wine, a classic pairing. The nutty, caramel and warm vanilla qualities of the tawny port marry well with the mix of cocoa butter and sugar found in milk chocolate.

There are many port options that won’t break the bank, under $20. However, if you want to splurge, seek an aged tawny port, 20-to 30-years. This will truly put you at a different pairing level. While not as classic, a fruity pinot noir is another good option. One from California, with its high concentration of fruit, works best. Avoid ones from France, which are typically drier and have more acid.

White Chocolate – One of my favorite chocolates is white chocolate, with its creamy, mouth coating texture. The list of wines to pair with white chocolate is immense. My top three choices are white port, demi-sec (off-dry) Champagne or sparkling wine or a sweet riesling. Each one of these offers just enough sweetness and body to create complementary flavors in the mouth. White port, unlike the tawny or vintage port, is as its name implies – white – and is made from white grapes. It is lighter in weight than a tawny or ruby port and is synergistic with white chocolate. A sweeter riesling, typically from Germany or Washington state, with a mouth-coating profile of apricot or peach notes is another option. Lastly, an off-dry sparkling wine is one of my favorite pairings with white chocolate. The bubbles and sweetness create a pairing masterpiece. Gruet (New Mexico) makes a fabulous, everyday demi-sec sparkler, and for an enhanced experience, the Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Demi-Sec Champagne is a wonderful option.