MJ Suggests: Red Wine and Chocolate


red wine and chocolate - yay or nayIt seems like a quintessential pairing to me – red wine with chocolate – is actually more of a love it or hate it proposition. I love the combination of a big, jammy Syrah with a decadently structured truffle or chocolate souffle, but it turns out that there is science that says that wine and chocolate might not be a great combination.

Chocolate and wine have many similarities that work against one another. I’m not going to pretend to understand all the science of taste, but the condensed version is this:  Both wine and chocolate are concentrated flavonoids; both are rich in tannins (this can often make your mouth feel dry, like you need a drink of water); and both are acidic on the pH scale, although chocolate is slightly less so, resulting in flavors that are bitter, astringent, and sour (white wine is more acidic than red). Reading about it was enough to twist up my mouth with a big ICK!

Some of their differences also work against wine and chocolate pairing together well. The fattiness and sweetness of chocolate can make a can make a wine taste thin, and its pH factor can cause a wine to taste sour.

Why do so many people (me included) like the combination when the molecular structures of both are at odds with one another? Are we romanced by the idea of pairing the two together despite the taste? Or is this simply a matter that for many of us, science be damned, it’s a pleasing palate combination? Can chocolate and wine just get along?

I asked Thea Dwelle, a wine, spirits, food, and travel blogger at Luscious Lushes about it. She says:

Wine and chocolate is a classic pairing, that when done right, can be magical. When done wrong, can result in unnatural and unpleasant flavors.

When I first think of chocolate, my mind naturally goes to Port and dessert style wines, paired with dark chocolate. However, Zinfandel and richer style Cabernets can also be lovely with chocolate.

I always reccomend at least 70% cacao, because the purity of the chocolate ensures that the true flavors shine through. Choclate can have many of the same notes as wine – such as coffee, spice, dark berry. Look for a quality chocolatier with a low sugar content, and experiment!

Now that’s great advice – experiment! Lots of different chocolate styles, lots of different wine, surely there’s a winning combination to be found.

As a place to start that experimentation, Thea suggests that chocolate with 70-80% cacao often works well with medium bodied Zinfandels, and chocolate with over 80% cacao works well with Cabernet, as the depth plays off each other. Sweeter chocolate based desserts go best with Port and fortified wines such as late harvest zinfandel.

Penny Sadler, a travel writer and certified wine geek on a mission to visit and document the wine regions of the world, says that she loves chocolate and wine together, especially “dark chocolate with caramel or a dark chocolate truffle and a light red wine like a Zinfandel or a fruit forward Spanish style Garnacha.”

And a random chat in a restaurant with a fellow wine drinker led to this suggestion, “Champagne with chocolate dipped strawberries. Any excuse to open a bottle of champagne is just fine with me.”

If you’d like to experiment and find the right chocolate and wine combination for your palate, there are a number of upcoming Washington State winery events that provide the perfect opportunity. Here are a few that caught my eye.

  • The Winery Alliance of Bainbridge Island showcase seven Bainbridge Island wineries with Wine on the Rock:  Red Wine & Chocolate on February 11-12. All the wineries will be pairing their wines with local chocolates and some will have live music. Tickets are on sale now and are good for both days, one visit at each winery or tasting room.
  • Olympic Peninsula Wineries are featuring a Wine, Cider & Chocolate tour on February 11-12, and 18-20. The nine participating destinations include wineries and cideries that hope to bring out the romantic in you with scrumptious red wine and cider perfectly paired with the right chocolate. Tickets are valid for one tasting at each winery,
  • Lake Chelan Wine Valley hums with romance, and feature two weekends perfect for a romantic getaway, complete with chocolate and wine. The valley has 25 wineries, although it is unclear how many are participating in special events for these two weekends.
  • The Red Wine and Chocolate event weekend in the Yakima Valley is February 18-20 and will provide a distinctive and elegant offering of fine chocolate and fine wine. Visit the more than 40 wineries in Yakima Valley Wine Country during this Presidents’ Day weekend. Each winery pairs sumptuous chocolate desserts with their very own remarkable red wines. A Premier Pass will give visitors access to exclusive benefits available only during this Red Wine and Chocolate weekend at over 40 participating wineries, including a variety of specialty food pairings, library tastings, and tours not available to the public.

What do you say about pairing wine and chocolate? Is it a yay or a nay? Leave your suggestions for perfect pairings in the comments.

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 I love the combination of a big, jammy Syrah with a decadently structured truffle or chocolate souffle, but it turns out that there is science that says that wine and chocolate might not be a great combination.