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Wine & chocolate pairings perfect for Valentine’s Day

by Jay Kitterman, culinary and special events consultant, Lincoln Land Community College

Wine and chocolate are two of our most popular treats on Valentine’s Day. Not surprisingly, when carefully paired, they provide a sensational taste experience.

Desiree Logsdon, senior vice president at BUNN, compares it to pairing cheese and wine. The fun is trying different cheeses with your favorite wines, and she recommends doing the same with chocolate. To help simplify recommended pairings, Desiree has prepared a pairing sheet for wines and chocolate; stop by Pease’s at BUNN Gourmet for a copy.    

First a little about chocolate. Desiree recently met with me at Pease’s at BUNN Gourmet located at the Gables and reported that chocolate sales continued to grow during COVID as consumers spent more time at home, and many turned to indulgent and comforting treats like chocolate. Dark chocolate remained one of the hottest trends as people’s palates were changing and were looking for bolder, more intense flavors. Some health reports indicate that dark chocolate provides higher levels of cacao and natural flavanol antioxidants. The February issue of Consumer Reports in an article on chocolate (surprising to me) states “an ounce of dark chocolate can have 3 to 5 grams of fiber, about the same amount as a six ounce apple and 65 mg of magnesium, nearly as much as a half cup of cooked spinach (sorry Popeye).

Some Tips for Pairing

  1. To keep things simple, start with a wine that is slightly sweeter than the chocolate. Tried and true "sweet" wine options that cover a wide range of chocolate partners include the fortified favorites of Port, Madeira and some Sherry.
  2. Bittersweet chocolate tends to pair well with an intense, in-your-face California Zinfandel or even a tannin-driven Cabernet Sauvignon. The darker the chocolate, the more dry, tannin texture it will display. Chocolate has tannins – just like wine. If you combine a tannin-rich dark chocolate square with a highly tannic wine, the whole thing will taste bitter.
  3. Taste from light to dark chocolate or light-bodied to full-bodied wine. It is similar to formal wine tasting, if you will be experimenting with several varieties of chocolates, work from light white chocolate through milk chocolate and end on the drier notes of dark chocolate.

White chocolate (yes, we know that white chocolate is not technically chocolate, it’s okay) tends to be more mellow and buttery in flavor, making it an ideal candidate for the sweeter styles of Sherry  and the sweet, subtle bubbles of Italy's Moscato d'Asti. Sweet and creamy white chocolate pairs well with a light and sweet wine.

Milk chocolate is the most versatile of the chocolates and therefore the easiest to pair with a variety of wines. Try pairing it with a sweet sparkling red like Lambrusco, Moscato Noir, a Petite Syrah, Sherry or some Ruby Port from Portugal. The ripe, red fruit and often lighter body and silky tannins of a Pinot Noir or a medium-bodied Merlot will work well with the smooth character and cocoa butter components of milk chocolate. Also, consider a sparkling wine or Champagne for pairing with milk chocolate-dipped strawberries. Try sweet and fizzy reds like Lambrusco. In fact, the jammy notes in Lambrusco combined with chocolate sort of tastes like a PB&J.

Dark or bittersweet chocolates, with higher cacao content (dark chocolate contains a minimum of 35% cocoa solids) call for a wine that offers a fuller body and robust aromas. Also, consider a Pinot Noir or a Merlot to handle dark chocolate around the 55% cocoa mark.

Zach Sweet, manager of It’s All About Wine located on Wabash provided me the following recommendations.

$17.99 - Bolet Cava with white chocolate - the balanced acidity and fruitiness of this Spanish sparkling wine fit well with the fattiness of the white chocolate and really showcases the creaminess of these sparkles.   

$19.99 - 2017 Lamadrid Malbec Reserva with dark chocolate truffle - this Malbec has dense black fruit and plum flavors with a smooth, dense and chewy finish that will cut through the cocoa powder and create a unique mouthfeel with the truffle.

$16.99 price Kopke Fine Ruby Port with milk chocolate - the ruby port adds flavors of fresh red berries and cinnamon spice notes that would complement the semi-sweet flavors of the milk chocolate.

Danielle at The Corkscrew recommends dark chocolate with the Duckhorn Merlot $54.99 and McManis Zinfandel $14.99,  Kopke Fine Tawny Port $19.99 with milk chocolate, and Trader Vic's Macadamia Nut Liqueur (750ML) $27.99 with most chocolates.

John Dale Kennedy, is president (Bailli) of Springfield’s Chapter of the international food and wine society, Chaine des Rostisserus. He says that “while many people prefer pairing chocolate with port, Champagne or just coffee, I prefer a red wine: California Cabs or Zinfandels are great. Truffles are a favorite chocolate but not the fruity fillings so much. A mousse or ganache filling shows off the chocolate. If you like fruit, try some Skittles! I also like pairing chocolate with a sipping rum like Bumbu or a dark chocolate with a full-flavored bourbon or even a rich single malt Scotch.” John’s wife Ronee and official Chaine calligrapher, prefers dark chocolate with a California Zin or Bourbon.

I end with the thought that you may not be able to buy happiness, but you can buy great wine and chocolate!  Please remember to support our local wine and chocolate merchants and for that special dinner, remember our wonderful local chef owned restaurants.   

Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management, Baking/Pastry, and Value-Added Local Food, and non-credit cooking and food classes through LLCC Community Education.

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