Isn’t it romantic – a box of chocolates, bouquet of flowers, and a gorgeous bottle of dark red wine. The three iconic gifts of love should go together in a triumph of romance, right?
They make a beautiful photo op, but two of these can end as a ‘train wreck’ on your palate.
But what if it didn’t have to be that way….
Expand your Wine Horizons!
Step away from your usual go-to table wines. Instead, discover wines that DO taste beautiful with your favorite chocolates
WINE & CHOCOLATE? 📌
I’m among the legion of wine pros and sommeliers who see flashing warning lights when I hear the words – “wine and chocolate.” Why? With chocolate in hand, people reflexively grab the wine with the biggest reputation – a bold (expensive?) Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux blend.
Unfortunately, “Cab and chocolate” causes a clash of tastes, none too romantic or pleasing. Whether it’s “Cab” or a swath of other dry table wines, the combo sounds romantic; it should be delicious, but not so much.
Instead, let me help. Let me play “palate cupid.” Though a host of “go-to” dry wines may not fare well against chocolate, I’ll share the array of gorgeous wines that shine here, some actually strike a quite romantic pose as well!
- First, I share how the usual go-to wines go wrong
- Then I’ll reveal the styles of wine to seek out, that DO pair deliciously with chocolates
Or Scroll now to go directly to my WINE RECOMMENDATIONS, several options to “fall for”- pairings with milk, dark, white, and filled chocolates!
WINE & CHOCOLATE – WHY NOT?
An entire category of dry table wines is better reserved for your appetizers and mains, avoiding sweets or chocolate.
It’s all in the science – of how tastes combine on your palate and how your brain perceives their interaction. Wine and chocolate isn’t a flat “no”; it’s more of a “Know” –which wine styles to avoid and which to seek out.
*AVOID: Dry, non-fruity, high tannin table wines.
*DO: Fruit-forward wines, low-tannin wines, wines with sweetness!
📌 WINE & CHOCOLATE – HOW TO DO IT
(+) Pair Sweet to Sweet
(-) Avoid Bitter + Bitter / Tannin + Tannin
(+) Go with Fruity
(+) Mirror Flavors
PAIRING STRATEGIES 📌
MILK & WHITE CHOCOLATE
(+) Pair Sweet to Sweet
With Sweetness, ‘Like Reduces Like’
Milk chocolate and white chocolate are usually read as “sweet” on your palate. According to taste science, we’re easily habituated to the basic taste of sweetness, quickly needing ever-higher levels to register. Your bite of sweet chocolate tastes “sweet,” but quickly “blocks” your perception of that level of sweetness (and fruit) in your next bite of food (or sip of wine). Result? The wine’s fruit and sweetness are perceptually reduced or cancelled. When the “juicy stuff” in the wine disappears, we notice what remains – the wine’s acids, alcohol, tannins, maybe herbs and earth. So in the face of sweet food, wine seems to have changed. Dry (and low-fruity wines) are often left tasting bitter (and even harsh).
Tip: Your wine should be = to or sweeter than your food.
Solution: With the sweeter Milk and White chocolates, avoid most dry table wines. Choose fruity and sweet wines, or at least an elevated level of residual sugar. Now THAT’S delicious!
(-) Avoid Bitter + Bitter / Tannin + Tannin
(+) Go with Fruity
With Bitterness, ‘Like Items Build’
What about Dark Chocolate? With less sugar and cream its character is a well-loved bitterness and some drying astringency. Similarly, many serious red wines (young Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and many more) have bitterness and high levels of tight, drying tannins until bottle age softens them. Taste Science tells us that tannins and bitterness build on each other (opposite of the sweetness interaction)!
Result? The bitter bite of dark chocolate makes your dry structured red wine taste even drier and more bitter!
Tip: Avoid 2 bitter or tannic foods together
Solution: With dark chocolates, sweet, fortified wines are a good choice, but we can also go a bit drier. Choose either richly sweet or fruit-driven red table wines with low, soft or plush tannins. The wine’s fruit highlights chocolate’s dark fruit notes, while its sugars balance chocolate’s bitter-sweetness. Tannins in the dark chocolate may actually enhance the mouthfeel of a too-soft or “flabby” wine, adding some pleasant grip!
FLAVORED & FILLED CHOCOLATES
With filled chocolates, get to know the filling. Is it highly or mildly sweet? tart, fruity? What kind of fruit? Nutty or caramelized?
(+) Pair to the filling! Then adjust your wine’s sweetness to milk or dark chocolate
🍷 RECOMMENDED WINES 🍷
Invite one of these bottles to complement your milk, dark, white, and filled chocolates
MILK CHOCOLATE – Wine Recommendations
BRACHETTO D’AQUI – A sweet, foamy-fizzy to sparkling bright red wine from Piemonte Italy. Flavors of strawberry, raspberry, roses. You may have seen Banfi’s “Rosa Regale” on the shelf. This is just one example of a Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG
LAMBRUSCO di SORBARA “AMABILE” – Med-sweet, fizzy to sparkling wines made from the Lambrusco di Sorbara grapes out of the Modena or Emiliano regions of northern Italy. Imagine delicate pretty pink color with strawberry to raspberry and floral aromas. More delicate, less sweet, and a bit more crisp than the Brachetto. (“amabile” indicates delicately sweet)
LATE HARVEST RED WINES – Grapes left long/late on the vine to ripen to high sugar levels and concentrated flavors. Opt for red versions for milk chocolate – the combo is like chocolate covered berries! Zinfandel is a common variety for Late Harvest reds.
BANYULS – Fortified sweet wine from the Roussillon region of France, made from Grenache. Lower in alcohol, sweetness and richness than Port, its flavors of strawberry, raspberry, herbs and yes, chocolate make it a deliciously natural pairing for chocolate desserts.
RUBY PORT – From Portugal. The long-aged, fortified sweet wine. Rich and concentrated, with gorgeous deep red berry flavors and hints of baking, exotic spice. Consider Warre’s Heritage or Sandeman’s Founder’s. Because it’s fortified (with fruit spirits) it will have higher alcohol than other sweet wines in this group.
PORT-STYLE Wines – From California, Washington, Australia; often made from Zinfandel, Shiraz or Petite Sirah. Fortified sweet wines made similarly to the original Ruby Ports of Portugal.
RECIOTO della VALPOLICELLA – From the same region in Italy as Valpolicella and Amarone della Valpolicella dry red table wines, these grapes are harvested, and then dried to almost raisins before pressing and fermenting. Think concentrated silky sweetness.
FRUITY – LIGHTLY SWEET
VALUE-PRICED LIGHT RED WINES – Wines such as “Jam Jar” aren’t considered dessert wines, but they’re still made with quite elevated levels of residual sugar. Many have 20-60 grams/liter. Lucky wallet if you happen to like these wines on their own; they may be on-the-mark choices for milk chocolate. Think Jam Jar red, or Barefoot’s Sweet Red Blend. Barefoot Pinot Noir will be less sweet but still fruity enough to be nice.
DARK CHOCOLATE – Wine Recommendations
Some wines under milk chocolate also pair with dark, but we can expand to include some drier wines. Fruity and plush wines with low tannins can beautifully balance chocolate’s bitterness. Especially decadent are wines with flavors of darker berries – blue, black and boysenberry.
TAWNY PORT – The more toffee, orange peel, dried fig, plum and baking spice flavors of a tawny or 10-year tawny is a nice balance to dark chocolate. With 80%+ chocolate and those with nuts, try a 20-year.
RUBY PORT – RESERVE – From Portugal. Expect darker-berried flavors such as boysen-/blackberry/ fig with herbs and spice, silky fruit richness. Grahams’ Six Grapes Reserve would be a delicious choice
PORT-STYLE Fortified Wines – From California, Australia: especially those from deep, concentrated, blue-fruited Petite Sirah or Shiraz
DRY, LOW-TANNIN, YET RICH IN FRUIT
AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA – Amarone is a big, luscious, rich and velvety, red wine made from air-dried, raisined grapes. But instead of making a sweet wine, the high-sugar must is fermented to dryness. This high-alcohol weighty-glossy gem is an intriguing pairing with dark chocolate
FRUIT-DRIVEN, SILKY RICH RED TABLE WINES – Try Malbecs and Merlots from the warmest appellations of California or Washington state to get softer tannin and ripe fruit. Consider Barberas and Zinfandels from the Sierra Foothills or Lodi, or wines labelled “California”
POPULAR-PRICED PLUSH REDS – Malbecs, Red Blends, Zinfandels, Shiraz from brands like Ménage à Trois, Apothic Red, Cupcake, Layer Cake, Yellow Tail are produced to appeal to a broad palate. Their tannins are soft or non-evident and are generally made to retain 10-20 grams/liter of residual sugar. The “RS” and higher alcohols create the soft weighty mouthfeel which may be OK with chocolate’s bitterness.If you like the of the fig-prune-blackberry flavors and soft weight of these wines, they may be an affordable bet on a chocolate pairing.
Still really want a special, high-end dry able wine?
Some may work ‘well enough’ with dark chocolate. Choose bottles from the back of your wine fridge that have a few years on them. The tannins will have softened in your Petit Sirahs, Syrahs and the more serious Malbecs, while still hopefully having enough berry fruit flavors to balance the bitter and sweet in darker chocolate. My tip to avoid Cabernet Sauvignons, Bordeaux and Meritage blends still stands. Older bottles will have softened, but aren’t known for fruit flavors or a touch of sweetness especially after some age. Instead, they evolve to tobacco and herbs. With their acidity, it’s not likely to be a delicious combo.
WHITE CHOCOLATE – Wine Recommendations
Sweeter whites, light pinks, and creamy floral wines are delicious with the delicate sweeter, vanilla notes, and creaminess of white chocolate.
SWEET CHOICES –
BRACHETTO D’AQUI – Red-pink, sparkling bubbly raspberry. Yum! See description under Milk Chocolate. Gorgeous with the creamy vanilla flavors of white chocolate. Think – white chocolate covered raspberries!
MOSCATO D’ASTI – Med-Sweet to sweet fizzy to sparkling white wines out of Piemonte Italy. Flavors of peaches, honey, orange blossoms, white grape juice. Muscat Blanc wines for a still version
LATE HARVEST WHITES – of Riesling or other aromatic fruity white grapes are delicious choices to complement the delicate flavor of white chocolate.
“PASSITO” WHITES – Italian wines from fermented air-dried, raisined grapes, deliciously concentrate the fruit and sugars, resulting in luscious fruity sweet wines. Some have “Passito” on the label. Ex – Passito di Pantelleria, but also Recioto di Soave, and Sciacchetrà
FRUITY – LIGHTLY SWEET
PROSECCO – Sparkling white wines out of northern Italy. They aren’t dessert wines, but they’re fruit forward and have a touch of sweetness– Pear, floral and almond aromas
PINOT NOIR – Yes, a light red. Opt for bright fruit-highlighted versions out of Mendocino County, Carneros, or Oregon / Willamette Valley. The extra fat content in the white chocolate can tone down the acidity of Pinot Noir table wine, highlighting its fruit!
LAMBRUSCO di SORBARA – A pale red lightly sparkling wine from Emilia-Romagna Italy. Both the Amabile (sweeter) but also try the secco (dry) and semi-secco versions too. Enjoy the first half of your “secco” bottle with your pre-dinner salumi spread. Try to reserve the remainder for the chocolates!
MED-SWEET or MED-DRY RIESLING – Both fruity and floral, with juicy apple, tropical, citrus fruit and some sweetness. For German Rieslings check the label for Feinherb or Halbtrocken (“half dry”) or the quality levels Spätlese or Auslese. Vouvray (French, Loire wine made from Chenin Blanc) is another excellent choice. A fruit-driven, sometimes creamy white often made to medium-sweetness.
VALUE-POPULAR PRICED White Wines and Rose’s – Especially from aromatic grapes such as Riesling, a creamy Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris or Pinot Noir. Again, although they’re “dry” table wines, their elevated sugars will have just enough sweetness to pair nicely with white chocolate
FILLED CHOCOLATES – Wine Recommendations
With filled chocolates, pair to the filling! Then adjust your wine’s sweetness to milk or dark chocolate.
TART BERRY CREAM FILLINGS –
Consider Pinot Noirs or Gamays! Tart fruit cream fillings invite higher-acid, light red table wines. It may be a knock your socks off pairing.
TART CITRUS CREAM FILLINGS –
Try a medium-dry Riesling, or try Pine Ridge’s Chenin-Viognier white blend. Consider a Sauternes.
SWEET VANILLA OR COCONUT CREAM –
Stay on the sweeter side of whites or rose’s. Medium Sweet Rieslings, Vouvray, Chenin Blanc, or Lambrusco di Sorbara. With very sweet fillings coated in milk chocolate, go with a sweet and rich Late Harvest Chardonnay, Riesling, or Recioto di Soave (Italy). Try a Sauternes or other botrytized sweet white
ORANGE PEEL –
To highlight the orange flavors and enrich the chocolate:
In White chocolate, keep it delicate: Try a Moscato d’Asti, a still Muscat Blanc, or a med-sweet to sweet Riesling. In Dark chocolate, go deeper, richer: Try a Tawny Port, a Vin Santo, or Sauternes
CARAMEL CENTER –
Let’s go with the caramel flavors for the pairing. Late Harvest Chardonnay, Vin Santo (Italy), 10-year Tawny Port (Portugal).
NUT COVERED –
Try a Madeira- either Bual or Colheita. Tawny Ports (Portugal) with their nutty flavors are also brilliant. Include additional wines from my recommendations under dark and milk chocolate.
TOFFEE covered in MILK CHOCOLATE –
Go for very sweet here, possibly with burnt caramel flavors: Madeira Malmsey / Malvasia (Portugal). Vin Santo (Italy). Moscatel de Setúbal (Portugal), 20 year Tawny Port
❤️ ENJOY – Your Sweets with these Sweeter wines with your Sweetheart ❤️
If you hesitate to open a sweeter wine than you’re accustomed to, consider the many delicious opportunities for enjoying these wines beyond chocolate.
The very sweetest wines are fantastic with many other desserts, but also with nuts, dried fruit, medium to hard cheeses, sweeter nut breads or hard cookies like biscotti (dunk them in Vin Santo!)
Moderately sweet and fruity wines have an even broader flexibility. Beyond a wide array of cheeses and fruit, they’re gorgeous with spicy and complex asian dishes, sweet-sour savory dishes, salty snacks, and light brunch.
I’d love your feedback — Did you try any of these wines or pairings? How did you like it? Find something else you enjoyed with your chocolates?
…..Drop me a note: MaryBeth@crushcoursewine.com