Wines to pair with chocolate
Wine and chocolate is a match we’ve always been told works, but it can actually be trickier than most combos to nail.
Picture it, you’re sipping on a nice glass of whatever you’ve poured, and after a mouthful of choc thinking… hang on. This isn’t as nice as I thought it was before? I was led to believe this would be the height of indulgence? We’ve been there too, it’s not just you.
And it’s for the sweetest of reasons - literally, it’s sugar. Here’s our top tips and pairings - we’ve included the science bit if you’re interested, but feel free to skip to the pairings. We won't mind.
Ready to dive in?
Most wines made for the table (your classic “still” wines) are going to be fermented to what’s known as “dry” - a winey-way of saying that all of the sugar from the crushed grapes has been converted to alcohol.
Some “dry” wines can seem sweeter for a few reasons. It could be the fruit it's been made from has a riper character (tastes of melons, rather than lemons), or because they have slightly lower acidity than we’re used to (and we’re not picking up an acidic “sour” character). It could also be that the alcohol levels are high (ethyl-alcohol is perceptibly sweet), or because the wine has been matured a certain way (oak can sometimes lend a bit of vanilla or sweet spice, that kind of thing). Or, to confuse things more - sometimes it could be all of them, depending on what magic the winemaker has been trying to weave.
So say you’re eating something that’s more sweet than the wine - for the sake of this article, let's imagine half an entire family-sized Toblerone (not that we’re speaking from personal experience or anything).
Your tastebuds will tune in to those sweet triangles of milk chocolate and nougat, and expect the next thing they come across to be the same. When you then take your next sip of delicious Yarra Valley pinot noir (again not speaking from personal experience or anything), your senses will be out of whack, and the wine won’t seem as sweet - rather bitter, and maybe harsh. It’s become the stuff of mofo nightmare’s - an unbalanced wine. That’s why chocolate (or anything sweet) can be tricky to pair.
Wines that haven’t been fermented to “dry” contain what’s known as residual sugar - at lower levels this can be a fairly subtle sweetness (“off-dry”), but at higher levels gives the wine a pronounced sweetness that can get to levels described as “luscious” (think your classic Rutherglen sticky). And it's this residual sugar that can help strike a nice balance with sweeter foods like chocolate or desserts - hence dessert wines being typically on the sweeter end of the scale.
Wines to pair with chocolate
So with all wine pairings, the goal is always to create a harmonious state of zen. Balance and harmony, ying and yang. That sort of thing.
Broadly you’re going to want to strike a balance between the sugar content in the chocolate, and the sugar content of the wine - making sure that the sweetness of the wine isn’t getting knocked out by the sweetness of the chocolate.
Here’s our top match-ups.
When it comes to dark chocolate, you need some bold, badass wines to keep up with its intense bitterness - especially if it’s sitting over that 70% cocoa solids mark. The good news is that you can go for a wine that’s slightly more rich to match against that bitter chocolate - something like a muscular cabernet sauvignon, with its full-bodied character and dark fruits, perfectly complementing the brooding depths of the chocolate. If you're feeling adventurous, a zinfandel can also work wonders here too, as can a big, bold Barossa Valley shiraz. You’ve also got the option of going fortified here too and opting for a port - the tannins are a perfect match for those in the chocolate, and it’s a wine with more than enough residual sugar to compete.
These are going to be your tricky chocs to pair, so proceed with caution. If it’s a darker milk chocolate (around 50-60% cocoa solids) we’re reaching for a merlot, or a riper style of pinot with a bit of structure and backbone. Enough tannin to match the chocolate, but not overwhelm, and some fruit sweetness that can just about match the sugar in the chocolate. Gamay is a great shout here too.
If your milk chocolate is on the lighter side, you’re going to want something with a bit of residual sugar. We’re thinking something like a sparkling moscato if you’re drinking lighter too, or a “late harvest” wine - something like a late harvest shiraz is great - that’s been left with a bit of residual sugar to play with.
Here’s where you’re going to need a wine with some residual sugar, but that’s also light to the touch too. We’re thinking riesling, slightly sweet and bursting with floral and fruity aromas. A white dessert wine is also perfect here too. And any white varietal labelled as a “late harvest” or “cane cut”, which tends to be used as an indicator that it’s going to be sweeter in style. Off-dry rose can also be a winner, and bring a touch of red fruits to the party.
But… if you're feeling a bit fancy, pop open a bottle of Champagne or traditional method sparkling wine. Those tangy biscuity notes will contrast against the sweetness of the white chocolate, and quite often they’re given a little bit of sugar (aka the dosage) before they’re sent on their merry way to market.
Top tip if you’re pairing Champagne with something sweet - “dry”, “demi sec” or “doux” on the label indicator sweeter styles.
Remember though - there's always joy in discovering something new and delicious, so don't be afraid to explore when you're pairing.
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