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Pairing Wine and Chocolate

by David on January 25, 2010

Scroll down for a 3-course, all-chocolate menu for Valentine’s Day!

In 1528, when Hernando Cortez first brought chocolate to Spain from the Aztec Empire, it was considered the ultimate gift to bestow upon a loved one. Its rarity and seductive powers made it an unequivocal declaration of passion and devotion. The Aztecs believed chocolate to have aphrodisiac qualities they called it the food of the Gods.

And, of course, wine has romantic qualities of its own. This time of year, it’s natural to want to combine them! Science tells us that chocolate has stimulants to energize and induce feelings of well being and wine sets the mood, relaxes us and lowers inhibitions. Science aside, it’s really about slowing down, relaxing and indulging your senses.

But, now, I need to be straight with you. Pairing chocolate with wine isn’t a slam dunk. I write this regretfully because, generally speaking, pairing wine and food is remarkably simple. The structure of most any wine makes it a natural with most foods.

But, sweet foods? That takes a little thought. Here’s a concept to etch in your memory: when pairing sweets with wine, the wine should be at least as sweet as the food. Why? Because otherwise, almost every time, a wine that was delicious moments ago becomes sour by comparison.

I qualified that statement because there are mitigating possibilities when it comes to chocolate since it’s really quite bitter before it’s sweetened.

Chocolate and dry wine: So if you want to pair chocolate with dry table wine, like a good Cab, Merlot or Zin your best bet it to go with dark, bitter and bittersweet chocolate with a high cacao content. Bitter nuts, like walnuts and hazelnuts help. So does espresso or coffee. And, berry fillings if they aren’t too sweet. And, in this day of chocolates with unorthodox fillings, I’ll recommend black pepper — maybe it’s out there, and its bitterness is a great bridge builder.

Chocolate and sweet wine: Now, this is MUCH easier! Because chocolate is a strong flavor, red dessert wines like late-harvest Zinfandel, Port and Banyuls wine are a good way to go but you won’t have any sourness problems with other choices like Sauternes, sweet Madeira (Malmsey) or Tokaji. Or, even a sweet Muscat, like our Muscat Canelli.

If the chocolates have caramel fillings, keep in mind caramel is very sweet, but it also presents a luscious opportunity: Vin Santo, tawny Port and Madeira have wonderfully caramelized flavors and will be yummy partners!

Nutty fillings are also great with nutty, sweet Sherry (Pedro Ximenez), tawny Port and Madeira.

White Chocolate: Now, you can stop worrying about red wine altogether! This is usually fairly sweet, so you want quite a sweet wine to go with it. The Muscat comes to mind immediately and so does Sauternes.

Advice: When it comes to sweets and wine, taste the pairing before you serve it to friends — especially when you’re trying to please that special someone!

To celebrate Valentine’s Day, Colleen, our proprietor and in-house chef has designed the following menu, including a little chocolate in each course for all of you romantic chocoholics. Cheers!

All chocolate menu for the romantic chocaholic

first course
Cocoa seared scallops
Serve with Goosecross Chenin Blanc

entree
Short ribs with coffee-cocoa sauce
Polenta (side-dish, recipe listed along with Short ribs)
Serve with Goosecross Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

dessert
Chocolate crazy cake
Serve with Goosecross Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

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