In the Spirit: A Sweet Escape

February 14th always brings about the famous heart-shaped boxes that we are all so familiar with.  Contained we find the mystery-filled confections bringing the opportunity for us to explore the interesting world of chocolate and wine.  We all may have heard about it before, how great chocolate and wine pair together.  While I am not the biggest advocate for combination, I do believe there is an opportunity for us to explore wines we may not normally enjoy and find some things that do work together.

Pairing wine and chocolate brings about some of the fundamentals of wine and food pairing.  Pairing like-flavors with like-flavors, comparing or contrasting are good places to start.  It’s not as simple as picking up a nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and a bar of 70% Cocoa.  Chocolate is naturally bitter and contains tannins.  Dry styles of wine are very similar to bitterness also containing tannins.  Taking a bite and savoring a piece of dark chocolate and having a sip of that Cabernet behind it will likely lead to an unfavorable combination on your palate.  If you have ever tried this, you know what I’m talking about.  In this case, we have added bitter to bitter, thus a very bitter mouthful.  Dry red wines are difficult to pair up due to this simple case.

One of my mentors shared with me that Red Zinfandel may be as far into red wine as chocolate will go.   

One of my mentors shared with me that Red Zinfandel may be as far into red wine as chocolate will go.  I have carried that with me, tested the theory and fully agree.  Robert Biale makes some wonderful Zinfandels where the darker red fruits are more of the ‘star of the show’ and the tannic grip is a little lighter, making them a great choice for the pairing.  Select one of the dark chocolates from your heart-shaped box and give it a try.  The bitterness of the chocolate will get surrounded by the lush fruit of the wine. It may leave you wanting to try another one.  Sticking with dry red wines, another combination that has potential would be milk chocolate and Pinot Noir.  Selecting a fruit-forward Pinot would be the focus, so look for something from Central California such as Santa Maria Valley or Santa Rita Hills.  Great choices here would be a wine from Samsara or Melville. The creaminess of the chocolate will awaken and coat the palate allowing the lighter body and fruit from the Pinot to sing.

Contrasting aside let’s look at comparing sweetness to sweetness.  I’m sure in the box you will find a fruit-flavored mound, possibly cherry or raspberry.  This would be a great chance to pop a bottle of Moscato d’Asti.  Ditch the Barefoot Moscato for this and spring for a real Italian one such as Vietti.  Besides being sweet this wine has an opulent fruit component to it, making it really juicy. This pairing will make whichever fruity chocolate you choose POP on contact.  Both the chocolate and wine flavors will almost explode and certainly delight the palate.

One last fun combination would be with that weird orange-flavored chocolate in the box.  Citrusy and sweet having a similarly flavored wine accompaniment with this would be fun. Look for Essensia by Quady, an Orange Muscat dessert wine.  Sweet and lightly orange-flavored (thanks to the grape and only the grape) makes this quite possibly my favorite pairing when it comes to wine and chocolate.  The combined fruitiness of this pairing makes the amount of sweetness work extremely well together.

Maybe this year instead of letting the heart-shaped candy box collect dust on the counter until March, you can find and try something a little different.

– Ron Maggliochetti, HashtagWV #122. February 2020.

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