From the Star Ledger

When I started out in the wine business 30 years ago, no one ever talked about drinking wine with chocolate. Wine went with beef; with chocolate, we drank coffee.

Today, pontificating about what kinds of wine — red or white, still or sparkling — go with what types of chocolate — milk or dark, mousse or cake — is a hot topic among foodies and wine geeks. (Don’t get me wrong: Some of my best friends are wine geeks.)

The normally sound advice “Drink what you like” doesn’t quite work with chocolate, because most wines, in fact, taste awful with chocolate.

The one wine-pairing rule you never want to forget is: If the food is sweet, the wine needs to be sweeter. Try it for yourself: The next time you have a piece of cookie or candy in your mouth, take a sip of your favorite dry table wine. Your sugar-coated palate will make the wine taste painfully bitter.

In other words, no matter how much you like chardonnay or merlot, the wine will be ruined if you try drinking it with chocolate.

The fact is, your choices for chocolate are fairly limited. After all, the vast majority of wines sold in the United States are fermented dry.

The most comprehensive list of chocolate-friendly wines I know of comes from Natalie MacLean, a popular wine expert and author of the critically acclaimed “Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass.”

On her Web site (www.NatalieMacLean.com), MacLean has an interactive “Wine & Food Matcher” that allows you to choose virtually any kind of food, then suggests the right wine to go with it. Under “chocolate,” MacLean has wine-pairing tips for no less than 50 confections, from ice cream to fudge to Hershey’s Kisses — no kidding.

Just click on “desserts” to find pairings for chocolate mud pie to chocolate cheesecake. These same pairings are also in her free mobile apps.

She recommends certain wines with light chocolate mousse (muscat, Sauternes) and others for dark chocolate mousse (demi-sec champagne, vin santo). There’s something for every breed of chocoholic.

For Valentine’s Day, MacLean selected her Top 10 Wine and Chocolate Matches:

1. Dark chocolate with Banyuls, a red-tinted dessert wine from France’s Rhone Valley.

2. Chocolate-covered biscotti with Recioto Della Valpolicella, a sweet version of Italy’s classic Valpolicella, made from grapes that are allowed to dry and shrivel like raisins before they’re pressed.

3. Chocolate-orange cake with Australian muscat, aka a “sticky,” the Australian term for an ultra-sweet wine made from the muscat grape.

4. Chocolate and nuts with tawny port, a fortified wine from Portugal that is aged in barrel until the color turns from red to tawny.

5. Milk chocolate with Tokaji, the legendary wine of Hungary, once a favorite of the kings of Europe.

6. Bittersweet chocolate with Amarone, a super-rich red wine from Italy’s Veneto reigon. (Yes, Amarone is relatively dry, but so is bittersweet chocolate.)

7. Chocolate-dipped fruit with ice wine, a sweet white made from grapes that are allowed to freeze on the vine before they’re pressed.

8. Chocolate truffles with Sauternes, France’s most famous dessert wine, from the Bordeaux region.

9. Chocolate raspberry cheesecake with Framboise, a sweet fruit wine made from raspberries.

10. Cream-filled chocolate hearts with cream sherry — yes, as in Harvey’s Bristol Cream.

You may have trouble locating a bottle of Banyuls or Recioto della Valpolicella at your neighborhood wine shop, but it shouldn’t be hard to find a good tawny port at a re

asonable price. An excellent example is Taylor Fladgate 10 Year Old Tawny (about $25), which the importer, Kobrand Corp., recommends serving with chocolate-nut desserts.

Another delicious, readily available and attractively priced port is Fonseca Bin 27 ($20), which is a little deeper in color and fruitier than classic tawny. It would go perfectly with a dessert combining dark chocolate and fruit, such as chocolate decadence cake with a raspberry puree.

Keep in mind that port is a lot stronger than table wine, with nearly twice the alcohol. All you want is a 3-ounce serving, about half the normal wine pour. And don’t worry about the leftovers: Tawny port, because it is fortified and aged for so many years in barrel, will still be good to drink weeks after you pop the cork.

For more wine and chocolate pairing articles, click on the tag below called “Chocolate & Wine”