Pairing Wine with Chocolate: Follow Your Nose

Venison Raviolo Jessica Nagy

By Jessica Nagy

Pairing wine with chocolate is about more than just rich desserts and powerful Ports or Amarones;  it’s a subtle art that can have a big impact on the entire meal if done well.

RebeccaI recently spoke with Sommelier Rebecca Meïr-Liebman about how she takes on this challenge in a series of Sweet & Savoury chocolate-inspired dinners that she hosts with her husband, Chef Eyal Liebman, in Toronto. The next dinner will take place November 8 with all proceeds going to support Second Harvest.

Venison Ravoli Appetizer“I start by choosing the winery,” says Rebecca. In this case, it’s Niagara’s Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery, owned and operated by the Speck family.

“Once I select the winery, I’ll choose the specific wines based on Eyal’s menu.” A French trained chef, Eyal’s menus are inspired by the seasons, using mostly local and fresh ingredients.

Often, says Rebecca, Eyal will change a dish to better work with the wine or even compliment the wine to my advice.

Chef Eyal Liebman 2So how does chocolate fit into this process? Chocolate is a challenge to pair with wine as the bitterness can be problematic,  while the flavours can be overpowering.

For Eyal, a chocolatier with a long background as a pastry chef, the key is to use it as a supporting player in the dish, and to use different types of chocolate, depending on the flavour profile you desire.

Sound familiar?

Chocolate is similar to wine in that it can also be thought to bring its terroir—sense of place—to influence a dish.

This is why Rebecca looks at wine, like the chocolate, as just another ingredient on the plate, rather than the star. Their special characteristics should elevate the whole meal, rather than outshine one ingredient or another.

Chocolate Dessert 2“Chocolate is never dominating the dish,” Rebecca explains. “And because we use it in different ways, you can pair it with a variety of wines.”

For example, Chef Eyal’s mid-course for the November 8 dinner is a Beef Marrow with Valrhona Dulcey – a blond, caramelized chocolate that Rebecca has paired with a botrytis-affected Riesling.

The robust aromas and flavours of the wine will stand up well to both the fattiness of the beef marrow and to the buttery chocolate.

An appetizer of Venison Raviolo made with chocolate-infused pasta will be paired with Henry of Pelham’s flagship wine, the Reserve Baco Noir.

Lamb and ChocolateAt the end of the day, though, the real trick is to tap into your instincts, Rebecca says. When pairing wine with chocolate (or any other kind of food), you just need to follow your nose and palate.

Whether as sommelier or host at home, your job is to provide balance to create the best possible experience for your guests.

Chocolate dessertWant to experience the unique pairings from Rebecca and Eyal Liebman for yourself?

You can join them at The Richmond on November 8, or try your hand at your own sweet and savoury creations such as this recipe for Chocolate Chipotle Beef Short Ribs.

Chocolate Dinner Notice

Do you have a favourite chocolate and wine pairing?




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