Pairing Chocolate & Wine, Harvest 2019 Update



Welcome to episode 50!

Miles and I had dinner last night at one of Ottawa’s best new restaurants, Gitanes. The food has a French flair, but the restaurant is modern, dare I say hip? Is it even hip to say hip any more?

Anyway, we loved the meal, especially the tuna tartare. I discovered the Pinot Noir I want for the Christmas holidays from Lighthall Vineyards in Prince Edward County… it had that perfect balance between Burgundian finesse and North American ripeness. This isn’t a commercial for this wine — I’m just sharing my latest discovery with you as a number of listeners have asked me to do that more often.

Now don’t go buying it all on me or I won’t share again. Kidding. Sort of.

Later today, I’m hosting my first live wine class for the 5 Wine & Food Pairing Mistakes that Can Ruin Your Dinner (and how to fix them forever). This free class is also when I’ll share details about my new, in-depth paid course called The Wine Smart Course (catchy right?) A Full-Bodied Framework to Taste, Pair & Buy Wine Like a Pro. You’ll know when you can join me on the free class if you get my wine newsletter.

So on to our juicy wine topics that I’ll be chatting with you about in today’s Unreserved Wine Talk podcast:

  • How do you pair wine and chocolate?
  • Do the wines change with different types of chocolate, say milk chocolate versus dark chocolate?
  • How is the 2019 harvest going in BC, Ontario and Nova Scotia?
  • What can we expect as consumers in terms of style, quality and price?

A side note, when I’m talking about the California harvest of 2017, the devastating one that was affected by wildfires, just as they’re experiencing again now, I mistakenly say 2000, but it should be 2017. I didn’t want to remove that part because there’s some helpful info there for you in terms of the impact of the wildfires on the wine’s taste.

I’ll include links to my pairing tips, the wineries mentioned in the harvest updates and how you can get notified about the free wine class in the show notes at

Well, there you have it! You’ll find links to my pairing tips, the wineries mentioned in the harvest updates and how you can get notified about the new, free wine class in the show notes at

What was your favourite tip or quote from this episode? Share that with me on Twitter or Facebook and tag me @nataliemaclean, on Instagram I’m @nataliemacleanwine.

If you liked this episode, please tell a friend about it, especially one who’s interested in pairing wine with chocolate. My podcast is easy to find, whether you search Google on its name Unreserved Wine Talk, or on my name.

Finally, if you want to take your ability to pair wine and food to the next level, join me in a free online video class at

I can’t wait to share more wine stories with you next week.

Thank-you for taking the time to listen to this one. I hope something great is in your glass this week, perhaps a terrific glass of wine with chocolate truffles!



– Should you even try to pair wine and chocolate?

– Won’t the sweetness of the chocolate make the wine taste bitter?

– Why are fortified wines the best partners for chocolate?

– How does their sweetness and higher alcohol content match the flavours of chocolate?

– Why does port in particular go well with chocolate?

– Why is milk chocolate harder to pair with wine than dark chocolate?

– Which wines pair best with white chocolate?

– What about desserts with just a touch of chocolate, like strawberries dipped in chocolate?

– What critical factors affected the 2019 harvest in BC, Ontario and NS?

– Did Hurricane Dorian have an impact on the harvest?

– Which wines and grapes will do well this year, and which won’t?

– How does a wet, cold spring impact the style of wines?

– Why is 2019 proving to be a challenging harvest for winemakers across the country?

– How did the 2017 wildfires affect Californian wines?

– What can you expect in terms of taste and style for the reds now hitting liquor store shelves?




Wine Reviews


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Transcript & Takeaways

Wine and Chocolate

We love chocolate not just for its taste, but also for its sensual texture. Cocoa butter, one of its main ingredients, melts close to body temperature, so sliding a piece into your mouth and feeling it seep out to coat your tongue can almost be orgasmic. Maybe that why’s the eighteenth century Venetian womanizer Giacomo Casanova drank chocolate daily as an aphrodisiac.

Sadly, scientists have since proven no link between chocolate and sexual prowess, but they have discovered that it contains phenylethylamine, a compound that produces a high in the brain that’s similar to the feeling of falling in love. Is it any wonder that women crave chocolate more than any other food? (Men, those hopeless romantics, crave pizza.)

Many oenophiles don’t even try to combine wine and chocolate, feeling that the rich sweetness of chocolate is too much for any wine. But I usually buck conventional wisdom (and I like to layer my vices), so I’m determined to find some good pairings. In matching wine with any dessert the overarching principle is that the wine must be the sweeter of the two—otherwise it’ll taste bitter or dull.

That’s why chocolate, with its concentrated and creamy flavors, usually goes best with sweet, full-bodied, high-alcohol wines. Alcohol gives the impression of richness and sweetness. But there are may shades and intensities of chocolate, so here are a few ideas for sweetening its marriage with wine.


Darker is Better

The best partners for dark chocolate are fortified wines, such as the vin doux naturels, banyuls and maury, both from southern France. They’re made from late-picked red grenache grapes that grow on steep, terraced hillsides. These wines are aged up to thirty months in oak to create rich dark fruit flavors. Banyuls is

a bit sweeter and more acidic than maury, and therefore a better match for chocolate. One of the most famous banyuls is Domaine du Mas Blanc, while maury is best-known for Mas Amiel. Both remind me a little of California’s late-harvest zinfandel, which can also work with chocolate.

Semi-sweet to sweet sherries have the bonus of a nutty character, which goes well with chocolate. Sadly, though, dry madeira from the Portuguese island is a disappointment even though it’s often grouped with sherry in the dishes it complements. The sweet versions of this wine, such as bual, verdhello and malmsay, are a better match for chocolate.

You’ll have better luck with Australian liqueur muscat and liqueur tokay, made from muscat or muscadelle grapes. They’re dried to a semi-raisined state on the vine, then fortified during fermentation. The wine is then heated while it’s aging in barrels, which gives it intriguing aromas of prune, fig, raisin, smoke, tar, coffee, and nuts. All go well with chocolate. Beaumes-de-Venise muscat from southern France has similar aromas with the addition of lovely orange-blossom notes.

My favorite match for chocolate is port. Vintage port pairs well enough, with its plumy, grapey notes, but young ruby port is better with its aromas of blackberries and raspberries. Best of all is tawny port, since its aromas have a natural affinity with chocolate: caramel, coffee, nuts, dried figs, cinnamon, vanilla, and spice. These ports are divine with pralines, a decadent mixture of sugar and ground hazelnuts.

Tawny ports are well-aged wines, often maturing for ten, twenty, or even thirty years. As you’d expect, the oldest variety is the richest. My favorites are Graham’s, Dow’s, and Taylor Fladgate. Although colheita is a vintage port because it comes from a single year, it’s aged in wood for at least seven years, though some are matured for more than thirty years, and therefore has more tawny aromas. (Vintage port only spends two and half years in wood and then ages in the bottle.)

Slightly less complex partners for chocolate are fruit-based dessert wines, such as framboise (raspberry) and cassis (blackcurrant). Their fruit is often macerated (soaked in alcohol) before fermentation for extra concentration. Served with chocolate combination desserts, they complement the fruit flavors. The tannins in these wines are usually so soft that they don’t compete with chocolate and their natural acidity works well alongside it. I’m fond of fruit wines from Southbrook Winery, Ontario; and Bonny Doon Vineyards and Andrew Quady, both from California. Surprisingly, apple icewine is also lovely. Try Neige from Quebec.


Milking Wine’s Possibilities

Pairing milk chocolate is a tougher challenge because of its high dairy content, just as milky desserts such as ice cream and cheesecake also clash. Some people pair milk chocolate mousse or pudding with sparkling wine on the theory that effervescence cuts through the fat. But that doesn’t work for me, even with sweet bubblies like Asti or Moscato d’Asti. I find their texture too light for the chocolate and the wine just tastes like acidic metal.

The best match for milk chocolate is Hungarian tokaji, with its aromas of butter, honey, apricot, and citrus. Tokaji is a botrytised wine: the grapes on the vine are infected by a benevolent fungus called botrytis cinerea (also known as noble rot). This dehydrates the grapes, concentrating their sugars, acidity, and flavors. Other wines made this way include Sauternes from Bordeaux in France, and beerenauslesen and trockenbeerenauslesen from Germany. These wines also work well with ganache and buttery, velvety truffles.


A Whiter Shade of Pale

When it comes to this sweetest of all chocolates, I admit utter defeat. It’s just too much for any wine. Perhaps that’s because white chocolate has just 20 percent cocoa as compared to the 75 percent in bitter chocolate. (Purists don’t consider the former to be real chocolate because it lacks all cocoa solids except cocoa butter.) Its vanilla flavors pair best with cream liqueurs from Bailey’s or Starbucks.


Just a Hint is Enough

An excellent partner with lighter desserts that have only a touch of chocolate, such as dipped biscotti or nut-flavored dacquoise, is amarone’s sweet cousin recioto della valpolicella. The grapes for both wines are dried for several months before being fermented. Those for recioto are dried a month longer than amarone, which gives the wine a deep, sweet taste of raisins and cooked black fruit.

Canadian and German icewine, made from shriveled grapes that lose their moisture because they’re left on the vine well past the fall harvest, are picked in the chill of January. Icewine isn’t quite rich enough for pure chocolate, but it’s great with chocolate-dipped fruit or a fruit flan.


Chocolate but Not Dessert

I’ve heard that some people pair dark chocolate with such robust, dark wines. But after several sips, the wine tastes dull to me because the chocolate overpowers it. And the natural tannins in the chocolate accentuate the wine tannins, making these wine taste bitter.

Lovers of both full-bodied red wines and chocolate needn’t despair, however. With dishes featuring just a touch of bittersweet chocolate in the sauce, such as beef daube, venison stew, or Mexican mole, the jammy flavors in a zinfandel, amarone, or even a Californian cabernet or Australian shiraz work well.

A Sweet Ending

To gain the dark knowledge of which wines pairs best with chocolate, I locked myself in my office for several long days filled with sugar, cocoa, and alcohol. Thinking only of my trusting readers, I am exceedingly thorough with all of my research. The result was a sugar-fueled high tempered by alcohol. (I had also spent earlier days surrounded by mounds of lettuce, bottles of spices, grease-stained take-out cartons, and curling cheese rinds.) However, nothing feels better than coming up with your own discoveries of what gives you the most pleasure. Try it.

To help you with your own journey through the world of flavor, I’ve recently added an easy-to-use, online matching tool on my web site ( You can search either by wine, if you’re looking for inspiration for a meal; or by food, to find great wine suggestions. There are also recipes from professional cooks. I’ve tried to make the choices as comprehensive as possible, so I’ve included everything from Cajun catfish and beef Wellington to spaghetti Bolognese and potato chips. It’s still a work in progress; I keep adding to it as readers ask me questions or send their favorite pairings. Of course, the best way to find good matches is to experiment, which happily means lots of eating and drinking. Enjoy!


2017 California Forest Fires

Currently the 2017 vintage of California red wines are hitting liquor store shelves. You may recall that was the year of the devastating wildfires throughout the state, which continue today around the Los Angeles area. The result is fewer wines are being released, and when supply is low in relation to demand, prices usually go up.

That’s ideal for wineries because the 2018 vintage was a big one so prices are bound to come down next year — good news for us as consumers.

Winemakers say that 2019 will be just as big, if not bigger, than 2018. Many producers’ tanks are still full with the 2018 vintage and so they’re letting the grapes hang longer this year because of it.

Most producers dumped any wine that was tainted by the wildfires. However, it will be interesting to see if the taint emerges later in the wine’s life as it matures, perhaps it wasn’t evident when bottled.


Harvest Update

Rachel Lightfoot at Lightfoot & Wolfville winery in Nova Scotia had this update for us:

Due to a fairly cold, wet spring and slower start to the growing season than usual, we are tracking a couple weeks behind average in terms of ripening.

Downy mildew pressure was a concern at the beginning of the season but disease pressure is now fairly low as nights are quite cool and the fruit is in good shape.

The crop size appears to be fairly average although we have chosen to crop-thin certain later-ripening varieties a bit more than usual to enhance ripening on account of the cooler season.

Luckily the damage from Hurricane Dorian was fairly minimal for grape growers in the province. We did experience some light canopy and trellis damage in certain areas but our fruit was mostly unaffected by the storm.

So far we’ve harvested our most early ripening varieties: Siegerrebe (see-ga-ree-ba) for aromatic blends, Marquette for our Fauna Red, picking L’Acadie Blanc today, and starting to pick certain blocks of Chardonnay for sparkling. It’s looking like this will be a great sparkling vintage. | @lwwines


Jurg Stutz

We only really started harvesting this week. One small batch for sparkling wine last week but that was it so far. Having said that, it is very late due to the cold and wet spring where we lost at least 2 weeks of decent growing season. And it just never caught up over the summer. And of course, the later harvest goes into October, the more problems we’re experimenting with birds.

It seems that lots of areas are still showing effects from last season and have not fully recovered yet (late spring frost on June 4th in 2018 and the early frost and wintery temperatures in the fall of 2018).

So there are sections with very weak growth and very small yields. Especially viniveras and some white hybrids. The red hybrids seems to have recovered the quickest. Over all, it will be a fairly small crop.

We’ve had two very unusual seasons in a row and there is nothing really to compare it to. The jury is still out on this year’s quality but it might be average at best. We’ll see…


Ann Sperling

Sorry. I’m on the forklift weighing grapes. Got three hours sleep last night since we ran wine machines. Basically, Gamay, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are in with Bordeaux reds (Cabernet, Merlot), Vidal for the orange wine and Riesling left to go.


Klaus Reif

We would rate the 2019 vintage as an 8 out of 10. Despite the rain and cold temperatures in the spring, the nice temperatures with just the right amount of rain in the summer made up for it. The fruit is very clean and healthy and shows a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. What is stunning this year is the health of the fruit with no breakdown at all.

The yields are also just about right, not too high which would compromise the quality and not too low so we can supply enough products to our customers. The most comparable recent year this year would be 2016.

We picked so far Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Gamay Noir, Gewurztraminer and Kerner. We still have to pick all our Bordeaux reds and Riesling and obviously Vidal and the Icewine.

From what we’ve picked so far, the highlights are the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but the rest of the quality is also above the average quality. Overall, we love this vintage and looking forward to some amazing 2019 wines.


Now let’s fly out to BC with an update from Mary McDermott from Township 7 Vineyards & Winery


* Overall, 2019 is a challenging harvest, however my experience working in Ontario was invaluable this year here in BC, as I have experienced many of the difficulties presented this vintage, so had some insights into how to best manage the unseasonable autumn conditions.

* The weather was a big factor this year – rain in September made havoc with picking schedules and also brought more disease pressure than is normal for the Okanagan (which is typically quite low), so we had to be extra vigilant.

* That being said, our estate fruit turned out really well.

* Interestingly, we found deer was our biggest pest this year.

* Some varieties came in slightly heavy as they picked up weight with the rain in September, but overall it is an average crop size. The last couple of years have been bigger crops, so we are likely just returning to normal.

Which harvest does it compare most closely to in terms of previous years?

* Mary was not really sure about this, as she has been working in the Okanagan since 2014 and most of the harvests have not been similar to this. Our GM Mike Raffan felt it was perhaps most similar to 2009 when we had a similar early frost event around Thanksgiving.

Which grapes did best this year? worst?

* This is hard to say, as we are still in the fermentation process, however some of the aromatic whites are turning out truly fantastic, and sparkling is also really good, for the reds it is really too early to say though as we had cut back on our yields we will be fine.

* At this point we are finished picking all of the white varieties and Pinot Noir. We will be finished Merlot this week, followed shortly thereafter by Syrah and Cabernet Franc, and will only have Cabernet Sauvignon left to pick.

* We are fortunate to have done extensive crop reduction to improve quality in our vineyards this summer, and thus fortuitously our reds will really reap the benefit from this in enabling ripeness and intensity of flavour.


Mark Sheridan, president of Hester Creek Winery, and his winemakers and provided me with the following update:

The year started well above seasonal average temperatures with concerns that a possible early bud break would be susceptible to a spring frost. These concerns were quickly put to rest with an intense cold snap in February, with temperatures dipping to -20°C, well below normal and thus holding back an early bud break.

Fortunately, no winter damage occurred to our vines, due to attentive viticulture management of the weighty crop the previous fall. Following careful crop reduction and a timely harvest in 2018, the vines were able to achieve good nutrient and carbohydrate uptake for their annual “root flush”, thus ensuring a safe dormancy over winter.

Bud break on April 15th was nicely uniform in timing. Seasonally average temperatures, with few heat spikes this summer, resulted in a balanced growing season overall, leading to a great start for harvest, which started on September 3.

The temperatures in September were somewhat warmer than usual, along with more precipitation than normal. We are so far seeing desirable acid numbers and vibrant fruit flavours in the grapes, with overall crop levels slightly below normal.

Harvest commenced on September 7 with a small portion of our old vines Pinot Blanc. By the end of September, we had processed over 200 tons of hand-harvested fruit including our estate Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Chardonnay, as well as Viognier from a long time grower on the Black Sage Bench.

Our old vines Trebbiano, from block 16 of our estate, and our Terra Unica Sémillon were the last whites for our table wines picked on September 29, and October 2 respectively. All the whites are tasting topshelf with the Pinot Blanc and Trebbiano really standing out this vintage as fantastic examples of the Golden Mile Bench terroir.

We have been careful with our harvest dates given the variable conditions since the start of September, looking for sunny, dry days in which to harvest.

The first of our reds, the Merlot we started to bring in at the beginning of October. This was followed by a portion of our Cabernet Franc for our Rosé , which is presently enjoying a 3-day cold soak prior to fermentation. A severe widespread frost event throughout the entire Okanagan Valley occurred the night of October 9th.

This has hastened scheduling pick dates somewhat sooner than usual for our later ripening varieties: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, which will be harvested in the next few weeks.

The overall quality of the remaining red fruit has not been affected by the frost, and although brix levels are not as high as in a hot year, they are near maturity and thus we expect to see elegant, food-friendly style red wines for this vintage.

Finally, everything will wrap up by Christmas with the remaining old vines Pinot Blanc picked for our late harvest wine usually in late November/early December.




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