Here are my favourite wines for chocolate in liquor stores now.
While many of us like to think we’re going to be creative with our Valentine’s Day gifts this year, let’s be honest.
On February 13, we’re going to rush out and purchase our favourite standbys: wine and chocolate. And why shouldn’t we? Everybody likes this duo; they’re wildly delicious and indulgent, and they usually lead to a good time (insert suggestive eyebrow raise here).
But what you may not know is how to find wines and chocolates that complement each other. “Wine and chocolate are tough,” affirms sommelier Shelley Fitzgerald. “People always think they’re always the perfect pairing. They can be, but … you have to keep in mind they’re two big, and strong personalities competing for the same palate space.”
The general rule for wine and chocolate pairings (stressed by all interviewed sommeliers) is to ensure your wine is sweeter than your chocolate (or dessert). Natalie MacLean, an Ottawa-based sommelier and publisher of the wine review site nataliemaclean.com advises, “If it’s not, your wine will taste bitter in comparison.”
The following are a few suggested pairings.
“Dark chocolate has the least sweetness, the most cacao solids in it and the least sugar as well. That is the easiest to pair with wine,” says MacLean. “You don’t have to look for a dessert wine when it comes to dark chocolate (although you can). You could go with a very robust higher-than-average-alcohol red wine, but still dry.”
She suggested an Italian Amarone, Argentine Malbec and/or an Australian Shiraz. “Although all of these wines that I’m mentioning, big reds, are technically dry on the sugar coat scale (dry is the least sweet), they will taste somewhat sweet (in comparison with dark chocolate) because the fruit in them is so ripe.
Ty Fulcher, a Costco member, sommelier and owner of the bar Social, says if big reds are preferred, Zinfandel or a Syrah could work well too: “Go with something that’s more jammy and juicy and big and fruity, and they oftentimes have little chocolate characteristics to them.”
“I would not recommend any dry red wines, because the ones we just talked about will taste bitter by comparison with milk chocolate,” says MacLean, who adds since milk chocolate is sweeter, your wine will need to be too.
For milk chocolate, MacLean says you should seek flavours that would taste good in a chocolate cake, such as fruits, nuts, caramel, and even orange. A safe match? “The one sort of all-purpose milk chocolate dessert wine that I love is a tawny port,” she says.
She also recommends pairing vintage port with fruitier versions of chocolate, and Fulcher says ruby port could also work well.
Fitzgerald notes that port complements chocolates that contain nuts, sea salt, fruits and caramel. All of the sommeliers recommended matching the notes in your wines with the elements in your chocolates.
Each sommelier warns against pairing chocolate with Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. Fulcher explains that chocolate (especially dark) and these two wines are more acidic and tannic than their counterparts. “A harsh and a harsh don’t equal smooth and soft,” he says.
Fitzgerald adds that Chardonnay can make a bitter match for chocolate, and also warns against dry (or brut) versions of Champagne and Rosé.
If there’s time, Fitzgerald recommends doing some taste-testing before gifting a pairing, to ensure a good match. But if that’s not an option, Fulcher says, there’s no need to stress about a perfect pair.
“Don’t let somebody tell you you’re doing something wrong if you think it tastes good,” he advises. “This is all individual. From our job, we can give guidelines and our favourites, but it’s all up to what you like.”