Whether you’re a serious wine-lover or passionate about chocolate, it’s worth exploring a marriage of the two
THE STORY SO FAR: I’m in the chocolate capital of the world, Brussels—a city known for its abundance of chocolate factories, and streets lined with boutiques selling every kind of artisan confectionery imaginable.
On my first evening my host produces a cardboard box—purchased directly from the factory—containing some of the most luxurious chocolates I have had the good fortune to taste.
Now I wouldn’t call myself a serious chocolate-lover, but these are exquisite. Dark, sensuous, bitter, some even savory, they leave my mouth refreshed and coated with flavor—there’s none of the cloying, overly sweet, clumsily textured sense of your usual store-bought variety. It is a revelation—like the first time I really tasted a fine wine.
Fortunately we have a bottle open—a 2010 Château L’Enclos from Pomerol in Bordeaux, a red, still-young wine made up of mainly merlot grapes, from a growing season that produced wines high in alcohol and fruit flavors.
Sipped with the dark chocolates, especially the ones with fruit filling, it really works. The rich wine doesn’t clash with the chocolate’s bitterness.
I wasn’t entirely surprised. Many oenophiles are dubious about chocolate and wine pairing, but certain dark varieties with a higher percentage of cocoa solids can be savored with robust reds.
I have often enjoyed a full-bodied, fruity red wine with a square of dark chocolate to round off a meal.
But now’s the time of year for all manner of chocolate-infused menus, so it’s certainly worth exploring which wines should join the party. In most cases, dry wine isn’t suited to sweet flavors.
Some argue that Champagne works with desserts but I prefer to serve it as an aperitif. Similarly, traditional sweet wines like Sauternes, Tokaj and Vouvray are so nuanced and complex that they are best served unadulterated, as a digestive.
But if you remember two rules, you can’t go far wrong. The wine should always be sweeter than the dessert. And think about texture as well as taste: A warm chocolate fondant is very different from a cold block of white chocolate.
The former can take a sweet red like Austria’s Pinot Noir Beerenauslese by Willi Opitz, but the latter needs more acidity: try Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. Meanwhile, the berrylike flavor of Andrew Quady’s sweet Elysium, from California’s Central Valley, works with chocolate desserts that incorporate the actual fruits.
‘Think about texture as well as taste: A warm chocolate fondant is very different from a cold block of white chocolate.’
Port—particularly the upfront fruitiness of a young port, be it a late-bottled vintage or a ruby—marries beautifully with chocolate, as both have a silky, soft texture.
And Madeiras are also worth considering. Although these tend to be high in residual sugar, their natural acidity gives them a refreshing finish and means they sit well with creamier chocolates.
For heavier desserts, try a sweet, spicy Banyuls or a jammy Maury, both from the south of France. Or if, like me, you just like to save a little wine to have with dark chocolate after a meal, choose a full-bodied, merlot-based red.
DRINKING NOW: THREE CHOCOLATE-FRIENDLY WINES
2009 Taylor’s Late-Bottled Vintage Port | £15 or €20
Perhaps more than any other wine a sweet, bold, smooth port lends itself to chocolate. But you don’t have to pull out your best. Taylor’s LBV has a lot of fruit—morello cherry, blackberry and plums—and marries well with the freshness of dark chocolate. Alcohol: 20%
2010 Mas Amiel Maury | £20 or €25
Mas Amiel is one of the largest estates in south west France’s Agly valley, around half an hour’s drive from Perpignan. This is a classic match with chocolate. Made from grenache noir, it is deep purple with a sweet, jammy, treacle finish. Serve slightly chilled. Alcohol: 16.5%
Henriques & Henriques 10-Year-Old Malmsey | £20 or €25
Sweet Madeira can be served with a few chunks of dark chocolate. It has an enlivening acidity, which leaves a feeling of having chewed on a sprig of peppermint—a clean sensation not unlike what you get from a piece of excellent quality dark chocolate. Alcohol: 20%