Wine and Chocolate

The biggest Valentine’s Day cliché (there’s just one, right?) is wine and chocolate. It seems intuitively natural to pair them (and it is, but we’ll get to that), and yet we generally have no idea why—or how.

Of course, if you present your loved one with a King Size Hershey Bar and some white zin, it won’t be the worst night, but there are more nuanced ways to do it, and understand it. Lubricate your choco-vino love connection with some serious savvy.

Dry red wine is a bad choice.

Dry (meaning not sweet) red wine is great, but it won’t be friendly to your love candy. If you grab a bottle of big, burly dry Cabernet for your hunk of chocolate (also hunk of love) it’ll taste like a hall monitor just busted your stairwell makeout session.

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Chocolate has tannins, too.

We all like to (or dread to) talk about the tannins in our red wine, but chocolate actually contains tannins, too. No surprise, more tannins exist in darker chocolate, with contents getting into the double digit percentages. This might also explain the possible clash between a tannin-heavy red wine and a tannin-rich truffle. It’s like an unending sarcastic clap: at some point, it just feels wrong.

Cocoa beans are naturally fruity.

Meaning chocolate can pair well with a fruity red wine. The fruitiness is accentuated by a lower pH—aka acidity—which is in turn accentuated by fermentation. (See next. Also eat some chocolate.)

But if your chocolate isn’t sweet, your wine shouldn’t be.

This is the age of “cacao” percentage comparisons. The more intense your chocolate is – we’re talking 80 plus percent cocao  here – the more intense your wine should be. Something sweet and fruity just won’t work. Also some fortified wine, like a nice Port, would work with super-dark chocolate.

Cocoa beans are fermented. Just like grapes.

OK, not “just” like grapes. But cocoa beans, like wine grapes, undergo fermentation in order to soften and round them out, also to remove tannins (See above. Also eat some chocolate.) It changes their color.

Like Sumo wrestling. Heavy and heavy sometimes go together.

When you pair chocolate and wine, usually red wine, you don’t want to go for an expensive delicate Burgundy or Oregon Pinot Noir. The luscious heft of chocolate doesn’t need a kimono—it needs a fur coat. Faux fur, obviously. Sommeliers generally suggest pairing chocolate weight with wine weight, think heavy rich reds like Zinfandel or Syrah.

Cocoa beans are roasted.

So a coffee cocktail might be a better bet as a chocolate pairing for Valentine’s Day. Also, let’s not forget, by the time the chocolates come out, you’ve eaten a big (annoyingly expensive) dinner, probably had some wine, listened to some Ginuwine. A coffee cocktail plus chocolate makes more sense than any of the weird forced poetry Hallmark wants you guys to feel emotionally responsive to.

Chocolate and wine don’t really share much “terroir.”

Most cacao trees are grown in West Africa, Asia, and South America. And before you say it, most South American cacao is grown in Brazil and Ecuador, not wine producing countries like Argentina and Chile. That’s because cacao trees grow best in heat and humidity, vines, on the other hand, do not.