I had always assumed that red wine and chocolate are a match made in heaven yet often it just doesn’t work. But why not? Here are 7 pointers that will help you make a blissful pairing. So grab a glass of Château George 7 and read on:
1. The sweetness of chocolate can make dry wine taste sour – we know this from the general rule of pairing dessert with sweet wines. Dark chocolate has a higher cacao* percentage than milk chocolate and is less sweet, while white chocolate is made with cocoa butter, so a general rule would be to head to the darker side for red wine.
2. Both red wine and chocolate are concentrated sources of flavonoids (a type of polyphenol) giving them their astringency. So, it is no coincidence that dark chocolate with a high percentage of cacao and structured red wines are often an acquired taste over time.
3. We talk about primary, secondary, and tertiary aromas in wine and cocoa beans – for wine they are from the grape variety (primary), from fermentation (secondary) and from barrel or bottle ageing (tertiary) while for cacao beans, the aromas come from the fresh beans, the secondary ones from beans after fermentation and tertiary aromas from roasting them which really develops a range of flavours. Allowing both chocolate and wine to mature to harmonise their flavours is important too. So, the more you know about the wine and the chocolate, the more chance you have of getting it right.
4. Red wine and chocolate both have tannins and the darker the chocolate the more tannins there are (because of the higher percentage of cacao). Tannins bind to the proteins in your saliva, and make your mouth feel drier. Over a short period, tannins accumulate so if you have a sip of wine and then a bite of dark chocolate, your mouth can feel drier than if you had just had the sip of wine. Another reason to not go to full 90-100% cacao.
5. Acidity makes tannin feel more astringent. When tasted together, chocolate and red wine can reinforce the bitterness and sourness of each other. Dry white wines tend to be more acidic so dark chocolate will taste even more bitter so it would be best to head towards buttery white or milk chocolate depending on the style of white wine.
6. The fruitiness of a wine gives the impression of sweetness even if there is no residual sugar and so some big (higher alcohol), fruity wines can stand up to an 80% chocolate.
7. But all is not lost, if your red wine is an elegant merlot with a highish level of well-integrated alcohol, has tannins that are velvety and smooth, is full of dark fruity flavours and chocolate aromas and your chocolate has around 65% cacao content then you might just hit pairings heaven. Now where might I find a delicious wine like that?
*You say cacao, I say cocoa – “Cacao refers to the raw material: the cacao beans that are harvested from the cacao tree. Cocoa is created after the beans are finely ground into a powder and roasted, and can be consumed as a drink or blended with sugar, milk, cocoa butter and cacao to make chocolate. The % on chocolate bars refers to the raw cacao content.” (thanks to the Lindt website for this explanation).