Valentine's Day, chocolate, romance, and wine: mid-February's favorite words. Though there are many other wine-friendly consumables to nibble around February 14th (oysters, caviar, etc.), chocolate is an essential. And when chocolate heats up and gets gooey and warm, the romance meter rises, too.
Urban myth has it that chocolate and Cabernet Sauvignon are wonderful together. Whoever started that one should be slapped. Can it work? Sure. But not always.
Tannins in red wine are naturally bitter, which means they sometimes pair well with bitter foods: try grilled eggplant or broccoli rabe with a tannic red wine to experience how good this match can be. At its core, chocolate is bitter, but adding sugar and dairy fat mitigates the bitterness. Sweet chocolate causes trouble with dry Cabernet. The only road-tested formula to make chocolate and red wine work is to "add sugar" along with those wine tannins. So the right choices are going to be Port, Banyuls, and other such red wine-based dessert wines. These wines can hold their own against almost all chocolate desserts, including these spicy chocolate mole lava cakes.
The Mexican element of mole in this recipe provides a wonderful foil to the wines and helps to bring out some of the inherently spicier elements of the fruit as well as any oak aging. Classic dark ports, late harvest Zinfandels, and Banyuls will all pair well with this cake, and so will a more wood-influenced young tawny port. Black Muscat is another option; it works especially well with the cinnamon and mole spices.
Brachetto d'Aqui, an Italian red fizz, is a great choice for chocolate in general, but the richness and intensity of this dessert mandates a fuller bodied wine. If you want your bubbly—and you should for Valentine's Day—have it with blinis and caviar at the beginning of the meal.
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Grahams 'Six Grapes" Port: Classic character punctuated by plummy black fruit, soft pie spice, and even chocolaty tones. ($14/half bottle, find this wine)
Warre 10 Year Old 'Otima' Tawny Port: Notes of butterscotch, fruitcake, and raisin make this a playful and complex foil to this chocolate cake. An outright symphony of the palate. ($22/half bottle, find this wine)
Pedroncelli 'Four Grapes' Port: Though your market's vintage may vary, this dependable California port-styled wine is amped full of concentrated jammy berries, sassafras, and black licorice ($20/500 ml, find this wine)
Edmeades Late Harvest Zinfandel 'Perli Vineyard' (2005): Though not the sweetest on the market, this complex bottling boasts ample brown spice, ripe raspberry and surprisingly zesty acidity, but enough sweetness to pair well with chocolate. ($14/half bottle, find this wine)
Michel Chapoutier Banyuls (2007): Dark plum, candied berry, and dried cherries with a hint of coffee and five spice powder. ($24/500 ml, find this wine)
Quady Black Muscat "Elysium" (2007): A perennial favorite with chocolate, this wine is full of cherry and berry jam, black tea leaf, and lavender. ($25, find this wine)
About the author: Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein, a four-time James Beard award nominee, is the author of Perfect Pairings: A Master Sommelier's Practical Advice for Partnering Wine with Food and Daring Pairings: A Master Sommelier Matches Distinctive Wines with Recipes from His Favorite Chefs. He is the President and Chief Education Officer of Full Circle Wine Solutions; you can follow him at winecouch.com.