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Ask a Sommelier: Can You Pair Wine and Chocolate?
Every Valentine's Day, the question comes up again: wine is romantic, and chocolate is romantic, but is it romantic to enjoy these two things together? Does wine go with chocolate? What kind of wine? We asked a few pros about the ins and outs of wine and chocolate pairing; here is their advice.
"Make it a sweet wine. That is the key. Dry is out for this one. Vintage-style port is a tried and true classic, but think Italy and France for a number of interesting, less costly and less high-alcohol options, from a sweet sparkler like France's unique Cerdon du Bugey rosé or Italy's Moscato d'Asti to more robust reds like the French Banyuls from the rocky Roussillon coast or the Italian Recioto di Valpolicella, essentially a sweet version of Amarone."—Juliette Pope (Gramercy Tavern)
"Wine and chocolate can go together, but you need to match sweetness with sweetness, so avoid trying to pair a dry red wine (like Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir) with chocolate, and instead look to some great dessert wines, like Vintage Port and Madeira from Portugal, or sweeter versions of sherry from Spain. These wines bring a natural sweetness, balanced by fresh acidity, to help keep up with the sweetness of the chocolate you're enjoying, while also cleaning off your palate so you're ready for the next bite!"—Thomas Pastuszak (NoMad)
"Generally I like to match the weight of the chocolate dessert with the weight of the wine. Banyuls from southern France is definitely a classic pairing that works well with richer or creamier chocolate desserts. Maury, a similar style wine, is generally less expensive than Banyuls and works well with chocolate as well, especially a chocolate dessert with berries. It's also nice to have it around with a cheese course or as an aperitif. With less sweet chocolate or chocolate desserts I like a Brachetto d'Acqui, a bright red sparkling wine of Piedmont, usually with light citrus blossom and stone fruit notes. Champagne, especially rose, demi sec or doux Champagne, does play well with some chocolate desserts. This can be a trickier pairing but I'm always looking for an excuse to open Champagne."—Christopher Sky Westmoreland (Levant)
"I like more offbeat Italian pairings like Barolo Chinato for darker chocolate and Brachetto d'Acqui for something less dense. Cocchi makes both, and they're both spectacular. If you want to throw a different Chinato in there I'd say Roagna."—Steven Grubbs (Empire State South and 5 & 10)
"Wine and chocolate can be challenging. Chocolate is sweet yet tannic, can be overpowering and can ruin a good wine. But chocolate doesn't have to be just for dessert! What about including the chocolate in the main dish? Cocoa powder as a main component of a spice rub for ribs or a steak. Or using chocolate for a savory sauce? Then you could pair it with a rich Dry Creek Zinfandel or a spicy Barossa Valley Shiraz. That would certainly keep things sexy for Valentine's Day!"—Savanna Ray (Wildwood)
"Pairing wine and chocolate is difficult. One that works: Banyuls (a sweet, fortified red made from mostly Grenache in Southern France. Banyuls is like viscous liquid wine-y strawberries with spice. Works equally well with milk and darker chocolates. Bonus points if it's a chocolate and peanut butter dessert—think of how well peanut butter and strawberry jelly go together! Banyuls ususally comes in half bottles at about $10 to $18/bottle, and since it's fortified, you drink a smaller glass. Clos de Pauliles "Rimage" Banyuls is a good one to try."—Jill Zimorski (formerly of Hotel Jerome)
"A semi-sweet and/or fortified red wine can make a good pair with chocolate; while I've had some success with Banyuls, Recioto, and vintage Madeira, I think an amaro such as Chinato or a Fernet is the best choice. Chocolate poses a real pairing challenge; if the above options aren't available, I usually advise enjoying it on its own."—Jeremy Quinn (Webster's Wine Bar, The Bluebird, Telegraph)
"Wine with chocolate? How about PX sherry or an aged rum? I usually find that sparkling wine does not work at all. Chocolate is so strong in all is incarnations even before you throw in fruit or caramel. PX is rich and sappy enough to complement and the combination of the raw alcohol as with rum almost melts the chocolate in your mouth. White chocolate and ice wine is another great pairing. There are also a few domestic red dessert wines like late harvest zinfandel and black muscat that are delicious accompaniments."—Jamie Kaloustian (Dovetail)
"I love dark chocolate and red wine. My personal favorite is dark, jammy syrah, paired with rich and creamy dark chocolate. The bitterness of the chocolate pairs perfectly with a full bodied syrah that is full of dark jammy fruit flavors and nice tannic finish. Find yourself a decently priced Northern Rhone Syrah and head to your local chocolatier."—Jeremy Wilson (Ned Ludd)
"I suggest a nice 70% dark chocolate bark with a classic ruby port, like a Smith And Woodhouse Ruby NV. The ripe fruit of the port and the sugar will support the dark chocolate bitter tones, complementing each other."—Andrea Scuto (Trattoria Amici at The Americana at Brand)
"While there's always the delicious world of sweet wines that would be great with chocolate—from PX sherry and tawny port to eiswein, I am partial to red wine and chocolate. This can be tricky to do well. Bigger is not always better in this situation. I suggest looking for red wines that are driven by fruit, not earth or tannin. Jammy or fruit-driven reds with more silky structure will remind you of a chocolate-covered strawberry or cherry—it works with fruit, so why not wine?"—Caitlin Doonan (Toro NYC)
"I have watched a lot of good chocolate get ruined by pairing it with a big, dry red wine. There are ways to pair the two, and it is mostly about matching the sweetness. The best chocolate and wine pairing I have ever had is a bitter chocolate with a bitter, herbal Barolo Chinato that has just a touch of sweetness such as Cappellano."—Jeff Kellogg (Maialino)
"Are there chocolate and wine pairings that work? Yes! It depends on the context and the chocolate. For dessert, I've found that Klein Constantia's "Vin de Constance" is brilliant with almost any chocolate dessert. Its caramel overtones and roasted almond undertones work with everything from squares of high-quality dark chocolate to creamy milk chocolate. From a savory standpoint, one of the best pairings I've ever had was a 2009 Roccolo Grassi Valpolicella Superiore with rigatoni, braised duck and bitter chocolate shavings. I still dream about that pairing. Years ago, at an Aspen Food & Wine event, Ray Isle hosted a pairing seminar. The last one featured a braised duck and chocolate ravioli paired with sparkling Shiraz. Strange as it sounds, the pairing was shockingly good."—Jordan Salcito (Momofuku)
"Milk chocolate can pair up nicely with lighter, fruitier and lower alcohol reds or a tawny port. Dark chocolate usually needs bolder, denser and fuller body wine types or a vintage port. I had a great dessert in Spain that was simply an olive oil-dipped piece of bread topped with warm chocolate ganache and Jamaican black pepper with a fantastic bottle of Tinta de Toro (Tempranillo) from Bodegas Numanthia."—Mark Thomas (Wynn Las Vegas)
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