Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Way to a Woman’s Heart; Chocolate & Wine! (Bring it on, Valentine!)

Impress your wine loving and/or chocolate loving companion this Valentine’s Day with an intimate wine and chocolate tasting.  Although there’s a lot of mystery surrounding wine and chocolate, pairing them doesn’t have to be daunting if you follow a few simple steps.
What makes pairing wine and chocolate so difficult is all of that sugar! In order to get a balanced flavor, sugar requires sugar, which means don’t pair a dark chocolate with a sweet wine, or vise-versa.  Basic rule – sweet wine = sweet chocolate; dry wine -= dark chocolate.  

And regarding chocolates – start with what’s available, Hershey’s Cacao Reserve, Green & Black, Ghirardelli, Lindt, etc.  You can work your way up to the more expensive, and elusive chocolates as you develop a taste for this.  

Someone once said "There are four basic food groups: milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate, and chocolate truffles."  So for today let’s stick with three of these four ‘food groups’ and toss in a couple more for fun: dark, semi-sweet, milk, white, and one with sea salt. 

Deciding how to start may be the most complex decision you have to make.  Regular wine drinkers will reach for the dark chocolate first, just as you start a wine tasting with the driest wine and move toward the sweeter offerings.
Chocolate tasters, (yes, they really exist,) prefer to start sweet and go to the dark side.  As a wine drinker, I’ve listed dark to sweet/dry to sweet.  Follow your bliss, and have water available to cleanse your palate after each tasting.
Start by tasting the wine first – (Need help on wine tasting? See last week’s post – and if you have that aroma wheel, now’s the time to get it out and put it to use.)  Sip the wine and identify the flavors you can taste.  Now take a small piece of chocolate, place it on your tongue and let it melt.  Take another sip of wine and let the flavors meld together.  Notice what stands out to you and see what others can taste.
Dark Chocolate
Dark Chocolates
A deep, brooding Zin
What makes dark chocolate so bitter is the fact that it’s made up of 70 to 100% cacao, and very little sugar.  The higher the percentage of cacao used, the more bitter the flavor. Dark chocolate flavors will lean toward roasted, woodsy, nutty and earthy.  Dark chocolate is known for it's bitter but concentrated flavors.
Wines to pair with intense dark chocolate with include equally intense red wines like a Red Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, or an earthy Shiraz, but steer clear of the oaky wines for this.
Semi-Sweet Chocolate
Semi-sweet Chocolates
Now known as ‘dark chocolate’ with 50 to 70% cacao.  Definitely not sweet, but not as bitter as the true darks.  This is your ‘ middle-of-the-road’ chocolate.  See if you can identify an earthy, nutty flavor, with floral or spicy overtones.
Wines to pair with semi-sweet chocolates include Merlot, Pinot Noir, or Bordeaux.
Want to pair this chocolate with a fruit wine? Try a Cherry wine for an interesting combination!

Milk Chocolate
A Childhood Staple
Ah, the flavors we remember from childhood and eating a Hershey bar, all of that cocoa, vanilla, milk, nuts, and brown sugar, with a creamy hint of honey.  Milk chocolate has a much higher percentage of sugar, which takes the bitterness of the true cocoa flavor away. Milk chocolate is known for its richness, and sweet, creamy taste.
Wines that pair well with milk chocolate include Riesling, Rose’, Pinot Noir, or a light Merlot.
White Chocolate
Sparkling ; )
White Chocolate
Not really a true chocolate but more of a confection made with vanilla and cocoa butter. The rich flavors of white chocolate include milk, honey, vanilla, cream and caramel.
Wines to pair with white chocolate: Sparking wines, Muscat, White Zinfandel, or Sherry.

Chocolate with Sea Salt
Chocolate with Sea Salt
This is becoming the new rage, a line of sea salt on, or mixed into your chocolate bar.  It is especially great in a dark chocolate bar.
Wines to pair sea salt chocolate with are Riesling or Malbec.

Fail-safe Wine Pairing
Tawny Port
If you’re budget is tight this year, just grab a nice bottle of Port; Ruby for lighter chocolates, Tawny for the darks.  Port imparts a nutty, caramel and/or butterscotch flavor that works well with chocolate.  For an extra treat, try chocolate with nuts – hazelnuts, almonds, even peanuts, and notice how well they go with the Port. You’ll be amazed at what you discover.  Can’t find Port?  Try a Madeira instead.
Oh, and one final pairing – if you insist on chocolate covered strawberries, pair them with a chilled non-oaky Chardonnay. (Hopefully, in a bubble bath ; )
Some flavors and pairings you just won’t care for. As Forest Gump pointed out, "Life is like a box of chocolates ... You never know what you're gonna get." So just make sure that you note what you did like so that you can recreate the experience!  And, above all, have fun - that’s what it’s all about!

Next Wednesday, we'll take a look at chocolate wines!  Are they just fads, or real finds?
Happy Valentine's Day & Enjoy!