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Pairing Wine with Chocolate

With Valentine's Day just a couple of days away, I thought now would be the perfect time to ask our resident sommelier, Jennifer Ingellis, for advice on pairing wine with chocolate. There's bound to be plenty of both for the holiday!

According to Ingellis, the most important point to always keep in mind when pairing any dessert with wine is to match the level of sweetness. In other words, you can't go wrong if you match an insanely sweet piece of chocolate with an insanely sweet glass of wine. Or a hardly sweet piece with a hardly sweet wine.

To that end, milk chocolate, which has relatively higher levels of sugar and milk, should be paired with a sweeter option like ruby Port or red dessert wines such as Maury, Banyuls, late-harvest Monastrell, or late-harvest Zinfandel. These wines have loads of juicy, ripe, plump, black-red fruits flavors, like blackberry preserves, or black cherry pie filling.

Dark and bittersweet chocolates have much lower amounts of added sugar, so there's less perceived sweetness and a higher level of cocoa butter solids. This is when drier wines can potentially come into play. The trick is to bring in rich, fuller-bodied wines or wines with a fruit-forward nature, such as Zinfandel, which typically indicates a higher alcohol content. Wines that are light-bodied or that have a higher natural acidity or herbal/earthy notes (e.g., Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc) would not be a good match.

White chocolate, which has the highest amount of cocoa butter and sugar, with no added cocoa solids, would be great with a rich white dessert wine, like the "straw wines" made in France and Italy. Some examples include Italian Passito di Pantelleria, made from Muscat grapes in Sicily, or French Vin de Paille made from Chardonnay and Savagnin grapes. These wines have dried-fruit flavors of apricot, sultana and candied orange peel, which provide an intriguing counterpoint to the sweetness and richness of white chocolate.