Wine and chocolate are a pair as quintessential as peanut butter and jelly, macaroni and cheese, and pickles and ice cream. But the truth is, the two don’t pair magnificently every time you put them together. Some wines complement some chocolates, while others absolutely clash when combined. Unfortunately, pairing wine and chocolate isn’t as simple as grabbing two of your favorite sweets and assuming they’ll get along. In fact, the art of wine and chocolate pairing can actually be a tough one to master. Thankfully, a few expert-backed tips can help you get it right every time.
1. Pair your sweet chocolate with an even sweeter wine
As a rule, your wine should always be sweeter than the food you’re pairing it with—even when that food is a super-sweet dessert, according to Madeline Puckette, sommelier and co-founder of Wine Folly. If it isn’t, you might end up with a dry, bitter taste in your mouth every time you sip your drink, and that’s a pretty sad way to wash down a tasty treat. (Unfortunately, this means most champagne and chocolate pairings are firmly off the table. But now you’ll have the opportunity to find a combination that’s even more decadent and delicious.)
When pairing wine and chocolate, remember that some chocolates are sweeter than others. Dark chocolates tend to be pretty dry and bitter, white chocolates tend to be incredibly sweet, and milk chocolates tend to fall somewhere in between. Consider the sweetness of your chocolate when finding a wine to pair it with, and don’t be afraid of going all-in on sugar; dessert wines are super-sweet for a reason.
2. Make sure your wine is as bold as your chocolate
Whenever you’re dreaming up a pairing, you’ll want to make sure your wine is just as intense as your food—and vice versa, according to Puckette. If one is far bolder than the other, it can overwhelm the pairing, leaving you tasting only one piece of your puzzle. (And really, why go through all the effort of crafting a pairing if you can only taste half of it?)
Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to figure out how intense a chocolate is going to be. Dark chocolates tend to be strong and bitter, and white chocolates tend to fill your mouth with creamy, sugary-sweet flavor. Both of these chocolates offer truly intense flavors, and they deserve to be paired with wines as bold as they are. Milk chocolates, on the other hand, tend to be a little subtler, so they can be paired with more understated wines. (This rule holds true with flavored chocolates, too. A coffee chocolate is bound to be pretty strong, whereas a hazelnut chocolate may be more delicate.)
When determining how bold or subtle or a wine is, you’ll want to consider its body. If a wine is “larger-bodied,” it’s loud and intense. If it’s “lighter-bodied,” it’s more understated. As a rule, white wines tend to be lighter-bodied than red wines, though some whites are lighter-bodied than other whites (and some reds are lighter-bodied than other reds, too).
When in doubt, do a little research online. There, you can find information about what a wine tastes like and how intense it is—and you can make a more informed purchase when you visit the store.
3. Opt for a wine that’s more acidic than your chocolate—especially when it’s fruit-flavored
Another food and wine pairing guideline? Your wine should always be more acidic than your food, according to Puckette. Acidity can cut through a dish’s most prominent flavors—saltiness, fattiness, sweetness—leaving your palate feeling cleansed every time you take a sip. (This applies to acidity, too; a super-acidic dish is no match for an even more acidic wine.)
What’s nice? Chocolate doesn’t tend to be very acidic, so it’s not hard to find a wine that fits this bill. The only time you’ll have to think about this guideline is when you’re dealing with fruit-flavored chocolate—especially chocolate flavored with raspberries, lemons, oranges, and other particularly acidic ingredients.
4. Keep bitter chocolates and bitter wines far away from each other
One of the most common problems with wine and chocolate pairing is bitter-on-bitter combinations. Many of our go-to wines are dry and tannic (think: champagne and pinot noir), which can make them delightfully drinkable—but also surprisingly gross to sip alongside chocolate. Whereas acidity plays well with acidity, bitter on bitter just builds up to create a truly nasty experience.
Thankfully, the “pair your sweet chocolate with an even sweeter wine” rule will help you avoid this pitfall. “Sweet” and “dry” tend to occupy different ends of the spectrum, so you can avoid an all-bitter-everything nightmare by sticking with a sugary drink.
5. And remember, there are two basic ways two pair food and wine
There are two basic approaches to wine and food pairing, and both can help you craft an incredible wine and chocolate combo. The first is to create a complementary pairing, which means to combine a wine with a dish that has a different—but complementary—flavor profile. The second is to create a congruent pairing, which means to combine a wine with a dish that shares some of its flavors.
Since wine and chocolate pairing requires a lot of sweet on sweet, you might think the only pairs you could dream up are congruent ones. While those are definitely easy to come by, remember that chocolate isn’t just sweet—and wine isn’t, either. Both can offer creaminess, nuttiness, bitterness, fruitiness, and fatiness, too. When it comes to wine and chocolate, you actually have a vast array of flavors to play with, so you can make all kinds of pairings—congruent or complementary.
Pairing like with like is almost always a good idea (with the notable exception of bitterness), but complementary pairings can be easy to master, too. A creamy chocolate may go great with a fruitier, more acidic wine. A salted chocolate may benefit from a sweet, creamy wine. And of course, a bitter chocolate can always benefit from a little sweetness.
Though there are a handful of ways to go really wrong with wine and chocolate pairings, there are even more ways to go right. Consider this your excuse to stock up on both and get to experimenting.
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