The Red Wine & Chocolate Debate

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About ten years ago, when I first started doing Wine Tastings with The Traveling Vineyard, I learned that red wine and chocolate paired well together. I am not really sure where I learned that. I took an online Wine Spectator class where a bunch of us met weekly to go over the lesson and taste the wines together. Did I discover it there? At our first Annual Harvest Convention, I attended a session on food and wine pairing with a gentleman from the Culinary Institute of Arts. Did I taste it there? Or was it just something I overheard from other consultants? I truly can’t remember.

But over the past year, I’ve read articles {like this one} by wine connoisseurs and enthusiasts across the globe who state that pairing red wine and chocolate is just plain WRONG! {For the record, my husband agrees, swearing that chocolate should only be paired with Port. But this is not because he’s a connoisseur; it’s just his personal preference.}

And you may be scratching your head asking yourself the same question, especially after my post about dessert wines, stressing how a wine should always be sweeter than the dessert itself.

I have used dark chocolate at Wine Tastings to illustrate food and wine pairing and to convert people from whites to reds. It works. I still have guests who swear by this pairing. I must admit that it has been a while since I’ve had the two together myself. But as a wine enthusiast, maybe my palate has not evolved to that of a connoisseur.

In any case, I have a couple of points to make and tweak about this pairing.

In my opinion, not all types of chocolate go with red wine.

When I’ve suggested that hosts serve dark chocolate and recommend just picking up an easy package of Dove Promises, some decide to go all out instead. They get all sorts of flavors with white chocolate, caramel, mint, chili pepper – you name it. Most of these don’t go with red wine. You are going to taint my poor wines that I’m bringing with mint! While these flavors might be fun to try with specific wines with a more experienced wine drinking group, it’s not the best option when I am trying to teach and showcase new wines, possibly to new wine drinkers. Furthermore, some hosts have even just bought milk chocolate because they don’t like dark chocolate. But both the red wine and dark chocolate tend to smooth each other out. So dark chocolate is the way to go, or at least the place to start.

Dark chocolate doesn’t go with all red wine.

At my tastings, I save a specific wine to be paired with the dark chocolate. This is because, I don’t believe it works with all wines. I feel like it works best with the more fruit-forward of wines from the New World. Earthy Old World (aka European) wines are best served with dinner. Bigger, bolder, fruit-forward wines from California and Australia seem to be the best candidates for chocolate pairing. I’m talking Cabernets, Syrahs, and Zins. Some New World blends work, too. This is a generalization; however, not a rule to live by. Not all California Cabs have the same style and characteristics. Therefore, not all of them will work.

Pair dark chocolate with reds that have chocolate “notes” when you smell and taste the wine.

Just as you’d pair chicken or fish marinated in lemon and herbs with a nice Sauvignon Blanc with citrusy notes, try chocolate with a red that has the aromas or flavors of chocolate. Not sure which wines showcase that? Tasting and describing wines takes practice. Remember the Importance of Company? Otherwise, if the bottle has a description, look for chocolate words like “mocha”. But remember, taste is subjective, so not everyone will agree on those notes. Furthermore, labels may describe wines more for marketing purposes than what the wine actually smells or tastes like.

At one time, the Traveling Vineyard carried a bold smoky Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile. It had chocolate and raspberry notes, but was a very heavy wine that usually only big red wine drinkers at my tastings enjoyed. That was until I started pairing it with these Raspberry Chocolate Bars, a recipe that I believe was shared by my friend and fellow Wine Consultant, Deb. I always have my guests taste the wine before trying a food and then after. Many white and sweet wine drinkers were surprised how much they loved this red after trying these decandent bars!

~

Quick & Easy Raspberry Chocolate Bars

*Warning: This is not a healthy recipe by any means. Make it for a crowd, eat one and send the rest home with someone else.

  • 1. 5 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup softened butter
  • 10 oz raspberries
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, beat the first three ingredients with a spoon or on medium until all crumbly. Press the mixture in the bottom of an ungreased 13″ x 9″ pan. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. In a saucepan, mix together next three ingredients. Bring to a boil for one minute, stirring constantly. Let cool ten minutes. Sprinkle chocolate chips over the first mixture in the pan and then carefully spread the raspberry mixture over that. Bake until set (about 20 minutes). Then let cool for 30 minutes. Chill for one hour. Cut into 48 bars.

~

And lastly, there is a general rule of thumb that goes for any wine pairing:

Pair any wine with any food as long as you like them together!

All that matters is that you like the wine with whatever you are eating. I swear by the fact that grapes don’t go with wine, but if you like them together, by all means, pair them!

So this Valentine’s Day, whether you are singled or coupled, pick up a bottle of New World red wine and some dark chocolate to do a little experimenting yourself. It’s more important that you be the judge.

What side do you take on the chocolate and red wine debate and why?

Cheers~
Carrie

This valentines’ day…

3 responses »

  1. I’m presonally on the side of “sweeter wines to balance out sweeter foods so as not to unbalance the wine’s negative/off aspects,” but also I agree with the idea that if you like how two things taste together, who the hell cares? As for my thoughts on Dark Chocolate with Red wine, that’s not too surprsising; with a higher concentration of the bitter, roasted aspects, the sweetness in the chocolate is more muted and ignored as opposed to other styles. As such, a highly fruit-based red could mentally substitute the little bit of sweetness we would need for pairing.

  2. Oh, it was the lovely Tria Syrah with the Dove dark chocolate that made the angels sing at my first wine tasting (@ Jane’s)! I manage to find some that pair together one way or another. I am sticking to the dark, dark/raspberry swirl, and dark/strawberry swirl for my upcoming event. And you know I love the key lime bars with the sweet Backyard Rose’ – but I can’t drink it alone – too sweet for me. I like your ideas of the nose of chocolate/mocha to pair up with the dark chocolate. :O)

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