Pairings

You’ve tasted dozens and dozens of chocolates, taking copious tasting notes along the way and learning where each chocolate came from and how it was made, you have a good idea of what you like in chocolate (and why), and you’ve sought out and discovered the best chocolatiers in your area.  It’s definitely time to enjoy your favorite bars and confections in a way that shows them off to their best advantage – highlighting their brightest attributes and making every food and drink that comes before or after them seem better by association.

Pairing Wines and Chocolates

Traditionally, food and wine paring is based either on matching up complementary or contrasting flavors.

The traditional pair of red wines and dark chocolates is an example of using a complementary approach.  However,  the complementary approach doesn’t work very often because the tannins in the red wine, more often than not, fight the tannins in the dark chocolate, resulting in an unpleasant battle of flavors in your mouth.  This can be especially true for big, bold wines that can be drunk quite young and dark chocolates with a higher cocoa content.

An excellent example of a contrasting approach is to pair red wines with milk chocolate and white wines with dark chocolate.  The milk fat in milk chocolate reduces the effect of the bitter and astringent tannins in the red wines, taming them and making the pairings harmonious instead of clashing.

With white wines and dark chocolates, it is best to stay away from acidic wines such as Sauvignon Blancs, Fume Blancs, or any blends that contain large percentages of these grapes.  Chardonnays can work well if you stay away from the extremes; those aged in stainless steel often lack a certain breadth and roundness of flavor,which makes them fall flat with most chocolates, whereas very “oak-y” Chardonnays tend to overpower the chocolate.  Semi-dry wines made with Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Scheurebe (a cross between Riesling and Sylvaner) grapes are good choices and often possess a slight effervescence that is very appealing.  The floral aromas from these wines are often perfect complenents to blended semisweet dark chocolates.

When it comes to sparkling wines, Proseccos are preferred to Champagnes.  As a group, Proseccos have a tendancy to be less acidic than Champagnes and therefore have a better chance of pairing well with chocolate.

Pairing Distilled Spirits and Chocolates

Pairing distilled spirits and chocolates is sometimes difficult and ends up with mixed results.  In general, clear spirits such a gin, vodka, tequila, white rum and especially fruit brandies are much more difficult to pair with chocolates than brown spirits such as scotches, bourbons, dark rums, and cognacs.

Distilled fruit brandies such a poire and cherry brandy, can work very well as flavorings in ganache, but as drinks they are usually too harsh and alcoholic to be taken with chocolate as they completely dominate the chocolate in an unpleasant way.  Gins are flavored with juniper berries, which gives them a distinct taste but makes pairing difficult.

Plain vodkas are too neutral to pair with chocolate, as the chocolate flavor overwhelms whatever flavor the vodka does possess.  Flavored vodkas can often be paired with chocolates of like or complementary flavors; if you like spicy chocolates, a chili-infused vodka can provide a similar bite when taken alongside a plain chocolate or plain ganache.

Clear rums, although they often do have some flavor, are usually best used as mixers. Dark rums often pair well with plain dark chocolate as well as milk chocolate with heavy caramel notes and truffles filled with praline.

*Credit for this post goes to Clay Gordon, author of “Discover Chocolate.”

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