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Pairing chocolate, wine a tricky dance

Pairing chocolate, wine a tricky dance

Chocolate and wine are linked surprisingly often. Terms used in chocolate tastings often are the same as at a wine tasting: fruity flavors, long lingering finishes and even the mouth-feel and body. Many varieties of cocoa beans have distinct characteristics similar to grape varieties and both products use brewer’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) during the fermentation stage.

But pairing wine and chocolate successfully can be difficult. There are a number of factors that lead to unsuccessful matches, but the cause is most often the excessive sugar and fat common in milk chocolate and most mass-produced chocolate. For the ideal pairing opt for dark chocolates and desserts prepared with dark chocolate.

When selecting chocolate, look for the cacao percentage on the label. It generally ranges from 60 percent to 85 percent. The percentage refers to how much actual chocolate, or cacao, the recipe uses. The remainder is sugar and other flavorings. The higher the cacao content, the sharper and more bitter the taste, but the better it will match with wine. Because of this sharp, bitter taste, cacao tends to compete with high tannin wines. Consider fruity wine like merlot, petit syrah or carmenere or any fruit-forward red wine.

Something else to consider is acidity. Wines such as crisp sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio and other high acidity wines are usually not recommended as a chocolate match. On the other hand, Champagne and other sparkling wines are generally high in acidity but are a favorite for many to pair with sweets. If your love is loyal to bubbly and chocolate desserts, consider a demi-sec or sweet Italian sparkling wine for the best match.

A sweet port is by far the most dependable and harmonious partner for chocolate. Because the rule for most desserts is the wine should always be sweeter than the dessert, the two are ideal. Port has an upfront fruitiness that blends with the silky texture of fine chocolate. Because of port’s natural sweetness and acidity it can even fare well with creamier chocolates having the higher sugar and fat.


  • NV Zonin Prosecco, Italy (about $15 retail)
  • 2014 McManis Family Vineyards Merlot, California (about $12 retail)


  • NV Dow’s Late Bottled Vintage, Portugal (about $25 retail)
  • 2014 Robert Mondavi Winery Merlot, California (about $26 retail)
  • NV Graham’s 10 Year Old Tawny Port, Portugal (about $45 retail)
  • NV Graham’s Six Grapes Porto, Portugal (about $40 retail)
  • NV Taylor Fladgate 20 Year Tawny Port, Portugal (about $79 retail)