Most people are aware that mixing wine and chocolate together is an almost surefire way to have a delicious and potentially romantic experience. Part of the reason that these two vices can go so well together is that have similar tasting profiles: acidity first from the grapes or the cacao, then the sweeter flavors in the middle, and then the heavy flavors of tannins at the end. But as with any pairings, choosing the best wines for a given chocolate, or any dessert, requires some attention to details about the wine and food, as well as the palette of the lucky drinkers. There are a few basics to understand, and with the potential to limit the pool of chocolates, it is possible to memorize popular pairings and choose based on those.
The first thing to understand is that different people will have different palette impressions of the same combination. For example, some people like it when the sweetness level of the wine closely matches that of the chocolate. But others find that the wine always seems slightly less sweet because the tannins are the only flavor that remains on the palette, so they find that chocolate makes the wine taste slightly sour. Or the strong tannins in stronger wines can simply overpower the subtle layers of flavor in a chocolate. So whenever possible, pairings should be tested ahead of time to find agreeable combinations. Failing that, the best way to create the right setting is to have a few different choices – either several chocolates that people tend to like with a certain wine, or fewer chocolates and two bottles of wine to test, more if more people will be participating.
That being said, there are some fundamental guidelines that apply most of the time. Many suggest that unless the chocolate is clearly emphasizing some other flavor over sweetness, the wine should be at least as sweet. This often calls for dessert wines. The same general rule can be said for the body of the wine and the strength of its flavors. A light, complex chocolate would be best complicated by a similarly elegant wine as opposed to one with enough tannins to drown out the chocolate flavors in your mouth. Fruity, filled, and white chocolates tend to fall in this category, though white chocolates are also quite buttery, making them pair well with flavored wines such as Sherry or an Orange Muscat.
Along the same lines of matching intensities, something like a strong Bordeaux blend with high acidity or an intense California Zinfandel would work very well with an intense dark chocolate with a high cacao count. The textures and initial flavors will highlight subtle notes in the other, and each will be strong enough to stand up to the strongest aspects of its pair. In the case of either one having very strong flavors, you should expect the stronger one to “win” a little bit, making way for the subtler flavors of the other to show through on the palette. Creamy and milky chocolates have a unique texture and flavor profile that works best with medium-bodied wines. For example, a Merlot or Pinot Noir will provide enjoyable texture compliments and bring out the fruity aromas of the chocolate.
Because of personal tastes there is a lot of leeway and flexibility in these examples of wine and chocolate pairings. Though many chocolate and wine makers offer strict pairing charts to create the best experience, part of the fun and flavorful delight of this combination comes from experimenting and finding your own ideal match.