Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to explore wine and chocolate pairing. When pairing wine with any food, not just with chocolate, there are some guidelines to follow.  To pair properly, more attention should be paid to the structural components of the wine than to its flavours.

Wine & Chocolate Pairing

Think of the structural components of wine as its building blocks.  The foundation: the framework, or the makeup.  These blocks are comprised of four compounds that give wine its body and mouthfeel: sugar, acid, tannin and alcohol.  These make up the ‘shape’ of the wine.  If the structural components in the wine are poorly matched with the structural components in the food, the wine will be thrown out of balance and the pairing will fail.  Structure trumps flavour.  The flavours are simply the décor of this foundation.

When matching food with wine, begin with the food and then select a wine to match.  Here are some examples of wine and chocolate pairings to help you impress your Valentine’s Day date!

Dark Chocolate with Dried Berries + Cabernet Franc

Dark chocolate is more bitter than sweet.  Bitterness in food should be contrasted by fruitiness in wine.  If a bitter food is paired with a wine that is high in tannin (a ‘bitter wine,’ so to speak) the bitter sensation of the tannins will be amplified.  [bitter + bitter = more bitter].  So a fruit-forward wine with well-integrated, subdued tannins will pair well with dark chocolate.

When it comes to the fruitiness in the dried berries, this is an opportunity to complement components instead of contrast them.  Matching a fruity food with a fruity wine will serve to hold up the fruitiness of the wine.  [fruity + fruity = delicious]

There is always some level of sweetness in chocolate–even in dark chocolate.  Sweet foods need to be paired with a wine that is sweeter than the food, or the balance will be off and the wine will fall flat.  [sweet food + sweeter wine = wine holds its structure]

A VQA Cabernet Franc that is fruit-forward, possesses well-integrated tannins, and has some residual sugar (over 10 grams of sugar per litre, or a level 1 or higher on the LCBO sugar scale) should pair well with the structures and flavours found in dark chocolate embedded with dried berries.

Salted Chocolate + VQA Late Harvest Cabernet Sauvignon

When salt is present in food it amplifies the flavours in the food.  So, when a salted food is eaten with wine, the saltiness left over in your mouth will serve to amplify the structural components and the flavours in the wine.  Some structural components are more pleasurable when amplified and some are not.  For example, when alcohol is amplified it comes off as tasting “hot” or “burning,” and when tannins are amplified they come off as “bitter.”  [salt + alcohol = burning]  [salt + tannin = bitter]  However, when fruitiness is amplified it becomes more fruity, and when sweetness is amplified, it becomes sweeter.  [salt + fruity = more fruity]  [salt + sweet = sweet]  For these reasons, a good wine to pair with salted chocolate would be one that is low in alcohol, low in tannin, fruity, and sweet.  VQA Late Harvest Cabernet Sauvignon fits the bill.

When it comes to pairing wine with food the most important thing to remember is that everyone’s tastes are different.  Structural components in food and wine need to be either contrasted, or complemented to achieve a successful pairing.  But at the end of the day, it is the consumer that makes the final call.  Wine and chocolate pairing is a subjective exercise with open-ended creativity.  Like you and your Valentine’s Day honey, pairing is about making each member better than it was when it was alone.


By: Michael Twyman
Sommelier and Wine Smart Guide