I host a lot of "Champagne and Chocolate" seminars. For the record: I think this is a terrible pairing. But I do my best to build a menu for those who insist on this particular combo.
The problem is that nearly all Brut (dry) Champagnes have a pronounced acidity that produces tart flavors when paired with the cacao in milk or dark chocolate. There are better solutions. The key is to match intensity of the chocolate with the intensity (and style) of the wine, balancing sweet, bitter, acidic, and fruity. A couple of years ago Godiva asked me to come up with creative pairings for a class I co-taught with chef chocolatier David Funaro at the annual New York City Wine & Food Festival. The pairing strategies, shown below, explain why certain types of sweets taste better with particular wines. If nothing else, keep in mind that sweet desserts may be among the toughest dishes to complement with booze. Cheese, on the other hand, is a breeze.
WHAT TO PAIR WITH MILK AND WHITE CHOCOLATE
The average candy bar has a higher percentage of sugar, and a smaller percentage of chocolate liquor, than what's found in dark chocolate. Prominent flavors include cocoa, brown sugar, vanilla, caramel and honey. As a general rule, sweeter chocolate needs sweeter wine—or else the wine may taste tart. Milk chocolate and chocolate top the sweetness chart; both exhibit creaminess and fruit, rather than dark chocolate bitterness.
Top choices: Muscat, a white dessert wine with peach and apricot flavors;Tawny Port, a fortified wine, is a consistently strong match with milk chocolate; a fruit-forwardPinot Noir or light-body, fruity Merlot.
WHAT TO PAIR WITH SEMISWEET CHOCOLATE
Dark chocolate with 50 percent to 69 percent cacao has strong, complex flavors, with nuances that can be nutty, spicy, floral, earthy, fruity, and caramel-ish. The aftertaste is balanced, not too sweet.
Top choices: Fortified, fruity wines like Banyuls and Ruby Port have aromas of cocoa or chocolate, as well as cherry, raspberry, or other berry fruit; medium-bodied reds with soft tannins, like Cotes-du-Rhone (think: Grenache and Syrah), will complement the fruity notes in chocolate, as well as accent the peppery notes; Zinfandel brings out chocolate's spicy nuances, too.
WHAT TO PAIR WITH DARK/BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE
The most intense, richly-flavored dark chocolate is 70 percent to 100 percent cacao, and pairs best with stronger red wines with concentrated fruit notes. While you might think the tannin in some reds is too powerful for chocolate, the cocoa butter in chocolate balances the astringency and dryness of the tannins.
Top choices: Cabernets (including Bordeaux blends) and Zinfandels are terrific with bitter chocolate; Vintage Port is excellent, too, especially if the chocolate has nuts to parallel their inherent nuttiness.
—Follow Anthony Giglio on Twitter at @WineWiseGuy.
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