How to pair wine and chocolate

Most people love the idea of pairing wine and food, but doing so successfully can be easier said than done.

Pairing wine and chocolate – a timely activity with Valentine’s Day fast approaching! – can be just as tricky. A harmonious combination will, however, enhance the flavour of good-quality cocoa and add a little extra lusciousness come dessert time.

If you’ve ever found yourself a little overwhelmed at the prospect of choosing the right wine for a dinner party, read on!

Heidi Fielding, the manager of hospitality at Fielding Estate Winery in Beamsville, Ontario, shares her expert advice on how to best pair velvety chocolate and flavourful wine for the ultimate tasting experience.

First off, what are some of the basic rules when it comes to pairing chocolate and wine?

Start your pairings with lighter wines and lighter milk chocolate, and finish with bolder red wines paired with darker powerful chocolate.

What kinds of wine are best paired with milk, white and dark chocolate?

Our research has found that milk chocolate generally pairs beautifully with an off-dry Riesling, a white chocolate with a lightly oaked Chardonnay and a dark chocolate with bolder reds.

We suggest incorporating single origin chocolate – chocolate made from beans which were all harvested in the same region – into your pairings. Single origins have very distinct flavours and textures. For example, milk chocolate from Costa Rica is very fruity and floral, which pairs magnificently with certain Rieslings. Papua New Guinea dark chocolate has smoky tobacco notes and pairs best with hearty reds.

Are there any interesting flavour combinations that you recommend we try?

You can have a lot of fun with different flavour combinations. Here are some pairing suggestions.

  • Costa Rican milk chocolate with candied orange paired with a Riesling
  • Belgian dark chocolate with roasted pumpkin seeds, fleur de sel and chilies – these flavours work well with a fruit-forward medium red wine
  • Papua New Guinea chocolate with pink peppercorns paired with a bold Cabernet Sauvignon

Is there a protocol to follow to have the ultimate experience when tasting a variety of chocolates and wines?

My advice is not to exceed four wines and four chocolates per tasting session. Don’t overload your senses. When tasting, you want to use sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing.

Use freshly tempered thin pieces of chocolate that melt easily in your mouth. Sip the wine first for introduction, then taste the chocolate, noting its fragrance, colour, snapping sound when broken etc. Leave residual chocolate in your mouth and take a second sip of the wine. If it’s a good pairing you’ll be able to enjoy the delicious melding flavours.

There are so many complex chocolate flavours available in stores – some with added nuts and herbs, as well as liqueur-infused chocolates – are there any combinations to avoid when pairing these with wine?

“Research” is essential to uncover heavenly wine and chocolate matches. Although it is a very subjective exercise, expect some surprises when preparing for your tasting adventure. In general terms, we have found that a dark chocolate will overpower a lighter white wine and have an unpleasant effect. Similarly, light milk chocolate will be lost when paired with a heavy red wine.