Years ago I discovered, quite by accident, that red wine can taste just fine with chocolate. It was at a dinner where the dessert, one of those dense, not-very-sweet, runny chocolate cakes where the center oozes a molten river of dark brown goodness, had not yet become a cliché. There was some Zinfandel left in my glass from the main course and I inadvertently reached for a sip. It was so good, it stopped me in my tracks. Who knew?
Although red wine and chocolate has since become something of a wine insider's secret, I found not a single mention of dry wine and chocolate when I combed through my wine books. But I could not get the flavor combination out of my head. The raspberry and cherry fruit in the rich, dense Zinfandel just burst from the glass after a bite of the dense, dark cake.
Over the years, I realized the two reasons that combination worked so well.
1. The dessert was not too sweet for the wine. Unsweetened chocolate is bitter. Sweetened just enough to cover the bitterness, chocolate can balance with a dry wine. If it gets too sweet, it needs a sweet wine or it makes the wine taste thin and weedy.
2. The wine was youthful and fruity enough to deliver its berry flavors. If you enjoy chocolate-covered cherries or raspberry cream-filled chocolates, red wine and chocolate create the same sort of sensation.
Having agreed to speak on wine with chocolate at an event being organized by insurance actuaries next month, I set up a tasting to make sure the rules would apply to the chocolates being served. Hershey was providing them, and I had to recommend some wines.
Hershey owns Scharffen Berger and Dagoba and makes a line of its own high-end, high-cocoa-content chocolates called Cacao Reserve, so there was plenty of good stuff to choose from on the chocolate side.
My first thought was to focus on Ports and other sweet fortified wines, which I know people like with chocolate. But the guy from Hershey's asked, "What about dry reds?" I wanted to try the chocolates with a dry red to make sure it would work, so he sent me an assortment.
The box from Hershey's had 11 different products, ranging from a super-dark 74 percent cacao bar to some milk chocolate truffles. I found a rich dry red to try with them: Pepper Tree Shiraz Wrattonbully 2003 from Australia has plenty of raspberry and cherry fruit and a few other nuances, including anise, black pepper and eucalyptus notes.
As expected, the wine was best with the least-sweet chocolates. It was great with all the bars with 50 percent cacao or higher, and it was especially good with my favorite of the bunch, the Cacao Reserve Extra Dark Chocolate with Cacao Nibs, a 65 percent cacao product with the pleasantly bitter nibs suspended throughout. I thought of it as Krackel for adults. It made the wine taste like raspberry cream.
Scharffen Berger Bittersweet was about as sweet as the chocolate could get and still make a friendly match with the wine. Dagoba Semisweet made the wine taste earthy and the milk chocolate truffles killed it altogether.
But the other chocolates spun the wine in some fascinating directions. Dagoba's Conacado (73 percent Dominican Republic cacao) brought out the minty-eucalyptus end of the wine's spectrum.
Try it yourself. Get some serious chocolate and a smooth, youthful, fairly dense red wine. You might end up draining the bottle, as my wife and I did.
John B Vlahos — Cupertino Ca. — January 8, 2007 5:37pm ET
Brandon Redman — Seattle, WA — January 8, 2007 7:32pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — January 8, 2007 8:34pm ET
Timothy L Oneal — Kansas City, Missouri — January 8, 2007 8:35pm ET
Thomas J Manzo — Brielle, NJ — January 8, 2007 8:37pm ET
Karl Mark — Geneva, IL. — January 8, 2007 9:52pm ET
Travis G Snyder — Salt Lake City — January 9, 2007 12:27am ET
John B Vlahos — Cupertino Ca. — January 9, 2007 2:38pm ET
Scott Cheney — Michigan — January 9, 2007 10:28pm ET
Anacleto Ludovic — paris france — January 10, 2007 12:11pm ET
Carlos Omana — Caracas, Venezuela — January 10, 2007 3:48pm ET
Scott Cheney — Michigan — January 11, 2007 2:49am ET
Chris Trovas — ROSEMARY BEACH, FL — May 7, 2008 3:46pm ET
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