Best Wine Pairing With Chocolate

Some might think that when I set the theme for this 13th edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday, I already had a clever pairing in mind, all prepared and tested and ready to go. But no. The idea for this little challenge just popped in my head when I was trying to think of a wine tasting theme without pretending to know more about it than I really do, and to really replicate the way I usually go about choosing wine, trying to keep in mind what we will be drinking it with, when and who with.

To tell you the truth, although I am trying to acquire a basic knowledge of origins and grape types and aging processes, I usually go by the little heart-shaped stickers (coup de coeur maison) that my wine seller puts on the bottles he warmly recommends. Sometimes I ask him directly for advice, and sometimes I just follow my instinct and boldly go by the look of the label — anything that looks too obviously like a team of marketing and creative people worked on it loses points dramatically.

But since I’m hosting and all, I resisted the temptation of just going in and asking the store owner what I should drink with a really chocolate-y chocolate cake. Instead, I did my homework and a little research.

First off, I read everywhere that it was notoriously difficult to pair good chocolate with wine. Why? Because the very characteristics of good chocolate (intense cocoa aroma, hints of bitterness, low-sugar content, slight acidity, tannins and persistance of flavors) tend to mute and/or clash with most wines. The key to a good choco-wine pairing, I have read, is to pick a wine that has strong and distinctive aromas so as not to be muffled, it should be low in tannins, not too dry, not too astringent and with low acidity.

In practice, I found lots of different suggestions: port wine came up frequently, as did the names of Xeres, Jurançon, Marsala, Yellow Wine from the Jura (Vin Jaune du Jura), Marsala, Tokaji from Hungaria, wines from Malaga, but also dry white wines or fruity or intense reds.

What interested me the most was the suggestion to pair chocolate with aged Vins Doux Naturels (sweet natural wines). These wines are made using a process called mutage sur grain, in which the fermentation is stopped by the addition of alcohol, allowing the wine to keep more of the natural grape flavors, and a greater proportion of sugar. These wines, subtly oxydized by the years spent biding their time in oak barrels, offer powerful aromas that can hold their ground in the face of chocolate, and have enough sugar content to complement its bitterness and acidity.

Only wines that benefit from an AOC (the French certification of origin) can produce vins doux naturels and call them that. They are mostly produced around the Mediterranean coast on dry and poor soils with plenty of sun. Examples of vins doux naturels include Banyuls, Rivesaltes, Muscat de Rivesaltes, Muscat de Frontignan, Muscat de Mireval, or Maury.

I decided to give the latter kind a try. My chocolate cake safely out of the oven and taking a little nap on its cooling rack with a very light snore, I strolled out to the wine store and asked for a bottle of Mas Amiel. They had three kinds and I chose the ten-year old one, at 17.45€. Mas Amiel is a domain just outside the village of Maury, which produces a Maury wine made out of black grenache mostly, with a little carignan and muscat. The vines are hand-trimmed, the grapes hand-harvested, and they have a policy of culture raisonnée de la vigne (reasoned grapevine culture). In essence, this means that they strive to respect the environmental balance, avoid the use of chemicals and progressively go back to all-natural fertilization, but their point is that they still have a business to run, and sometimes they gotta do what they gotta do. Fair enough I guess. They are also among the last wineries in Europe to age their wine in outdoor glass cylinders for a year, before it is transferred into large oak barrels (foudres de chêne).

That night we were celebrating my neighbor Stéphan’s birthday, in the company of our other neighbors and a friend of theirs: each of us received a slice of the cake and a glass of Mas Amiel, with specific instructions to please pay attention to the pairing and share tasting notes (I like to put people at ease).

In the glass, Mas Amiel has a beautiful mahogany color, with a slight syrupiness that makes it cling to the sides. To the palate, we all happily agreed that the pairing was more than the sum of its parts, and that both the chocolate and the wine benefited from it. Mas Amiel reminded us all of port wine, but in a pleasantly lighter and thinner version, and more subtly sweet. It had warm aromas of prunes, cocoa and caramel, which brought out the flavors of the chocolate cake wonderfully. And just like I’d been promised, it was powerful enough to be heard clearly, while the slight acidity and bitterness from the chocolate gave structure and depth to the wine’s sweetness.

Thank you all for your participations which are pouring in as we speak, and stay tuned for the round-up of the Best Wine Pairings With Chocolate in a few days!

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  • Thordur Arnason

    I’m too busy/lazy to participate in ‘Like Wine For Chocolate’ but I’d like to point you to some great wines that go well with chocolate:

    1. The best (imho): Banyls Cuvée du Dr. André Parcé, any good vintage
    2. The Portuguese Alambre Moscatel de Setubal 20 Years is also a good choice
    3. Mas Amiel is never wrong (as you discovered)
    4. JP Moscatel de Setubal is both cheap and goes well with any chocolate dominated dessert.

    cheers,
    -t

  • http://www.tastedc.com Charlie Adler

    Medium to High tannin wines in my opinion are actually very good with chocolate, particularly bittersweet chocolate (not low tannin wine)…why? Because the component in cocoa that makes it bitter is the same as tannin and the logic is that like flavor components cancel each other out. Sounds weird? Try eating something sweet (say a candy bar) with a sweet beverage (juice, wine whatever!) and they will both taste LESS SWEET. So if you match a wine with chocolate, the best way to reduce the bitterness of both (from the tannins) is to match bitter to bitter, and those components thus cancel each other out – leaving the fruit/sweetness of the chocolate and wine. Merlot/Cabernet especially young New World (they tend to be fruitier/riper) are good, definitely go with inexpensive wines, expensive are overwhelmed by chocolate…Remember a sweet wine with chocolate will cancel out sweet, thus leaving other flavors – Port works because it’s sweet AND has medium to high tannins!

  • http://www.onewholeclove.typepad.com/ S.L. Plant

    Your wine description is beautiful. I only aspire to be so passionate!

  • nbm

    years ago I visited the Robert Mondavi winery and they served dark, dark chocolate truffles with their Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. I still have the truffle recipe they handed out.

  • DAL

    A Howell Mountain (Napa) Zinfandel like Outpost or Howell Mountain pair well with chocolate.

  • charlotte

    Je me souviens d’un vieux Banyuls qui m’avait émue aux larmes sur un dessert au chocolat, chez Laurent, en juillet dernier… Et pourtant, contrairement à toi, le chocolat n’a jamais été pour moi une passion… Donc I go for Banyuls! Le Mas Amiel est aussi toujours superbe sur du chocolat… Mais je me demande si dans ces cas-là je ne préfère pas le verre à l’assiette!
    Bravo pr ton blog Clo, moi-même complètement obsédée par la nourriture, je trouve un exutoire formidable en te lisant… Pas le temps de participer en général, je me lance aujourd’hui…
    à bientôt et encore chapeau !!!!
    Charlotte

  • http://www.zenfoodism.com/ Beth – The Zen Foodist

    Thanks for hosting this great event and for your lovely account of your own experiences.

    I found what Charlie said here in the comments to be precisely true in my Wine & Chocolate foray this week.

  • http://www.culinaryfool.com Culinary Fool

    I’ve always heard (and believe) that one of the reasons it can appear to be a difficult pairing is that many times the chocolate is too sweet and therefore makes the wine taste bitter. It’s not really what wine goes with chocolate but what chocolate goes with wine. Dark, bittersweet chocolate works; milk, white, anything on the sweeter side will not. Although most anything goes with champagne! :-)

  • http://glutenfreegirl.blogspot.com shauna

    I swear, I hadn’t read your accounting before I found my wine. But I stumbled on a mutage sur grain wine too, made by Domaine de la Rectorie, and it was glorious with the flourless chocolate torte I made. I promise you, I didn’t choose a French wine to impress you!

    Yours sounds wonderful.

  • http://chockylit.blogspot.com Chockylit

    First off, the cake recipe was great and was a huge hit at my dinner party. I paired the cake with 2003 Banyuls Rimage Les Clos de Paulilles and in addition made a caramel glaze with the Banyuls. Yum! Unfortunately, I lost all the pictures I took of the outcome and hence didn’t post. But I did want to say, thanks for the cake recipe and inspiration!

  • Richard Cianci

    My favourite wine to pair with chocoloate cake is Black Noble, a unique Australian botrytised Semillon that is fortified, then aged in oak in a solera system. Caramel, marmalade, walnut and tea flavors play well with chocolate. Yum.

  • donald

    there’s a lovely little black muscat from Quady in California called Elysium that’s lovely (and cheap) with not too heavy chocolate puds

  • Alis

    I really enjoyed reading your about your research & descriptions. I came across this site while looking for ideas of what beverage to pair with a dark chocolate and orange tart with toasted almonds. If anyone has any ideas I would surely welcome them.

  • Dave Yuhas

    Just opened a bottle of Mas Amiel Millesime 1980 that I bought about five years ago at a North Berkeley Wine-sponsored dinner. It’s fantastic!

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