Two entirely separate (and delicious) entities when consumed alone, but when paired together, create a widely-adored confectionary match. Whether you’re a wine newbie or longstanding fan of our favourite fermented grape juice, if you’ve recently visited a tasting room it’s highly likely that you’ve come across the option of a wine and chocolate pairing. Yet, is this a logical match, or is it just a passing fad? What’s the deal with wine and chocolate? Read on to become one with the cocoa bean.
A few weekends back, my entourage of gentlemen accompanied myself (Gosia) to a local wine estate in the Overberg region of the Western Cape. It was a perfect day for wine tasting, with Gabrielskloof being our top choice thanks to their convenient location along the canola-flower speckled road of the N2, their olives and most curiously, their wine and chocolate pairing (brought to us by another local favourite – Honest Chocolate). It was more of a given and less of a choice that we were heading there.
As soon as we all got comfortably set up on the couch, accompanied by a Golden Retriever teenage pup that was visiting with guests next to us, and the all-embracing mountain views, we were presented with our range of wines and chocolates. Time to unwrap some of the secrets to understanding why chocolatey goodness accompanies wine just oh-so-well:
Why are these two items paired?
Besides being a match made in heaven, wine and chocolate are often paired because the process of making chocolate is very similar to wine. Basically, both cocoa beans and wine are fermented with the very same type of yeast. Thanks to a similar process, and just as with wine, chocolate presents a complexity of flavours and textures, with the potential for subtle changes with each new batch of chocolate.
How are wine and chocolate paired?
Like any relationship, you can’t just take two very different wines and chocolates and think ‘oh, I’m sure they’ll just hit it off’. A wine’s acidity and tannin can easily clash with the creaminess and subtle flavour nuances of chocolate. As both wine and chocolate making are artisanal and artistic on their own, placing these powerhouse confectionaries side by side undoubtedly takes consideration and care. Often, winemakers may even approach chocolatiers with requests to make cocoa creations fitting to their vintages. Wine and chocolate pairing shouldn’t be daunting though – just remember the rule of complement or contrast. Like complementary or contrasting colours, wine and chocolate can behave in much the same way. So, if a chocolatier was going to make a specific version for a wine, he could either try complement the wine (say a zesty Chardonnay) with an equally zesty chocolate filled with lemon. If he wanted to be more risky, he could just as easily pair dark chocolate with a sweet Riesling (we say easily, but of course this level of know-how doesn’t come to all of us naturally). That’s why we’d like to offer some tips below, for when you want to do your own pairing du jour.
How to pair chocolate and wine for yourself?
- Dark chocolate is the easiest to pair and generally matches well with deep, dark reds – think Cabernet Sauvignon or wines that have some body to them.
- What sort of fruit do you normally bake dessert with? Strawberries, plums? Wines with these flavours characteristics tend to be a good place to start for your pairing.
- Choose high-quality chocolate – the cheap stuff won’t cut it.
- The higher the cocoa content, the drier the wine should be.
- The higher the tannin content of a red wine, the stronger the chocolate should be (to balance that dry mouth feel).
- If in doubt, go for a Late Harvest or Tawny Port (basically, sweet wines are a safe option).
- When tasting, the general rule is wine first, then the chocolate. But no one’s judging.
While we believe that whoever decided to take this match made in heaven and wrap it into one should be given an award, there are your occasional unhappy clams who are feverishly against the idea. It’s really up to you if you enjoy it, but when done well, there are few things as deliciously decedent. With the midday sun beaming down on us and our wine glasses, and our chocolate drops starting to melt, we tapered away from our tasting back to the car and headed back to the Mother City, feeling pretty much like this little guy.
If you‘d like to leave it to the pros, check out the following spots (aside from Gabrielskloof, obvs):
Waterford Estate, Stellenbosch
R50 per person. www.waterfordestate.co.za
R45 per person. www.laboriewines.co.za
Lourensford, Somerset West
R55 per person. www.lourensford.com
Creation, Hemel en Aarde
R75 per person. www.creationwines.com
Groot Constantia, Constantia
R75 per person, or combine with a cellar tour for R90 per person.
DV Artisan Chocolate at the Spice Route, Paarl
R100 per person (for a 1 hour full session). www.spiceroute.co.za
La Couronne Wine, Franschhoek
R45 per person. www.lacouronnewines.co.za