Craft chocolate is all about savouring the distinct flavours, textures and tastes that chocolate makers and cocoa growers can coax from their beans.
We believe this is best done in pairs. Trying pairs of different craft chocolates together. Discussing and sharing impressions with friends and partners. And via pairings with other products to reveal unexpected differences.
See WHAT we think works when pairing craft chocolate and wine before suggesting some of the reasons WHY.
Traditionally, dark chocolate has always been paired with the likes of vintage port. And this definitely works (see here for a pairing we have for such aficionados).
But dark chocolate also works extremely well with many other red wines. And indeed, dark chocolate works well with many other spirits and drinks — everything from beer to whisky to rum to sake (which works BRILLIANTLY with milk chocolate).
What doesn’t seem to work as well is dark (or milk) craft chocolate with white wines. Occasionally some pairings work — in particular at the “sweeter” and floral end of the spectrum. For example, dark milks can work brilliantly with the likes of PX Sherry (See here). But as a general rule it’s hard to match chardonnay, sauvignon blancs and many other white wine grapes with craft chocolate.
The first reason why red wine and dark chocolate work so well in combination is because both contain tannins. Tannins are chemicals that create a “puckering” and drying sensation in one’s mouth by binding the proteins in your saliva to make it less slippery (technically this is what is called astringency). Red Wine and chocolate both have naturally occuring tannins: for wine they are in the grapes (or rather the seeds, stems and skins – hence why red wines have more tannins), and in cocoa they are in the pre-fermented seeds and post fermented beans. Tannins are also imparted into wine by the wooden barrels they’re aged in – and it may be that wooden vat based cocoa fermentation works imparts tannins into cacao beans.
A classic pairing that works by counteracting these tannins and their “drying” of our mouth is meat and red wine. The proteins from the meat reinvigorate the dryness and astringency in your mouth that results from drinking a tannic red wine. And it’s tempting to see the same mechanic at work with Mexican moles and dark chocolate.
The successful pairing of dark chocolate and red wine is more complex. Both cause your mouth to dry out. But combined together, they can work synergistically and help you to appreciate the flavours in both. The reason for this seems to be a trick of the brain after it’s had something bitter and astringent. Once the brain has had some astringency and bitterness it seems to say to the olfactory centre (aka your sense of smell and flavour), “Okay, now we’ve sensed this, if you want to carry on trying it we’ll allow you to start tasting the flavours instead.”
The best way to demonstrate this is a trick we were taught by Professor Barry Smith, which we now try to incorporate into all our Virtual Tastings. Take a piece of 100% chocolate and try it before and after you’ve chewed a (bitter and astringent) roasted coffee bean. For most of us the difference is dramatic. Suddenly, we can detect the flavours in the 100% chocolate – whereas before then the primary sensations were bitterness and astringency.
The power of these “tannin” pairings may also explain why more tannic wines (shiraz, amarone, bordeaux, etc.) pair more effectively with chocolate than red wines that have fewer tannins, like pinot noir / Burgundy and white wine overall.
But the reason white wine and chocolate is harder to pair is also more basic. It’s about one of the essentials of flavour partnering — bringing out similarities and avoiding clashes.
One of the most powerful reasons why a pairing works is that the different components “complement” one another and that they don’t discordantly clash. So in matching red wines and dark chocolate, one sound guideline is to look for underlying similarities in the flavours of the wines and chocolates.
With the caveat that we are making HUGE generalisations about the wine grapes and cocoa types listed below, here are a few suggestions
Any which way, red wine and dark craft chocolate are a fantastic pairing. And for a fun exploration, evening and conversation please join Ruth and us on the 23rd July and 8pm here