Matching wine and chocolate is a tricky thing to get right and it is not something that I have had a lot of experience with. However a new, local chocolatier was recently kind enough to give us some samples of his chocolates which got me thinking about wine and chocolate pairings. There are lots of variables to take into account – where the chocolate is sourced from, the percentage of cocoa solids, the recipe for the ganache and any flavourings used. I don’t intend to go into too much detail but think of this as a very basic guide to matching wine and chocolate.
Winchester Cocoa Company was founded by Chris Attewell and is based, you guessed it, in Winchester, Hampshire. I first met when Chris when he was trying to source some blackberry liqueur and tawny Port for making his chocolates he found Edmond Briottet Creme de Mure and Niepoort 10 Year Old (and Senior Tawny) Port on our website. Chris uses mainly local ingredients including fresh cream from a herd of Guernsey cows near Winchester, Summerdown Hampshire mint oil, teas from Char Teas in Winchester and Sloe Gin from the Wiltshire Liqueur Company.
Obviously there are no cacao beans grown outside of the tropics, so chocolate is bought from from a Swiss company, called Felchlin, that sources all their cacao beans via “direct trade”, a policy that Chris describes as “one step up from Fairtrade”. This basically means that the suppliers are in direct contact with the cacao farmers and their agents and have maximum input into the quality of the product, issues of sustainability whilst all the time ensuring that the farmers receive fair prices for their crops.
The main basic rule is that dry wines do not go with chocolate. However, the darker the chocolate, the more bitter and less sweet it will be and the better chance you will have of pairing the chocolate with a wine. Even so, if you are looking for a wine and chocolate match you will need a red wine at the sweeter end of the spectrum like an Amarone, sweetish Shiraz or something sweet and red (Merlot or Zinfandel) from California. The use of ganache (chocolate and cream mixed) provides a bit of fat content and can make a wine and chocolate pairing bit easier to come up with.
Dry wines will not work! Except for Sparkling. Perhaps.
The best wine and chocolate matches can be found with dessert wines – this is because they are usually flavoursome enough and sweet enough to stand up to the sugar content of the chocolate (or chocolate dessert). To help pair dessert wine and chocolate, the best thing is to think of what fruit, dried fruit, nut or caramel goes well with chocolate and try and find these characteristics in the the dessert wines themselves.
Here are my suggestions for some of Chris’ chocolates.
Sea Salt Liquid Caramel – A caramel made with fresh cream, butter, bourbon vanilla and Cornish sea salt – the salty / butterscotch flavours would match best with a sweet, white dessert wine, a lighter style with citrus notes and good acidity such as the Seifried Winemakers Collection Sweet Agnes Riesling or go for something a bit more complementary like a Pedro Ximenez Sherry or Medium sweet or rich Madeira. Alternative: Torres Floralis Moscatel Oro, Vino de Licor.
Raspberry, Lime and Mint – Raspberry jelly on a dark ganache flavoured with lime zest and Summerdown Hampshire Mint Oil – the mint is a tricky flavour to match with wine, but it was not overpowering. The raspberry and dark chocolate ganache are crying out for a sweet red dessert wine, consensus was the Quady Elysium from California would be a great match with its own raspberry and red fruit character. Alternative: Banyuls or Maury.
Pear and Spiced Port – Pear and vanilla jelly on a dark ganache flavoured with tawny port and delicately infused with spices – naturally I would match the Niepoort 10 Year Old Tawny Port (or Niepoort Senior Port) to emphasis the Port characters in the chocolate. Tawny put is often overlooked as a dessert wine but it is a great match for all sorts of chocolates, pudding and blue cheese! Alternative: Rutherglen Muscat.
Blackcurrant and Sloe Gin – Blackcurrant jelly on a dark ganache flavoured with Sloe Gin from the Wiltshire Liqueur Company – the gin flavours are a tricky match, so why not try this with some Sloe Gin itself. Alternatively something big, sweet and chunky would stand up to the gin and blackcurrant and we thought that, in this case a wine might work, perhaps the Tedeschi Amarone would work well. Aternative: Mas Amiel Vintage Maury AOC, Vin Doux Naturel 16.5%
Blackberry – Blackberry fruit and liqueur coulis on 72% dark chocolate ganache – this is the chocolate flavoured with Edmond Briottet Creme de Mure (blackberry liqueur) and would be great with a small glass of that. Alternatively this needs a sweet red wine or perhaps an Port, perhaps the Cline Late Harvest Mourvedre or a Ruby style Port this time (more red and black fruit character than a Tawny Port). Alternative: Niepoort Crusted Port.
Raspberry – Dark Madagascan chocolate ganache flavoured with fresh raspberry puree – I think I would match this chocolate with the Quady Elysium again, for similar reasons to the Raspberry, Lime and Mint chocolate above.
Gooseberry and Elderflower – a gooseberry fruit coulis above a milk chocolate ganache flavoured with St Germain elderflower liqueur – there is a lot going on here but I think that the white fruit flavours and the milk chocolate ganache make this an ideal candidate for matching with a white wine, and we thought this would actually match well with a German Spatlese such as the Leitz Rudesheimer Magdalenenkreuz Riesling Spatlese the floral character and a hint of sweetness should be quite complementary. Another thing that might actually work well here would be a sweet sparkling, maybe a Demi-Sec Champagne or Moscato d’Asti. It would also be worth trying out one the fine Hampshire Sparkling wines like the Hambledon Vineyard Classic Cuvee – although it might be a little on the dry side.
Sour Cherry and Pistachio – A morello cherry ganache above a pistachio and almond marzipan – so there are fruity and almond flavours in this chocolate. The cherry flavour was quite dominant and this would actually be great with some Cherry Heering or other cherry brandy. If I have to pick a dessert wine match for this chocolate it would be a Tawny Port to complement the nutty marzipan, probably the Niepoort Senior as before. Alternative: Grant Burge 10 Year Old Tawny, Barossa Valley
Chai Vanilla – Milk chocolate ganache infused with bourbon vanilla and chai tea blend from Char Teas in Winchester – this was perhaps the favourite chocolate of the tasting, there are plenty of spicy cinnamon, ginger, pepper and other spices in here which I think would be great with a medium sweet Madeira with citrus, nutty and spicy notes, the Barbeito Rainwater Reserva Madeira Meio Seco (Medium Dry) would be a great match for this. Alternative:
Almond and Hazelnut Crunch – Almond and hazelnut milk chocolate praline with nut pieces and crunchy feuilletine wafers – probably my second favourite after the Chai Vanilla. This nutty confection really needs something equally nutty to stand up to it. I think this would be a great match with the Barone Ricasoli Castello di Brolio Vin Santo with it slightly oxidised, nutty, raisined flavours or a good cream Sherry or Tawny Port. Alternative: La Spinetta Moscato d’Asti DOCG Bricco Quaglia
The main thing to remember is that no-one is right or wrong, but I hope these wine and chocolate pairings will give you some ideas. Perhaps do some experimenting of your own!