A Toast To Wine-loving Chocoholics

This Banyuls — balanced, rich and polished — is a perfect pair with chocolate PHOTO FROM ROBERTO VIERNES

This Banyuls — balanced, rich and polished — is a perfect pair with chocolate
PHOTO FROM ROBERTO VIERNES

My wife is a chocoholic — the best kind.

Like many, she adores, in particular, dark chocolate. So everywhere I travel, I always bring back chocolate for her, and everywhere we travel together we always sample dark chocolate.

There are some terrific and classic pairings of wine and chocolate that every wine lover should know.

The first classic pairing with wine, particularly with dark chocolate, is port.

This wonderfully rich and luxurious dessert wine from Portugal is a fortified wine that comes in both white and red, each a blend of several different grapes.

There are two major types of port: Tawny and ruby.

Tawny port is aged for an extended period in oak barrels. They take on a “tawny” color and also develop a caramel, nutty, toffee-brittle flavor and aroma that is unique in the wine universe.

Ruby ports are bottled earlier and retain more of the fresh, red fruit aromas. That is not to say that ruby port cannot age, as vintage port falls under the ruby category but can live for a century and more. Ruby ports tend to be sweeter, as tawny ports lose some of their sweetness as they age.

Sweetness also varies by house style. Most port drinkers are very loyal to the house that they drink just for this reason. But the marriage with port is the same. The richness of both alcohol and sweetness serve to match the richness and sweetness of the chocolate. Chocolate has plenty of texture — tannin even, just as port does.

They are hand in glove when it comes to pairing.

As a matter of detail, I prefer tawny port with milk chocolate and ruby port with dark chocolate. And I don’t think white port is as good a pair with chocolate as red port. I was reminded of it just tonight when I had a chocolate decadence cake with a bottle of 1985 Dows Vintage Port — absolutely terrific!

Sauternes, that other luxurious sweet elixir from Bordeaux, France, is another lovely pair with chocolate.

Sauternes is made special by a fungus called Botrytis cinerea. Under special conditions in any given year, it grows on Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes, changing the chemical composition of the skins, dehydrating the grape and concentrating all the sugars and acids. The result is perhaps the greatest sweet wines on earth. The acidity and residual sugar make these wines some of the most long-lived white wines, as well.

When chocolate has a fruit component to it, such as glacee apricots, apples, pears and the like, Sauternes might be the best pairing of all. But even with that component, the sweetness, acidity and texture again marry perfectly with chocolate.

You may have heard of the first two pairings before, but you would do well also to remember Banyuls as another perfect pair to chocolate.

Banyuls is a fortified wine from the southwest of France based on the Grenache grape. It is made similarly to port but has less alcohol, around 16 percent, versus 20 percent in port.

I have had this wine with numerous chocolate dishes, including Roy’s chocolate soufflĂ©, and it is another one of those “these are even better together” pairings, rich and decadent — everything you want in a wine pairing. My favorite is Domaine la Tour Vieilles ($22/500ml). This producer is the finest, in my opinion. It is balanced, rich and polished.

What about dry wines, such as Cabernet or Syrah, you may ask?

Yes, those work too, but typically with drier and only dark chocolate. With most chocolates being sweet, I find that “like works with like.” If the dessert is sweet and the wine is not sweet enough, all you taste is tannin and bitterness.

And I wouldn’t want to leave that taste in your mouth.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier.

rviernes@southernwine.com
Twitter: @Pinotpusher