I’ve never believed that chocolate is an aphrodisiac, but add a splash of wine and I’m not so sure…Chocolate and cheese are notoriously difficult to match with wine. Cheese in particular usually requires specific wines and hosts tend to offer up cheese boards, with three or more cheeses, utterly different in style. So how can you serve a single style of wine, to satisfy the cheese board, and your guests? You can’t. That’s if you want a good match anyway and chocolate is the same.
The infinite variety
Chocolate suffers from the same misunderstanding and generalisation. Have you ever offered up a box of Cadburys Roses, or any assorted box of chocolates and a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon to match? And it doesn’t match, not at all, whether it be white, milk or dark, soft centred or hard.
Chocolate and cheese tend to split the company, like a debate on politics. Blues, cheddars, crumbly or soft, people are not often fond of the lot, but gravitate towards their usual prejudice. What is it with milk and dark chocolate? I walked into the chocolate shop Haighs, situated in The Strand on Sydney’s George Street. Packed to the rafters with every conceivable colour, shape and taste and yet only two products made from white chocolate. Most of us drink milk in one form or another, so why not the most similar form in chocolate?
Navigating such complex issues is my stock in trade. If I happen to serve variety, matching wines are a given. Three chocolates – three wines, three cheeses – three wines, three mains – three wines. I knew my maths would come in handy one day. Fine chocolate is a marvelous treat, and treating your guests with accompanying wines is as good as being invited to Windsor Castle.
Needless to say, there are infinite flavour variations, but to keep things modest, I bought chocolate dark, milk and white, plain, without additional flavourings. If you want a bit more jazz, or as my mother in law would say “to gild the lily”, stick to classic flavour additions. White chocolate with red fruits of cranberry, cherry or strawberry. Milk chocolate with caramel and assorted nuts. Dark chocolate – just leave as is because the high cocoa content ensures the chocolate is strong in flavour, texture and bitterness and we want to balance this with the wine and not through flavour additions.. And lastly, best to avoid liqueur chocolates if matching wines. Life is complicated enough.
When to make a match
Chocolate and cheese boards are generally served at the end of the meal. But just to show how daring and contrary we can be in the burbs, I like to serve dark chocolate as an aperitif. Yep, you heard it here first folks. The rich flavour, sandy texture and bittersweetness is a perfect way to awaken the palate and get the saliva going. A shock and awe tactic that is totally unexpectedly decadent. A glass, or two with the matching wine and a couple of chocolates will hardly dent your appetite. After a heavy meal, the last thing I want is to build further on the flavourful and filling dishes and countless bottles by having an incredibly rich food and wine combination.
For myself, I would prefer to serve milk or white chocolate at the end of the meal. The lighter, more fluid flavours and elevated sweetness, ensure that the chocolate, although rich in flavour, doesn’t have the same level of textural and bitter attack of dark chocolate. The corresponding wine matches are easier going too, particularly for white chocolate and it is for this reason that I prefer to serve the white stuff at the end of a meal.
All wines suggested are Australian. There are innumerable examples, but in the spirit of parochialism, budget, availability and suburbanism, we have decided to provide examples of Australian wine only.
Common dark chocolate has at least 50% Cocoa content, but fine chocolate will usually be higher at about 75%. Invariably the chocolate will be intense in flavour, bitter and have a coffee ground/grainy texture. The wine will need to be full bodied, luxurious, strong in flavour, sweet fruited with soft tannins.
Grenache (from warm regions such as Mclaren Vale and the Barossa Valley), Shiraz (ditto Grenache) and Rutherglen Durif
Our choice – Yangarra Old Vine Grenache 2018
The peoples favourite. Milder in flavour due to a lower cocoa content of around 25% and a higher proportion of sugar and the addition of milk. The feel in the mouth and texture is all the more slippery and fluid, softer and more palate coating. The wine match in this case is sweet, rich, toffeed, fruity and complex (with flavours of nuts, caramel, spices). Despite the sweetness of the wine, it will be important that the wine displays freshness, to balance the inherent sweetness in the wine and of course the chocolate. I would serve the suggested wines chilled, but not cold.
Rutherglen Muscat, Rutherglen Tokay, Tawny Port and aged Sparkling Shiraz (at least 5 years old and from warm regions such as the Barossa Valley).
Our choice – All Saints Rutherglen Muscadelle
The most divisive of chocolates and as I have noted previously, Haighs only had two products with white chocolate. People I gather, find white chocolate too sweet, but I love it and I love the suggested wine match also. Easily the most refreshing from of chocolate to end a meal with. There is of course, no cocoa to be found in white chocolate, but cocoa butter, hence the lack bitterness or texture. Richly flavoured and very sweet, with the accompany sticky palate, white chocolate works best with a wine served cold. Ice cold. The wine must be sweet and entirely fruity.
Sparkling Moscato, late harvest Rieslings and very intense off-dry Riesling (difficult to produce in Australia).
Our choice – Mount Horrocks 2018 Cordon Cut Riesling