How to Taste Wine With Chocolate

Even though chocolate and wine truly are two of the finer things in life, they can be such a cliché together, and I've never thought they pair particularly well with one another. Perhaps that's why I found myself at a wine and chocolate tasting hosted by Scharffen Berger last week; I was hoping someone would prove me wrong. 

 Photo: Scharffen Berger. Note (and forgive) my crazy-looking stare in this picture.

Photo: Scharffen Berger. Note (and forgive) my crazy-looking stare in this picture.

We tried four pairings: a New Zealand Pinot with 72% dark chocolate, a Sonoma Zinfandel with 70% bittersweet, a Napa Cabernet with 82% extra dark chocolate, and a Cabernet Franc ice wine with 33% milk chocolate. Were any of the combinations enough to win me over? Honestly, no — in every instance, the chocolate either overpowered the wine, or the wine overwhelmed the flavor of the chocolate, and they didn't match appropriately in sweetness levels. The two, together, still remain a totally overrated match for me. 

What I did learn while I was there, though, was how to taste a pairing of wine and chocolate. To achieve maximum appreciation of both components, there is a right way to taste. 

  1. Taste the wine first. Stick your nose in the wine glass and smell. Then take a minute to swirl your wine glass and smell the bouquet again. Take a sip of the wine and move it around in your mouth. Ask yourself: what's the wine smell like? Do I detect any flavors of fruit (cherry, strawberry, blackberry, etc.)? Focus on the finish. Does the wine have high acidity?
  2. Then try the chocolate. Break off a small piece of chocolate. Place it on your tongue and allow it to melt, making any notes on flavor (is it citrusy? nutty? dark?) and allowing whatever compounds you detect to linger. 
  3. Take another quick sip. While the chocolate compounds still linger on your palate, take another sip of the wine. 
  4. Evaluate. Ask yourself: Has the chocolate changed the wine in any way? Does it brighten the fruit flavors of the wine in any way (for example, if the wine had notes of stewed fruit before, do you now detect fresh fruit elements instead)? Does the texture of the chocolate add anything to the texture of the wine (e.g., does it make it more velvety)? 

On a related note, the 41% milk chocolate and the 2008 Inniskillin Cabernet Franc ice wine were both sensational. Maybe we should've tried those two together. Who knows? It could've converted me into a total chocolate and wine lush.