Don’t believe those stick-in-the-muds who say that chocolate doesn’t pair with wine. When done well, there are few things as deliciously decadent. It’s a match made in heaven, if you will. But finding the perfect combination is a challenge. Wine’s acidity and tannin can clash with the creaminess and subtle flavor nuances of chocolate. So, as with most food and wine pairings, aim to complement or contrast the flavours.
A wooded white wine with nutty notes pairs beautifully with a nutty milk chocolate. On the other hand, a frisky glass of bubbles will cut through the richness of a white or praline chocolate.
Dark chocolate is the easiest to pair and generally matches well with deep, dark reds – think Cab Sauv or Pinotage that have some weight to them. A Late Harvest, Muscadel or Port-style wine is also generally a good pair with dark chocolate, although with variances in the styles of both the wine and the chocolate, it will take a bit of experimentation (as if you need any encouragement!) to find a good combination.
What of orange chocolate or, better yet, something more exotic such as the lemon verbena chocolate offered as part of Laborie’s chocolate and wine pairing? Again, the complement or contrast rule applies. Lemon verbena (a type of flowering plant, by the way) is delicious with a zesty Chardonnay. Dark chocolate laced with orange goes brilliantly with a sweet Riesling.
Although the pros advise against simply taking any regular chocolate and pairing it with wine (many wine estates have chocolatiers who specially produce chocolates to match their wines) there are a few rules you can apply:
- Think about the types of fruit you would normally use when cooking with chocolate, such as raspberries and strawberries. Wines with these flavours characteristics tend to be a good place to start.
- Choose high-quality chocolate.
- The higher the cocoa content, the drier the wine should be.
- Red wine works best with a bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (in other words, a high percentage of cocoa).
- The higher the tannin content of a red wine, the stronger the chocolate should be.
- If in doubt, go for a Late Harvest or Tawny Port.
- When tasting, the general rule is wine first, then the chocolate.
If you ‘d like to leave it to the pros, I suggest the following farms:
Waterford Estate, Stellenbosch
A guided tasting of three wines paired with three Richard von Geusau chocolates, each produced specially to complement Waterford’s wines. R50 per person. www.waterfordestate.co.za
Four chocolates from Chocolats Marionettes in Knysna served with four wines. R45 per person. The tasting room staff gives a brief intro, but you’re then left to your own devices. www.laboriewines.co.za
Lourensford, Somerset West
Three reds and a honey liqueur are paired with specialised Tomes chocolates. R55 per person. www.lourensford.com
Creation, Hemel en Aarde
A 20- to 30-minute tasting of four wines and four chocolates, including unusual combinations such as fennel and coconut milk chocolate. R75 per person. www.creationwines.com
Groot Constantia, Constantia
Five pairings with specially made chocolates by Chocolats Marionettes. R75 per person, or combine with a cellar tour for R90 per person. www.grootconstantia.co.za
DV Artisan Chocolate at the Spice Route, Paarl
An information-packed, one-hour tutored tasting with De Villers chocolates paired with Spice Route wines. R100 per person. www.spiceroute.co.za
La Couronne Wine, Franschhoek
Four chocolates paired with four La Couronne wines. R45 per person. www.lacouronnewines.co.za
- Emma Odendaal was deputy editor of Wine magazine and managing editor of Getaway and is now doing cool stuff at Fresh Living. She contributes to various food and travel publications.