Making Friends with Wine and Chocolate
By Jim Clarke
I don’t know many people who would turn down chocolate - especially
fine chocolate from Francois Payard. Nor do I know many who would refuse
a good glass of wine, barring a hangover or (perhaps) an upcoming job
interview. But try to serve the two together and people often start questioning
your good intentions. A bad match can make your wine seem dry and dusty,
or create unpleasant flavors on the finish. Or your chocolate can take
on a lackluster, curdled quality from the acidity or alcohol of the wine.
I decided to investigate and spent an afternoon eating chocolate and drinking
wine until I found some combinations that brought something new and positive
to both parties. It was a tough assignment, but life is hard.
Francois Payard (www.payard.com) in Manhattan graciously provided
me with a variety of chocolates as well as some of their classic truffles.
So well-armed I made my way to Union Square Wines (www.unionsquarewines.com),
where Alexis Beltrami - one of our former wine editors, in fact - met
me with several bottles of wine at the ready.
Fruits and Nuts
1032 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10021
T el: 212.717.5252
We started with a Mas Amiel Muscat de Rivesaltes 2001. This
is one of those rare things, a fortified white wine; as with port, a
neutral brandy is added to stop fermentation, resulting in a strong,
sweet wine. In the company of truffles and caramel-filled chocolates
this wine was reduced to a bland, heavy water, but fruity or nutty chocolates
brought out similar elements in the wine. The Van Gogh (Payard
names most of his chocolates, appropriately, after artists) has a marzipan-like
almond and pistachio filling; the wine echoed this with a refreshing
almond note but kept its buoyant character. M. Payard’s Cupidon
has a passionfruit interior that emphasized the tree fruits in the wine-
peaches in particular. I imagine lighter dessert whites would have a
hard time cutting through the richness of chocolate, but this wine managed
admirably when supported by complementary flavors.
Shiraz + Chocolate = Chocolate Cake?
The monster Californian Zinfandels that emerged in the 1980’s
was one of the first table wines to be matched with chocolate; for something
in a similar, big, fruity style we opened a bottle of Leasingham’s
Bin 61 Shiraz, 2001, from the Clare Valley in Australia. While zinfandels
often hit it off with chocolate because they already have some chocolaty
notes of their own, Alexis and I hoped that the toastiness and baking
spices in the Leasingham would complement the chocolates as well. Shiraz
+ Chocolate = chocolate cake? Maybe. With the Bonnard this misfired;
a pruny finish came on like a freight train and derailed on my tongue.
Truffles fared better; the toast took a backseat to blackberry
fruit at first, but smoothly slipped back onto my palate to bring everything
together. I didn’t get my chocolate cake, but I did get blackberry
jam on toast with chocolate sprinkles, which is not unpleasant.
Cottonmouth, however, is. Our other red table wine, a 2001 Sierra
Cantabria, brought this home. The real reason chocolates and wine
often don’t get on well is that the chocolate’s sweetness
sucks up the fruit of the wine and leaves your mouth a dustbowl. A shame
in this case, because on its own the Cantabria is a refreshing quaff
of red fruits with a pleasant, open quality in the mouth. The Picasso’s
Earl Grey ganache was as guilty as the others, but added lots of dried
herbs and earthiness - the wine started to resemble a Sardinian cannonau.
The only chocolate that truly came off well with the Rioja was the Gauguin;
it has a Grand-Marnier and Kirsch center that filled out the wine and
gave the impression of oak-aging. A shortcut to a crianza or reserva
style of Rioja.
A Pair of Jeans
Fortified wines may be the mainstay of dessert, but ruby port actually
didn’t fare well here; the Fonseca Bin 27 seemed hot with
most of the chocolates. But having become a fan of port while I was
living in London, I had also encountered that old-school British tipple,
port and lemon, and this inspired me to try the Fonseca with one of
the Cupidons. They cooperated admirably; the passionfruit flavor
eliciting a bright and lightening fruitiness in the wine. The Bonnard’s
caramel ganache had much the same effect when paired with a tawny port,
in this case the Warre’s Otima 10 Year. The Warre’s
with chocolate is like a good pair of jeans - it goes with just about
everything and with a few things it looks really good.
To wrap up our indulgent afternoon we returned to the beginning with
another Mas Amiel, this time their 1980 Millésime Maury
from Southern France. This is fortified, like the ports and the Rivesaltes,
but is a red wine made from grenache. Often compared to port, it is
a full, rich, and wonderfully smooth wine with lots of figs and dates
as well as sweet tobacco and molasses elements. The winemaker ages this
wine for twenty years, so this is a current release, not something I’ve
been cellaring. Truffles here were a Prince Charming’s
kiss; an already beautiful wine came to life, fruitier in the mouth
and showing a freshness that only the best wines of this age can hope
for. With the filled chocolates there was altogether too much going
on; it seems a wine of this complexity dances best with a straightforward
The difficulty with this couple is that there are no reliable guidelines
that won’t lead you astray at some point- no “red with meat,
white with fish” rule. Simpler chocolates- those without fruit
or nut fillings- seem to bring out the fruit in wines that, similarly,
normally lack primary fruit aromas, but ultimately each pairing is unique.
With the number of possible pairings, a wine and chocolate party makes
a lot of sense. How could you go wrong with a big box of chocolates
together with a lot of friends - each bringing a bottle they like?
Best Friends - Our favorite pairings:
|Mas Amiel Muscat de Rivesaltes 2001
||Van Gogh (almond and pistachio)
|Leasingham Bin 61 Shiraz, 2001
Clare Valley, South Australia
|Sierra Cantabria 2001
||Picasso (Earl Grey)
Gauguin (GrandMarnier and Kirsch)
|Fonseca Bin 27 Ruby Port
|Warre’s Otima 10 Year Tawny Port
||Bonnard (caramel ganache)
|Mas Amiel Millésime Maury 1980