Pairing wine with chocolate is not a new or uncommon concept, but I really only think of the pairing at and around Valentine's Day, and every time I do, I wonder how this pairing came to be a 'thing' in the first place.
We all know the story of how Valentine's Day came to be, right? Just in case you don't, it goes like this. In ancient Rome there was a festival called Lupercalia that happened on February 15th. It involved various questionable fertility rituals and also a matchmaking component. The date was later changed to February 14th to commemorate Saint Valentine, who was beheaded, on that date. Valentine (at this point, a priest in Rome) was beheaded because he was performing marriages in secret for young lovers after Emperor Claudius II banned all weddings and engagements. After his death, Valentine was sainted, and the 14th of February declared his day and a symbol of love.
So how the heck does chocolate come into play?
Valentine's Day took hold in Europe first and came to North America in the 1700s. At first little gifts and notes were exchanged, and then it went to flowers. There lay Cadbury, however, thinking of ways to monetize the holiday. In 1822, Cadbury released their first heart-shaped box of chocolate, and we've never looked back since.
So where the heck does pairing chocolate with wine come from?
The earliest mention I see of the pairing was from a non-fiction book The Amusements of Old London: Being a Survey of the Sports and Pastimes, Tea Gardens and Parks, Playhouses and Other Diversions of the People of London from the 17th to the Beginning of the 19th Century, Volume 2. I could not make up that title if I tried. The book describes London in the 18th Century and the various things that the gentry got up to, including food and drink narratives. Nonetheless, it seems natural that if the holiday was meant to exchange gifts to show one's affection or even like for a neighbour, gifts of wines of the finest pedigree would also be exchanged. And we've already established Cadbury's influence with the holiday, and now we have chocolate and wine playing key roles for the same occasion.
Chocolate Pairing Pointers
Pairing wine with chocolate can be a fun and also challenging task. Below are a few pointers to get you started.
Beware of Tannins
Both wine and chocolate contain tannin. Moreover, cocoa has a naturally bitter taste that can increase the sense of astringency on the palate when paired with some wines. That's why when pairing a red wine with chocolate, I gravitate to fruit-forward red wines:
Warm climate Pinot Noir
Chocolate Can Make for Some Great Congruent Pairings
You'll hear wine specialists use terms that make you think they are talking about chocolate. They'll (we'll) say things like "I get chocolate (cocoa/mocha) on the nose". It is not trickery. It is common to find these flavour profiles in wine. After fermentation, some of the compounds you find in chocolate can also be found in wine.
As we actually taste through smell, there is something to be said about nosing mocha in your wine, sipping it, and then popping a piece of artisanal chocolate in your mouth.
Right bank Bordeaux
The rules that apply to pairing wines with dessert apply here too. If your chocolate is more on the sweeter and richer side, you'll want to make sure your wine is also sweet. Pairing sweet chocolate with a dry wine will increase the perception of tartness on the palate and make the pairing seem unbalanced.
Sparkling Wine and Salted Anything
If you are like me and enjoy textured chocolates, like salted milk chocolate with a nut thrown in there, Sparkling Wine is going to be your pairing love. The acidity in sparkling wine works wonderfully with the salinity coming from the salt. An added bonus is that nutty taste you get from sparkling wine, given its wine making process, goes wonderfully with that nut! This is by far my favourite pairing
I like to use Prosecco DOCG for its freshness and ripeness on the palate, plus its affordability.
The Great Divide - White Chocolate
I love white chocolate but recently learned from an informal poll I conducted on the ever official Instagram that almost 50% of you DO NOT. I learned from this poll that white chocolate can be very polarizing.
For those who enjoy white chocolate like myself, you want something with crisp acidity, ripe citrus and stone fruit. This combination will make the white chocolate feel almost like whipped cream in your mouth but with more intensity. It is crazy, and you must try it.
With whatever you get up to on this Valentine's Day, I wish upon you great pairing wines and merriment!