It is that time of the year when the North Pole is farthest from the sun, but chocolate is closest to our hearts. I am the kind who treats this son-of-a-cocoa-bean as objectively as I do bitter-gourd; the only reason I eat it—the dark kind, of course—is for its muscle- replenishing and recovering properties.
With that stoically established, let’s try and enliven things a bit for the rest of you, those who may actually like the stuff, releasing endorphins and such like, not to mention a craving which borders on the addictive. Not judging, merely suggesting what is the best pairing for it. How does one pair them with a beverage of equal hedonistic value?
First, let’s establish what we are classifying as chocolate. The standard commercial candy bars are not even contenders for this. They are little more than sugar-bombs, and any chocolate is purely to get stuck to your hands to make you feel as if it’s the real thing. Well, they are not.
In fact, chocolate only starts tasting like itself above the 65 per cent mark. The real connoisseurs would scoff at anything which isn’t 75 per cent cocoa or higher in composition or doesn’t convey the location of the plantation that it came from to second decimal place precision.
Most people like to pair chocolates with wine. They forget to add the prefix sweet, or dessert. Pairing a dry wine—such as a regular Cabernet or Chardonnay (even a rosé)—is a near-impossible task. It just doesn’t work. And there’s a special place in hell for those who pair dry and extra-dry champagnes or any other dry sparkling wine with sweet chocolate anythings.
The sweetness in the chocolate makes these wines seem astringent and bitter. It strips away all fruit in the wine and reduces it to a rough unripe drink. The only chance that such a pairing can work is if the sugar in the chocolate is less than detectable, that is, 95 per cent cocoa content. In such a case, one could even do a chocolate sauce with steak and it wouldn’t seem out of place. A lot of Peruvian chefs have employed this very successfully in their menus.
Sweet chocolate, the kind that we mostly enjoy, is to be paired with sweet wines. In fact, my rule of “C” says that desserts based on coffee, caramel, or chocolate should be always paired with sweet red wines. Think Port and Madeira. And if it is a white sweet wine, it should be more on the lines of an aged Moscatel de Setubal, or similar. But any wine with sugar lesser than already in the chocolate would be sacrilege, distracting both from chocolate and chalice.
The sweeter the chocolate gets, the sweeter the wine must be. A white chocolate (although it’s not really chocolate, just shea butter really) can be easily paired with a white sweet wine, anything Auslese and upwards.
Flavoured chocolates can be tricky, especially if the flavour happens to be something strong and distinct, such as bird’s eye chilli, fennel, or similar. Pair them with cocktails or aromatised wines or aged tawny Ports.
Chocolate pairing isn’t always easy but if one starts with a dry wine, white or red, one that was possibly intended for the main course and then simply allowed to linger while dessert was being served, then a lovely meal may stand badly marred on the finish.
The writer is a sommelier