As a former winemaker and a never-ending student of the wine world, I always look for fun ways to incorporate tastings into my life. The most obvious ways are flights of wines or cheese boards, but this year I was inspired by Valentine's Day to push the tasting theme a little further:
with a chocolate board!
I found four different chocolates, in this case a white, a creamy milk, a 57% cacao and an 87% cacao, and arranged them with dried fruits, nuts, cookies and fresh strawberries. This platter is the ultimate dessert for a party. Guests can sample different chocolates and notice how certain nuts or dried fruit accentuate the flavors. When tasting the chocolates, always go from the darkest and most bitter to the sweetest, ending with the white chocolate whenever possible. This will help you taste all of the nuances of the cacao before your palate gets bogged down by the cream and sugar.
To take it up a notch, I'd recommend pouring a few different wines to play off of the chocolates. My favorite is sherry. It’s incredibly complex, long-lived and uniquely flavored, yet it’s one of the most misunderstood wines in the world. It’s usually associated with cream sherry, which is a style of sherry that is heavily sweetened and not always the best to sip on its own (though could be fun with chocolate!). The majority of sherry, however, is bone dry (no sugar) and full of character. Oloroso sherry is one of my favorite dry wines to pair with really dark chocolate. It’s fortified and oxidatively aged to give the wine rich nutty flavors and heft to complement the chocolate. Others, such as Port, Madeira and sparkling reds are fun to try as well. For more wine pairing ideas, see below!
how to taste chocolate and wine
The best way to go about the tasting is to sip the wine and note the flavors and the balance of sweetness, acidity and warming alcohol. Then take a piece of chocolate and let it melt on your tongue. Note the flavors, the texture and the balance of sweetness and bitterness. With the chocolate still coating your palate, take another sip of the wine and explore how the flavor and balance have changed. Is the wine more expressive? Less balanced? Is the chocolate more bitter? Note what you experience, and keep sipping, tasting, and enjoying! Just remember, there's no hard and fast rule for what wine goes with what food. Everyone has different taste buds and different preferences! Mix and match the wines and chocolates and see which you prefer. Below is a list of ideas for what to put on your chocolate board and a few different wines to try with them! Have fun!
what to put on the board
4 different chocolates: could be different levels of cacao, or even the same percent cacao from different countries
dried fruit: apricots, figs, tart cherries, raisins, dates, banana chips, candied ginger, candied citrus peel
roasted nuts: hazelnuts, pecans, almonds
fresh fruit: strawberries, orange segments, raspberries
cookies: biscotti, shortbread
wine pairing suggestions
oloroso sherry: nutty, dry, has enough character to stand up to dark chocolates (especially fun with hazelnut or almond studded chocolate)
ruby port or VDN from southern France (Banyuls, for example): sweet, intense and brimming with rich dried fruit flavor. Try with both milk and dark chocolates to see what you like!
ice wines (especially those made from riesling): fresh fruit flavors and high acid balances the sweetness of white chocolate
lambrusco: frothy sparkling red wines from central Italy that come in a variety of sweetness levels. If you have an especially sweet one, try it with milk chocolate! The drier the wine, the more it will complement darker chocolate.