Chocolate & Wine Pairings

Pairing wine with chocolate sounds like a match made in heaven, but the wrong pairings can leave a bitter taste on your palate. However, the right coupling can create a euphoric experience for your taste buds!

A general rule of the thumb when it comes to wine and dessert pairings is to select a sweeter wine than the dessert. While this is a good start for creating exquisite wine and chocolate pairings, there is plenty of gray area and personal preference also comes into play.

One of the most important things to think about when pairing wine and chocolate has to do with tannins. Dark (bittersweet) chocolate  with a high cocoa content has more tannins than milk chocolate. Tannic chocolate and tannic wine compete for the same palate space leaving behind a somewhat chalky, unsavory taste on your mid-palate. If you love dark chocolate,  opt for a sweeter dessert wine like Sauternes or Banyuls. If you love a drier red wine, choose fruit infused dark chocolate and a fruit forward red wine with integrated tannins like a Zinfandel. The fruit filling will bring out the fruit notes in the wine.

Here are a few wine and chocolate pairing ideas that will please even the pickiest palates. For a fun get together, host a wine and chocolate night at your house with some of these classic pairings.

Champagne – For an ultimate pairing, think white chocolate covered strawberries, white chocolate caramel apples or white chocolate shortbread. The fresh baked brioche characteristics in the bubbly provide a perfect complement to the shortbread and the high acidity is the perfect counterpoint to the creamy white chocolate. Looking for a budget friendly sparkler, grab a Vouvray Demi-Sec or Prosecco.

Riesling – This is unexpected and delicious when pairing with dark chocolate covered ginger or a milk chocolate bar with stone fruit and nuts.

Zinfandel – A youthful fruit forward Zinfandel can provide an interesting pairing with fruit infused milk chocolate and milk chocolate covered bacon.

Sparkling Brachetto – A sweet Italian dessert wine with notes of sweet raspberry and rose petals is decadent with just about any chocolate. The Rosa Regale paired with chocolate covered strawberries, dark chocolate raspberry truffles or chocolate cupcakes is a match made in heaven!

Port – A ruby port paired with chocolate peanut butter cups will create a nostalgic experience. The combined flavor profile will be reminiscent of an adult PB&J. A tawny port with notes of caramel and fig paired with milk chocolate covered graham crackers will create a taste sensation similar to a Twix bar.



Getting to Know Your Palate

Getting to know your palate can be a big key to understanding your love of wine. Do you ever wonder why you select the same wine time and time again? Do you love sweet Moscato and can’t bear the thought of ingesting a heavy dry red or do you love a big bold Cabernet Sauvignon and simply refuse to sip on a Riesling?

There are many things that contribute to your personal palate preferences. Understanding a few things about your palate will make that next wine choice a little less daunting and it may even expand your love of wine.  With more than 5,000 varietals to explore, life’s too short to drink the same wine all the time.

Getting to Know Your Palate?

First of all, keep in mind there is no universal palate. The average person has 10,000 taste buds.  Our sense of taste is actually our weakest sense.  Much of the enjoyment we experience with a glass of wine is actually derived from our sense of smell. Researchers estimate that 80-85% of our sense of taste comes directly from our sense of smell.

This chart shows where our specific taste buds are located. We taste sweet with the tip of our tongue. Many people confuse sweet with fruity. Don’t be fooled. Think of a Chardonnay from Australia or Chile for example. You will most likely experience a lot of fruit like apples, lemon and pineapple, but this wine will have a dry finish.

To determine what style of wine you might like, think about your preference when it comes to tea and coffee. Do you drink oolong tea or espresso straight up? If so, you probably enjoy the tactical sensation of tannins that tend to be more pronounced in red wines.  Reach for a red like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Barolo and Brunello.


If you like your tea or coffee with a little cream, you probably like your tannins more on the smoother side with a silkier feel, so reach for a Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier or Grenache.

If you reach for the sugar and cream, you just might like a Riesling, Moscato, Vouvray, Sauternes or Port.

So what are tannins?

Think triple”T”. Tannins, tongue & teeth.

Tannins come from the grape’s skin, seeds and stems and can also come from oak aging. You feel tannins on your tongue and teeth. It can sometimes feels like sandpaper or it can have more of a silky texture. In the wine world, you will hear everything from chewy tannins, grippy tannins, rugged tannins to smooth tannins.

Think about a cup of tea. If you leave a tea bag in too long, you wind up with bitter tannins. The only way to counteract that sensation is to add milk or cream.  Lemon will only make it the tea seem more bitter and sugar will leave you with a bitter sweet taste in your mouth.  This is why you often see cheese paired with tannic wines. It cuts down on the rugged texture and smooths out the tannins.  You can try this exercise at home. Purchase a youthful Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 or 2011 in the $15-$20 range and drink a sip and let it linger on your palate. Think about how that sensation feels. Then take a piece of cheese (aged cheddar, gouda or blue cheese) and try the wine again. You will notice a big difference on your tongue.

Check out Master of Wine Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan’s The One Minute Wine Master, for a fun read to learn more about your palate preferences in 60 seconds or less.

Understanding why we taste what we taste is a great way start to appreciating different types of wines. Always let your palate be your guide, but don’t be afraid to drink “outside the box”!