During a layover on my flight back to San Diego my friend Erwin sent me a text asking what wines pair up with chocolate. I shot him back some traditional responses from the hip but on the last leg of my trip I thought it would make a good post to talk about this interesting pairing.
First off, I will have to address the issue in a somewhat general manner since there are both variations in a given type of wine and variations in the way chocolate is made (not only the basic dark/milk/white chocolate but various blends, nut or fruit additives, etc), that is, to be a bit technical, there are a multitude of taste profiles for both wine and chocolate which means no single wine will be a universal match. One good thing is that the same basic rules of food apply to chocolate, that is, you pair the wine to the body and sweetness of the chocolate. Dark and bittersweet chocolates go best with stronger red wines like Cabernets, Syrahs, and even Zinfandels, milk chocolates and some whites pair better with very light reds or sweeter white wines (the problem with pairing wine with sweet chocolate is that the wine should be at least as sweet as the chocolate or it will come off as tart).
That's it, the basic guidelines to follow. However, we can add a couple of excellent pairings that many people don't think about. If you want a sweet wine to pair with a rich chocolate you might try a Muscat. It has the balance and structure to pair with a richer chocolate. One of my favorite pairings with a good, rich chocolate is a Porto or Port (I tend towards a tawny but a ruby can go well too). Another fortified wine that is a little harder to fine but makes a wonderful experience with chocolate is Banyuls, a red wine made from Grenache and comes to us from Southwest France.
If you are looking for "Mike's List" of pairings it would appear something like this:
Bittersweet Chocolate: Banyuls, Cabernet Sauvignon (or a Bordeaux), Grenache, Port, Shiraz. If you want to be more adventurous try a Malbec or another fortified like Cognac.
Semisweet Chocolate: Beaujolais, Merlot (Argentina has been putting out some fantastic Merlot that goes well with semisweet and even milk chocolate), perhaps a spicy Zin to bring out some of the nuances of Chocolate. If you like fruit with your chocolate try an orange Muscat. Port works here as well.
Milk Chocolate: Muscat, a good Tawny Port
White Chocolate: A sec or demi-sec Champagne (especially if you are dipping strawberries in the chocolate), Muscat, and if you can find it Mas Amiel (a sweet wine from SW France... the Vintage Blanc makes an excellent companion to white chocolate).
Of course this is a start... we haven't addressed what if the chocolate has coconut or nuts in it (a Brachetto D'Acqui is a fantastic pairing here), cinnamon or chilies (a spicy Zin to accompany it, coax it out more perhaps), caramel (hmmm... maybe a Sauternes which is both rich and sweet)... I can go on but I think you get the point. Just think about what it is you're eating and trust your own tastes. As you eat more chocolate and drink more wine you'll build the list of tastes that will lead you to your ideal pairing... and who can argue with eating more chocolate and drinking more wine?