How to Pair Wine and Chocolate
Tis the season to answer Hallmark’s clarion call and spend our hard-earned money on their crap. Like lovesick little rats following a corporate piper we pay premium prices for already dead flowers, bad cattle call dinners, jewelry, and of course, chocolate.
All supposedly in honor of some Christian martyr, and since no one really knows which Valentine we are pretending to honor, that should probably read “some Christian martyrs, and the made-up legends that surround them.” And why do we honor this, um these saints on Feb 14th? Because the Romans used to kill a dog and a goat, skin them, make whips, get buck nekkid and whip their womanfolk on this date. Oh, those naughty, naughty Romans! Lest you think ill of these noble Roman men, it should be noted that these fine ladies lined up happily to be whipped. Kinky!
Somehow we’ve traded in all that kinky, whippy, naughty Roman fun for greeting cards. Greeting cards that we spend close to $20 billion on each year. Give me and a few of my friends that money instead and we’ll organize a party that’ll make those old Romans jealous, and we won’t be killing any dogs either. The goats better watch themselves though, I haven’t forgotten that box of popcorn they knocked out of my hands at the Toledo Zoo back in ’65. A man can’t let that kind of shit slide forever.
Two other things we spend money on in (allegedly) honor of the Valentines is wine and chocolate. In both cases, the good stuff tends to be a little costly. So, let’s get down to why you are here; you want me to tell you how to pair these two delicacies, don’t you? Well, here’s how to properly go about it:
First off, you have to eat your dinner or no dessert, right? Everyone knows that. No cheating, the Valentines are watching you! Make sure that it is a sumptuous, sensual feast befitting your beloved. Make sure that you have plenty of wine with the meal. Finished? Good! Oh look, you lovebirds drank all of the wine with your meal! Great, now what? Pour a nice dram of whiskey for each of you and dig into that chocolate! You have just successfully paired both your wine and your chocolate. Congratulations!
You see, wine mostly does not go with chocolate. I know, lots and lots of articles and blog posts are published every year that tell you otherwise. Guess what? They are written by people who don’t know what they are talking about, or even worse, by people who know better but are cynically lying to you. Just like those rich fucking bastards at Hallmark.
You see, there are rules for pairing food and wine. And the rule for pairing desserts is probably the one with the least wiggle room. I’m not a huge fan of rules as a, um rule, but some are necessary. I gave my kids a few when they were small. An example that stands out as one that I was pretty adamant about was that they shouldn’t run into the street and get hit by a bus. Pretty strict, I know, but I think it was a very helpful rule. The rule about dessert pairing is similarly helpful. This is it:
Your wine should always be sweeter than the dessert it is paired with.
As a good rule should be, it is simple, concise and highly effective. Start with that rule, add in other things we know about pairings and there is only one surefire wine and chocolate pairing. A nice port and some dark chocolate, the less sweet and more bitter the better. That’s it, the one and only generic wine with generic chocolate pairing that exists. Period. It’s an excellent one too.
I can see all of you out their dying to correct me. Comments ranging from “But I love eating chocolate with wine!” to “What about Champagne, it goes with everything?” I even used the latter on my good friend Iris the other day. We both laughed and conceded that point, but only because we’ve pushed that meme ourselves a little too far to walk it back now. Fact is, it may not taste bad to drink fine Champagne with chocolate, but since both are diminished by doing so, it can hardly be considered a successful pairing. Not in my book anyway.
On to the, “But I like it!” That’s wonderful for you. Amy likes wine and chocolate too. You’re both wrong. Sort of. Not that it’s wrong to do it, or wrong to enjoy it, it’s wrong to tell other people it is a good pairing. You may like pork gravy on lime jello too, but that does not mean that they go together. One of the reasons I learned to cook was because I had a sister who intentionally burned toast and thought meat should be crusty and bitter on the outside and perfectly dry and gray on the inside. Was she wrong to like her food that way? Not especially. Was it wrong of my mother to abdicate kitchen duty to go clubbing with my dad some weekends and leave my sister in charge of dinner? Damn straight. It was almost criminal.
Now, it is not impossible to pair a specific wine with a specific chocolate. I have actually had a successful pairing of a Chardonnay with chocolate. It was the result of lots of trial and error tasting by a good sommelier and a good chef in concert with a good chocolatier. They took the kind of flabby Chard that I typically hate and paired with a sickly sweet, but creamy milk chocolate that I also tend to hate. They broke the rule. The chocolate was way sweeter than the wine, but that cancelled out the overripe melon flavors and brought out some of what little acidity was left in the wine, which in turn made the chocolate seem less sweet. But I think that what really made it work was that the creaminess of the milk chocolate matched perfectly the creamy mouth feel of the overwrought wine. It was a very surprising success, and one that I have very unsuccessfully tried to recreate multiple times since. I have experienced other successes over the years, but frankly, there are better things to pair with both of them that work so much better and easier than trying to pair them together does.
Unless you really enjoy the trial and error required to pair unconventional items with wine, there is way too much work involved for a successful wine and chocolate pairing, even for most restaurants. Don’t waste your wine, your chocolate, or your money on this scam.
There is one more way to get chocolate and wine to make magic together that works very well. Take some beef tenderloin, USDA Prime, the best stuff you can get your hands on, get it as dry as possible then season it with salt, black pepper and a little cayenne pepper. Let it sit like that for a few minutes and then dust it with unsweetened cocoa powder. Shake and pat as much of it back off so that it just has a very fine coating. Sear it over high heat, serve as rare as you can stand and pair it with a big, dusty California Cabernet then watch the coffee, mocha and chocolate notes explode in your mouth.
There you have it, the unvarnished truth about chocolate and wine.
Happy Whipping Nekkid Roman Chicks with Dog/Goat Whips Day, everyone!