To all you boyfriends and husbands out there: it's that time of year again. Valentine's Day is fast approaching, which means that you'd better get thinking about what you're going to give the lovely woman in your life. Sure, there are the old standbys like a dozen roses or a nice dinner out, but the gift that will truly wow her is something a little more original and personal. If she's like me, she'd like nothing better than a box of good-quality chocolates and a bottle or two of wine to enjoy with them. Choosing the chocolates and wines you think she'll like best is fun and creative, and shows that care and thought went into your gift. If you play your cards right, she might even let you share!
Matching wine with chocolate can be an intimidating task, especially since no two experts seem to agree on pairings. But luckily, many of the same rules that guide us in pairing wine with food can help us decide which wines might go best with which chocolates. Just like in food pairing, the most important consideration is balance. You don't want either the wine or the chocolate to overpower the palate, so pick wines and chocolates of similar intensities.
White Chocolate: The extra sweet, delicate flavors in white chocolates respond well to wines that enhance their buttery qualities, like Sherries or Muscatos. Though experts often recommend pairing chocolates with sweet wines, I find that this matchy-matchy approach results in a cloyingly sweet tasting experience. The combination of a sweet wine and a sweet chocolate can be overwhelming to the palate, making it difficult to pick up the more subtle flavors in both the wine and chocolate. If you feel the same way, try a Pinot Noir or a mellower Merlot with your white chocolate--the key is to pick a wine that isn't too tannin-heavy or acidic.
Milk Chocolate: Milk chocolates provide perhaps the widest range of possibilities for pairing. If you prefer to pair the chocolate with a sweet wine, try a Muscat, a Riesling, or a sweeter sparkling wine. Dessert wines and port wines, especially Ruby Ports, are a classic pairing for milk chocolates, as the richness and heaviness of a port blends well with the creaminess of milk chocolate. And if the milk chocolate you've chosen happens to surround some succulent strawberries, don't mess with something perfect--choose champagne!
Dark Chocolate: Some women (including me) feel if it isn't dark chocolate, it isn't really chocolate at all. If your significant other doesn't have much of a sweet tooth or loves strong, rich flavors, she might prefer chocolate of the dark and decadent variety. Dark chocolate needs to be served with a wine that can match up to its strong flavors. The higher the percentage of cacao in the chocolate, the stronger the wine needs to be. Ports are a great choice on the sweeter side, but I find that dark chocolate pairs best with bold, spicy reds. Try a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Zinfandel for a truly mouthwatering flavor combination.
For a unique tasting experience, try a chocolatier that specializes in unique flavors. Chocolates made with chili powder or filled with goat cheese ganache are unique and interesting, and their savory flavors can break up the sweet-on-sweet monotony.
If you want to give something a little different, pair your wine choices with a chocolate souffle, chocolate mousse, or chocolate cake, either chosen at a great bakery, or (for the especially intrepid) homemade.
For an especially romantic gift, consider setting up a private wine and chocolate pairing session, just for the two of you. Pick a variety of wines and chocolates and taste all the variations. Besides encouraging great conversation and a romantic mood, this method will let you and your sweetie discover your favorite flavor pairings.
See some of our suggestions for Valentine's Day wine pairings.