(Entertaining)

Is Wine & Chocolate For Valentine’s Day Cliché? Experts Says No

Why the pairing is so iconic.

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wine and chocolate

There are, arguably, a handful of clichés worth avoiding on Valentine’s Day; namely those in the over-the-top gesture category. But as it pertains to food and beverage, there’s little reason to avoid the classics, wine and chocolate for Valentine’s Day being one of them. Both signal a mood of unbridled relaxation and unapologetic indulgence, concepts that can be equally enjoyed regardless if you’re single, taken, or somewhere in between. Pouring a glass of your favorite wine and nibbling on a melt-in-your-mouth style of chocolate is among the more romantic things a person can partake in.

This year, celebrate the timelessness and versatility of a wine and chocolate pairing with the aid of a few key industry experts. Below, hear from a master chocolatier, a chef, and a winemaker as they weigh in with their useful (and mouthwatering) insights on the topic. From helpful context on the science behind why wine and chocolate are so perfect together, plus a few pairing ideas (both classic and nontraditional), their advice will help make this Valentine’s Day your tastiest yet. Warning: Stomach grumbles ahead.

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Good Chemistry

You’ve probably heard of wine and chocolate as a pairing before you could even legally drink a glass of wine, but why is this duo so iconic? “Wine and chocolate pair so well because they possess similar properties and characteristics from growth to harvest,” Master Chocolatier Phillip Ashley Rix tells TZR. “Both are heavily impacted by terroir, rain levels — or lack thereof — overall climate, and harvesting technique.” Take dark chocolate and Cabernet Sauvignon as an example. “The two share similar flavor profiles that are directly correlated to the fruit, the fermentation process, and conching (chocolate) and barrel (wine) stages,” Rachel Haggstrom says. The executive chef at The Restaurant at JUSTIN explains that chocolate or cocoa beans possess similar aromas found in grapes, ranging from fruity and citrusy to floral, cheesy, and nutty. “When fermented cocoa is dried and roasted, the nutty, roasted, caramel, spicy, earthy, and floral molecules develop in a similar way as wine does when aged in barrels. Both chocolate and wine can have high levels of acidity and in both of their processes, methods are used to lower the acidity level and balance out flavors.”

Rules to Follow and Rules to Forget

Pairing wine and chocolate should, above all else, be a low-stakes experience and while there’s room to play and experiment (more on that in a moment), there remain a couple of ‘rules’ to keep in mind to avoid an imbalanced palette. “I often say regarding any food and wine pairing: pair might with might,” Scratch Wines Winemaker and Owner Sabrine Rodems says. “You don’t want a big wine and a light, soft food or vice versa, they will just clobber each other. The same goes for chocolate and wine pairings.” Taking it a step further, Haggstrom explains that you can discover new combinations by finding wine and chocolate that share similar flavors or textures. “The key is finding pairings that play together in a way which allows the two to balance each other out." Beyond that, just go for it Rodems says. “I think as long as you follow the general might with might premise you can use any wine against any chocolate. The key is to try them out! Have fun with it.”

Classic Pairings

In the realm of wine and chocolate pairings, dark chocolate and red wine is about as classic as it gets, Rix notes (in fact, all experts agree this is the clear winner for the most classic category). This is because foods that have a bitter effect (like dark chocolate) will make your wine taste fruitier, resulting in a balanced and enjoyable duo. If you had a milk chocolate with, say, a tannic Cabernet Sauvignon, it might make your wine taste drier and more bitter than desired. “The richness and spiciness of the wine and the chocolate follows our general might with might idea and their flavors complement and synergistically work with each other to bring out nuances,” Rodems adds.

Unexpected Combinations

Now on to the fun stuff: If you’re ready to take your wine and chocolate pairings to new heights this Valentine’s Day, there are several creative ideas to surprise and delight your taste buds. “I actually think high acid whites pair well with milk chocolate,” Rodems explains. “The acidity helps balance the sweetness of a milk chocolate and the richness of the mouth.” Another white wine pairing worth indulging in is a Viognier and white chocolate. “Both the chocolate and the wine have white floral and tropical notes and a bright acidity, all of which are balanced by a creamy, textural element,” Haggstrom shares. “In the wine, this comes from time on oak and sur lie aging. In the chocolate, it comes from the milk and high levels of cocoa butter.” And if your interest is piqued by an unusual red wine and chocolate pairing, Rix nods to his French Bleu Cheese white chocolate truffle.

At Fleur Sauvage Chocolates in Sonoma County, Robert Nieto and his team specifically craft bonbon and wine pairings that often lead to surprising outcomes. “Some of our best pairings have been juicy Chardonnays or other white wines paired with our Meyer Lemon White Chocolate bonbon or our Orange Honey White Chocolate bonbon,” he says. “Rosé often pairs beautifully with our Strawberry Jam and Rosewater Ganache bonbon and our spicy Mexican Chocolate bonbon goes nicely with some white wines as well. We have also paired Lavender Caramel, Rosewater Caramel, and Molasses Chicory with Zinfandels and Pinot Noirs — each tasting experience is unique and unexpected.”

Wine and Chocolate For Valentine’s Day, a Cliché?

An understanding of why wine and chocolate complement each other no doubt lends context as to why it’s a preferred pairing. But why is it synonymous with Valentine’s Day? Haggstrom points toward treating wine and chocolate as an indulgence to love and appreciate. “Chocolate should melt in your mouth, allowing the flavors to develop, which is a slow process and meant to be savored, similar to enjoying wine,” she says. “Time with a loved one, as with chocolate and wine, should be time spent relishing in each moment — how better can one describe and embrace romance?”