The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Pairing Wine and Chocolate

Posted on | February 23, 2010 | Written by Will Di Nunzio | 6 Comments

Once you grew out of peanut butter and chocolate, you probably learned to love the combination of wine and chocolate (of course, there’s nothing wrong with still loving the former, even if you come to love the latter). The problem is that there are just so many variations of chocolate; there’s milk, dark, and white chocolate; there are chocolates with fillings, chocolates with nuts, chocolates with fruit, chocolate candies, chocolate truffles, chocolate cakes and pies and tortes and chocolate fondue—it’s pretty much a death-by-chocolate world. There are seemingly infinite chocolate selections and thus arises the question of how to best plan pairings with so many chocolaty variations.

Fortunately, this problem is one that other people have pondered, and it’s one that you needn’t answer by yourself. During one of her visits to Italy, a friend and client of mine out in California was blown away by the artisanal chocolates she found there and was determined to bring them back to the US, even if she had to make them herself. We often spoke of her plans to craft these chocolates, and soon my friend had made good on her promise and started her own business. Being the wine lover that she is, she asked me if I had any ideas on pairing. Not knowing her product, I naturally responded, “I’d have to taste them!”

Last week she sent me a box of her chocolates with four different flavors. Excited about the possibility of eating delicious chocolates, and wanting to help out my friend, I immediately wanted to get to tasting. I pulled aside my colleagues Tida and Jane. “I need your help” I said to them. “How do feel about tasting these chocolates with me and come up with some wine pairing ideas?” Of course they accepted. 0ne could say we have a tough job here at IWM, but someone has to do it!

The Chocolates

Chocolate with Orange: if you are a regular reader, you’ll remember that we recently had a Grappa tasting with Jacopo Poli. His Moscato, a beautiful Grappa for drinkers new to the spirit, has gorgeous citrus notes that would complement the orange in this truffle. In addition, the high alcohol would cut through the richness and make this particular chocolate come alive.

Chocolate with espresso beans: this is one of my favorite combinations of chocolate. I love when you get a little piece of chocolate after a well-made espresso in Italy—it’s so good. And yet, this truffle was challenging at first. However, after much diligent searching, I found that many heartier reds from France can have notes of coffee, which is a great baseline note to set a foundation for the espresso beans. Still, I felt compelled to find an Italian wine, and I struck upon a well-structured, traditional Barolo or Nebbiolo, like one from Mascarello and Giacosa (two of the top Barolo producers in Italy). Barbera has notes of chocolate as well, which could work, as could Frappato from Valle dell’Acate (a Sicilian varietal and producer), a lovely wine with chocolate and berry notes and some spice.

Gianduia: not to sound like a broken record, but hazelnut flavors abound in Barolo along with other great earth notes. I’d go with an aged wine on this one to bring out that wonderful nuttiness enrobed in this particular chocolate. If you wanted to go with a white, I’d suggest that Angelo Gaja’s Gaia & Rei 2006 would be awesome with Gianduia.

Dark Chocolate and walnuts: this combination simply screams for Chardonnay—especially Italian Chardonnay. Italian Chardonnays hold less oak than those from California and show a little drier. A nice crisp and clean Italian Chardonnay would balance out the voluptuousness of the chocolate and provide a complementary tartness to the walnuts. I’d suggest more specifically a Chardonnay from our biodynamic friend Ales Kristanchic’s Movia vineyards. Movia’s more organic than organic methods give their wines a sensuous earthiness that would make those walnuts sing.


6 Responses to “Pairing Wine and Chocolate”

  1. Christy Canterbury
    February 23rd, 2010 @ 6:06 pm

    Compelling combinations! I have espresso chocolates from The Restaurant Guys at home, so I can study that pairing tonight. And, while I like aromatic whites and chocolate, I’ve never considered Chardonnay. I’ll get on that adventure very soon!

  2. Kerry-Jo
    February 23rd, 2010 @ 6:43 pm

    Don’t forget Brachetto d’Acqui! The quintessential wine/chocolate pairing!!! I also think Movia’s Ribolla would do quite nicely! yummm!

  3. Melissa Sutherland
    February 24th, 2010 @ 9:56 am

    Christy — I can imagine an interesting pairing of the espresso chocolates with the 1998 Castello di Ama Chardonnay that we tried last week. Also: Will, where can we find these chocolates? Share the goodness, tell us!

  4. Will Di Nunzio
    February 24th, 2010 @ 10:54 am

    I am looking forward to hearing more about what you think Christy, after all how much of a toll can “studying” for this sort of pairing be?? Nice suggestion on the Bracchetto Kerry-Jo, I often forget how much I love that wine!

    As much as I would like to keep it a secret and be selfish on this one (Jane and Tida know what I’m talking about), I think it’s mandatory that people get in on this. The answer to your question Melissa is simple:

    Auntie Früf’s Aahsome Füdge
    Tel: 818.422.1911

    Get in touch with Christine Hanson, the creator of these bites heaven.

  5. Christine Hanson aka auntie fruf
    February 24th, 2010 @ 3:33 pm

    Thanks for sharing our secret, Will. And thanks to all for sharing their pairing suggestions. I can’t wait to try these new wine ideas – as Will says, tough job, but someone has to do it.

  6. Kerry-Jo
    February 25th, 2010 @ 10:40 am

    Pierre Marcolini, a Frech Chocolatier, makes some of the best chocolates i’ve ever had!! Check out their website!!!

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