Wine & Chocolate!

~ by Jenny Benzie Advanced Sommelier + Certified Wine Educator, Proprietress of Épernay Wine & Spirits ~

You love finding the time to curl up on your beach blanket under your wide brimmed sun hat and reading a book from any one of the esteemed authors that you met during the Nantucket Book Festival. Later in the week, you’ll enjoy the social aspects of your book club gathering that may discuss your latest read, but more importantly revolves around the wines you choose to toast and share with each other during such a jolly occasion. Taking it to the next level to create a perfect trifecta would be including another decadence that so many have a fondness for: chocolate.

On tasting wine & chocolate together:

There are a handful of key points to make the most of your wine and chocolate experience. First and foremost, keep an open mind about what it is you are sampling when it comes to the chocolate or the wine. Think about the structure of the chocolate, which includes the texture, consistency, and sweetness/bitterness, along with the flavor profile of the wine, such as the fruit, earth and mineral components, when choosing a perfect pairing. The weight and flavors of the wine and chocolate should be similar not contrasting as in some traditional food and wine pairings.

Take a small sip of the wine to coat your palate. Nibble on the chocolate and let it soften in your mouth. Wait a few seconds to let the flavors speak to you and think about the texture of the chocolate as it reaches its melting point in your mouth, then take a small sip of the wine again.

Wines are able to compliment and bring out the unique flavors of chocolate with each sip of wine and bite of chocolate. Here is a quick guide to finding that perfect pairing that will match your wine affinity while taming your chocolate craving (book suggestions not included). To keep it fresh and local, all of the chocolates mentioned are from Sweet Inspirations Chocolate Shop located in summertime-bustling downtown Nantucket at Zero India Street. Their products represent balanced flavors, textures and levels of subtle richness carefully hand made and packaged into beautiful offerings, the same that you would seek in your wine selections. While you can order from an assortment of bespoke Nantucket inspired gift tins full of artisanal chocolates from their website, you would be missing out on their warm in-store hospitality where you are cheerfully greeted with a complimentary tasting of their exclusive Cranberry Creations and the opportunity to create your own selection of assorted chocolate creations for sharing, gift giving or personal consumption. Coco the Whale Milk Chocolate Truffles – The soft, creamy interior of whipped milk chocolate and cream inside this delightful whale shaped truffle (almost too cute to bite into) leads itself to a fragrant floral, tropical fruit driven white wine that has low acidity and matches the texture of the chocolate.

A traditional, old-world style Viognier from France, with its fresh apricot and plush flowery bouquet, along with honeyed caramel and hints of vanilla on the smooth, lingering finish, would pair well with the taste of this smooth chocolate morsel. If you prefer a dessert wine, aim for a late-harvest or fortified port-style Viognier, this time a new-world representative from California, Washington or even Australia, that is also low in acid, not too high in alcohol and that will enhance the caramel flavor in the chocolate.

Cranberry Creations in Dark Chocolate – This signature dark chocolate covered plump cranberry would be complimented well by a wine that matches the depth on the palate of the generous chocolate and the concentrated tart yet juicy flavor of the fruit encased inside. Look for a domestic ‘Old Vines’ 100% Zinfandel from a moderate climate, such as Sonoma County, that does not display an aggressive amount of alcohol. Another suggestion would be a wine from Ribera del Duero, a region located north of Madrid in Spain. This region highlights the graceful grape Tempranillo. Look for a wine aged for at least one year in oak, falling into the Crianza aging level. Both of these wines are from thin-skinned grapes that have limited tannins to fight with the heartiness of the chocolate, while highlighting the bright red fruit characteristics that can be found in each wine. Neither of these wines should see a heavy hand of oak, and both should be a pure expression of what the grape varietal and terroir have to offer.

Mexican Dark Chocolate Truffle – This chocolate calls for a deep, dark wine that is robust, full of dark cherry, blackberry or plum fruit and has a slight peppery finish. Hints of vanilla from a small amount of oak usage without too much tannin or alcohol would lead us to a Malbec or blend from Argentina. The depth of color and character, along with the slight ruggedness of these wines, will complement the terroir-influenced flavors of the chocolate. If you prefer to pair this chocolate with a dessert wine, it would call for a traditional Ruby port. This fortified wine is rich, full-bodied and not as sweet and syrupy as what you might think of for a traditional dessert wine, although it is very high in alcohol. Delicate aromas and flavors of black plums and dark cherries complement the dusty components on the finish of the chocolate.

Cranberry Cheesecake Truffle – While you wouldn’t necessarily think of pairing cheesecake and red wine, the combination of the flavors and texture of this creation need a substantial wine to hold a candle to it. The richness of Right-Bank Bordeaux that is Merlot based, with a moderate amount of oak aging, would complement well with the complex flavors of this signature truffle that has a soft, mild cheesecake filled center covered by robust dark chocolate and topped with a dried cranberry. On the domestic side of wines, the fascinating earthiness and concentrated fruit flavors of the chocolate that are not too sweet will match the lingering finish of ripe fruit and well-integrated oak of a domestic Merlot or Merlot-based red blend, proving to be seductive, velvety and graceful, yet firm.

This is just a beginning and small sampling to the unique, delicious wine and chocolate pairings that await you and your book club. The ultimate pairing to get you started on your next novel with mouthwatering wine and chocolate discoveries would be a magnum size gift bag of the Cranberry Creations Duo (milk AND dark chocolate) paired with a magnum size bottle of red wine. Perhaps someday you might even write an award-winning book about your experience to share with the rest of the wine drinking, chocolate loving world.