Strictly speaking, this post is not actually a pairing; it’s about what NOT to pair. As Valentine’s day draws ever closer, I know that every upscale food shop and even some less-than-scrupulous wine merchants might be persuading you to part with a fair whack of cash for a ‘decadent’, ‘luxurious’, or even worse ‘romantic’ package of Champagne and Belgian chocolate. But it is none of these things. In fact, it’s a pretty horrible combination. Shock! Horror!
So, why doesn’t it work, I hear you cry. Well, it’s back to the simple rules of food and wine pairing. Milk chocolate and white chocolate are very sweet, so a dry wine is not going to help – most Champagne is made in a dry, ‘brut’, style. You could try a sweeter style of Champagne, but I’ll get to that in a second. Secondly, dark chocolate is very bitter – cacao has tannins, like wine – and the bitterness will just clash with acidity in the wine. And Champagne has plenty of acidity.
*More about paring tips:
Now, the question is: what should you have on Valentine’s day to wash down those artisanal chocolates? Firstly, make sure the wine is sweeter than the chocolate. Some Champagnes, labelled ‘doux’ or ‘sec’ can be good with white chocolate, thanks to the low bitterness. Or try a sweet sparkling wine from elsewhere: Brachetto d’Aqui from Italy is red, and sweet.
*More about paring tips :
Then think about the weight of the chocolate – it’s usually pretty full and fatty, so the wine needs to match that. Champagne is not especially full bodied. If you have to have a dry wine, then Old Vine Zinfandel can work thanks to its richness, which can come across as sweetness on the palate. Still, to my mind, the best all round pairing for dark and milk chocolates are sweet, rich reds wines. I’m talking especially about Tawny and Ruby Port, Banyuls, or a Fortified Shiraz from Australia (d’Arenberg to an excellent one).
I know these alternatives might not have the supposed ‘prestige’ that Champagne has. But for the sake of two of the most wonderful products, don’t place them together.