Most of the chocolate Americans eat isn't chocolate but hydrolyzed cocoa powder suspended in corn syrup–laced saturated fat. But among consumers able and willing to pay the price, there's a growing realization that real chocolate—hold the milk, easy on the sugar—is a fabulous food product on its own. And since the same high-enders are also given to sopping up more than their share of wine, the question arises: Does wine go with chocolate? And if so, which with which?
Real deals Even with the dollar sagging like a wet clothesline, some of the biggest bargains on the wine market still come from southern France. The venerable French négociant Barton & Guestier has just released a slug of varietal bottlings from Languedoc—the swath of Mediterranean coastline between the Pyrenees and the Rhône. The 2002 cab and chard are unexceptional, but the merlot and syrah are immensely pleasing young wines, with fresh-fruit aroma and seductive smoothness on the palate. Neither is going to impress a connoisseur, but for someone seeking a more than agreeable bottle at a bargain price—about $7!—both are best buys, and should be available in well-stocked supermarket wine departments everywhere.
The standard formula for wine with dessert—a sweet dish calls for even sweeter wines—doesn't work that well for chocolate. Chocolate's flavor comes in large part from compounds called phenols, which also occur in red wines, extracted along with the color from grape skins. This common ingredient makes red wine a natural match for chocolate—but not just any red wine.
On their own, phenols are more or less bitter, which is why unsweetened chocolate is almost uneatable for many people. But along with phenols, wine contains both glycerines and alcohol, both of which bias our taste buds subliminally to lessen the bitterness of the phenols.
Acid, on the other hand, emphasizes bitterness. That's why white wines, devoid of phenols, can get away with much higher acidity than red wines and still remain palatable. So the rule would seem to be: For matching with chocolate, look for wines high in alcohol and moderate to low in acid. Port and amontillado sherry among fortified wines should work, Madeira and Tokay shouldn't.
And so it is, up to a point, but there's so much variation in sensitivity to phenols from person to person that such a rule's just not good enough. (I, for instance, can drink and enjoy Chablis with chocolate, a combination that would make most people's mouths pucker up like a Bull Durham sack.) Really the only way to find out what works for you personally is to sample a lot of wines along with a lot of different chocolates.
And this very week, you can do just that, and for a mere $5. Puget Consumers Co-op's Jeff Cox is putting together a range of wines both red and white to sample against premium pure chocolate—from makers such as Valrhona and Cluizel—and with ganaches (blends of butter, cream, and chocolate) from Essential Baking Company's organic confectionery. The event takes place Thursday, Feb. 12, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the old Redhook Brewery building at 3400 Phinney Ave. N. in the Fremont district. The brewery was recently acquired by Essential to house its rapidly growing chocolate business.
Armed with your new knowledge and confidence, you'll still have a full shopping day to assemble a Valentine's pack of wine and chocolates with which to blandish the object of your affections. Remember, both wine and chocolate are said to be aphrodisiacs: What synergy might there be in the combination?
Reservations for the chocolate and wine tasting can be made at 206-547-1222 ext. 185.