How To Pair Wine with Chocolate

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines

Pieces of green and brown chocolate in a pile

Whether you’re hosting an informal get-together or a formal dinner party, you want to make sure your wine and food go well together. Wine and chocolate can pair very well, but how should you pick the wine? As you’ll see, you need to consider several factors, especially style, weight, flavor and sweetness.

Why Create Wine and Chocolate Pairings?

Wine and chocolate both have their devotees, and they can become an unstoppable force when combined. Why does this combination have so much potential?

For starters, their fermentation process uses the same species of yeastSaccharomyces cerevisiae. Of course, different strains of this yeast create different tastes depending on where the chocolate and wine are produced.

Chocolate and wine are both known for their intense flavors, and both contain polyphenols with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The polyphenols in chocolate are typically flavonoids (with the highest amount being found in dark chocolate). Those in wine, as you know, are tannins.

However, what makes chocolate and wine well-matched can also drive them apart. Not all wines work with all chocolates, and vice versa. Trying to match a highly tannic wine with an extra dark chocolate will only lead to a bad taste in your mouth. Bitter does not like bitter.

Here are our tips for how to make the best wine and chocolate pairings.

Tips for the Best Matches

Think Sweet

You’ll have the most success when you match your chocolate with an equally or slightly sweeter wine. This doesn’t mean you need an intensely sweet wine, but you should aim for a wine with residual sugars to help balance out the flavonoids and intensity of the chocolate.

Late-harvest whites, fruity reds and blends, and fortified wines are usually at the top of the list.

Identify the Flavors

Like wine, chocolate is complex. A piece of chocolate won't have just one flavor; instead, it will reveal many layers as you enjoy it.

Wine can reveal flavor notes like plum, berries, dried fruits, nuts, spices, earth, and forest herbs. Those flavors can be found in chocolate as well. In general, it's a good idea to pair wines and chocolates together that have similar flavor notes.

What about chocolate that's flavored with something else, like ginger, orange peels, mint or sea salt? You’ll want to find a wine with notes that complement the added flavor, such as orange/citrus with ginger, spices with mint, and berries or spices with sea salt.

Match the Weight

It’s best to match lighter-bodied wines with less intense chocolate and heavier-bodied wines with more intense chocolate. Trying to pair a bold red wine with white chocolate or even mild milk chocolate will immediately overpower the chocolate’s silky texture and flavor.

Move from Mild to Intense

If you want your party or dinner event to include a wine and chocolate tasting, you’ll want to start with the white chocolate and end with the dark chocolate. White has the sweetest, most subtle flavors. Starting mild will let your palate appreciate the increasing intensity of the chocolates (and wines).

Chocolate Types and Their Ideal Wines

White Chocolate

This type of chocolate lacks cocoa. It consists mainly of cocoa fats that make for sweetness and a silky smooth texture. White chocolate pairs best with sweeter white wines, demi-sec or doux white sparkling wines, ice wines, sweet rose and lighter-bodied reds.

Dark Chocolate

The most decadent type, dark chocolate has varying cocoa levels that can make it increasingly bitter as the percentage approaches 100.

Dark chocolate is also the most difficult to match without experiencing bitter aftertastes. Wines that pair well with dark chocolate include fortified wines, fuller-bodied jammy or spicy red wines and aromatized wines.

Milk Chocolate

Milk chocolate is a luscious combination of cocoa and cream, making it the most versatile of the three. It can pair with both the wines that go with white chocolate and those that match with dark chocolate.

Milk chocolate also makes a good pairing for red sparkling wines, fortified wines, light- to mid-bodied reds, white wines and ice wines.

Wine Pairing for Chocolate: 9 Outstanding Matches

Below are some of the best wine and chocolate pairings. Of course, keep in mind that everyone's palate is unique. You might enjoy combinations that others find mismatched.

Red Zinfandel and Dark Chocolate

The dark jammy fruit notes of red Zinfandel, along with its licorice, spice and smokiness, marry well with the bold flavors of dark chocolate.

Ruby Port and Dark Chocolate

The luscious dark fruits, cinnamon and chocolate notes of ruby port, especially longer-aged versions like Reserve and Vintage, make this an ideal pairing.

Pinot Noir and Milk Chocolate

Pinot noir has a lighter body and softer tannins that won’t overpower the creaminess of milk chocolate. Its red fruits and sweet florals make a good match for the milder taste of the chocolate.

PX Sherry and Milk Chocolate

Many types of Sherry are dry, but Pedro Ximenez (PX) Sherry has plenty of concentrated sugars, cocoa notes, honey, syrup and jammy fruits. PX Sherry is an ideal pairing for a creamy milk chocolate.

Ice Wine and White Chocolate

The sweet taste of ice wine is an excellent companion to white chocolate's sweetness and silky cocoa fats.

Moscato and White Chocolate

This white sparkling wine, with its honeysuckle, orange blossom and pear notes, has enough residual sugars to pair exceptionally well with white chocolate.

Tawny Port and Chocolate with Nuts

Tawny port has a heady mix of caramel, toffee, cinnamon and nuttiness that brings out the best in chocolate with tree nuts.

Syrah/Shiraz and Chocolate with Mint

Rich in blue and purple fruits, Syrah also has hints of chocolate and herbs like mint and eucalyptus – making it the go-to choice for a piece of minty chocolate.

Merlot and Chocolate with Cherries

Merlot has plenty of red fruits and acts as an excellent companion to chocolate with cherry pieces.

For personalized assistance in chocolate and wine pairing, or to seek out additional wines for your collection, feel free to reach out to us at JJ Buckley Fine Wines for wine consultation service.