Two of Peter Ranscombe’s favourite topics are brought together at last as he explores chocolate and wine matching.
FEW combinations strike fear into the heart of a drinks writer like wine and chocolate; if the wine isn’t sweeter than the chocolate then the liquid will taste bitter but go too sweet and the result will be a cloying mess that coats the palate.
A classic pairing is with the sweet red wines of Maury or Banyuls from the South of France or with the sweeter styles of Valpolicella from Italy.
Port can also be a good match, whether it’s the fruity ruby style or the tawny style that’s come into contact with air to create caramel flavours.
Regular readers of the Wine to Dine column in the printed Scottish Field magazine will know I’m also partial to pairing dry red wines with chocolate, including Chilean carménère and some softer cabernet sauvignons.
This week’s chocolate and wine pairing workshop run by Diana Thompson at Wine Events Scotland opening my eyes to a whole world of new pairing opportunities, with only a single dessert wine featuring in the tasting.
Thompson teamed up with Juan Santelices from Pacari Chocolates of Ecuador to demonstrate how a broad range of wines can be matched to different chocolates.
They opened with a pair of sparkling wines, with a 2014 Greyfriars Vineyard Sparkling Rosé Reserve (£21, greyfriarsvineyard.co.uk) matched to a chilli chocolate and a Zonin Prosecco Dress Code Black Edition (£14.50, The Wine House Hotel 1821) accompanying a lemon verbena bar.
The pink fizz was full of ripe strawberry aromas on the nose, with more savoury raspberry notes on the palate to balance its crisp acidity; adding in the chocolate – which was peppery at first and then full of fiery heat – made the raspberry flavours stand out more prominently for me.
On paper, the intense lemon flavours in the prosecco should have been a marriage made in heaven with the lemon verbena chocolate, but it was the only pairing that didn’t really hit the spot for me, with the chocolate accentuating the wine’s acidity.
On the other hand, the 2017 Goldwater Sauvignon Blanc (£11.99, Majestic Wine) was a real winner in my book, with the passionfruit-infused 60% cocoa solids chocolate bringing out the fruitiness of the wine, which on its own had a great depth of flavour to match its characteristic sharpness.
Another great match was the 2015 Domaine Viticole de la Ville de Colmar Clos St Jacques Riesling (£13.99, Majestic Wine) alongside the ginger and chai chocolate, with the intense citrus flavours in the off-dry wine emphasising the tingling heat of the ginger.
Moving onto the reds and the 2013 Domaine Les Hautes Cances Cairanne Cotes du Rhone Villages (£25, Davys Wine Merchants) tempered the intense saltiness of the Cuzco pink salt and cocoa nibs bar.
Perhaps the stand-out wine on the night was the 2016 Original Series No 1 Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot (£7, Aldi), offering great value with its roast meat, smoke and black fruit aromas and fruiter blackberry, blackcurrant and raspberry flavours, while the limited edition 70% cocoa Tangara chocolate brought out the smokiness and red fruit notes in the wine.
The 2009 Corbellicce Vin Santo del Chianti (£9.99 for 500ml, Lidl) made my 2017 Christmas wines list and so it was a delight to see its honeyed almond nuttiness being paired with a “goldenberries” – or physalis – bar, which dialled back the nutty notes in the wine and emphasised its sweetness and balancing acidity.