Pairing Champagne and Chocolate: Concept vs. Reality
You might think a bubbly would enhance the tannins in chocolate to disconcertingly bitter notes. That’s not to say a successful pairing can’t be done.
By John Kirkpatrick
"Isn’t it rich? Aren’t we pair?" The late Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics from “Send in the Clowns” offer a fairly concise summary about sparkling wine and chocolate. It sounds like a no-brainer pairing for a romantic matchup for Valentine’s Day. And indeed, it is, although it turns out that many wine experts think this duo, like the star-crossed lovers of Sondheim’s song, is one of the more difficult pairings of food and wine.
It’s well established that a dry, full-bodied red wine pairs well with dark chocolate, like cabernet sauvignon or zinfandel with black forest truffles; it might seem, then, that pairing a big brut bubbly would work with that truffle too. Like a big juicy bacon cheeseburger is an ideal pairing with sparkling wine because bubbles and fruity acidity cut through the fatty meat and cheese. But despite that logic, a bubbly would enhance the tannins in the chocolate to disconcertingly bitter notes.
That’s not to say it can’t be done.
How to Pair Champagne and Chocolate
The key to making a pairing of champagne and chocolate work is to start with a sparkling wine that is sweeter than the chocolate and of a similar body to the chocolate in question.
Sweet sparkling wines aren’t as readily available as extra-dry or brut sparkling wines, so what one looks for are sparklers that are labeled “demi-sec” or “doux”.
Sweet Sparkling Wine Brands
On the high end, Laurent-Perrier or Vieux Cliquot produce demi-sec and sweeter pink champagnes; pink or rosé Champagnes are tinted by pinot grapes. On the low end, one might look for Mumm or Andre brands.
Italian spumante and moscato are effervescent, lighter bodied, and sweeter than the grand vinifera grapes and should be considered for pairing with chocolate. They would pair well with that Valentine's Day specialty, chocolate-dipped strawberries, for instance.
Bubbly Pairings for Chocolate: Milk, White, and Dark
Milk chocolate is an abundant and popular pick for desserts and snacks; with its lower tannins and higher sugar levels it is more pliant when pairing, and a late-harvest German white wine like a sparkling reisling or sparkling Gewürztraminer will partner well with milk chocolate.
Creamy and sweet white chocolate is primarily cocoa butter, and the lower-alcohol Italian and German sparklers will tickle your palate with the smooth chocolate. Look at a specialty sparkler like blue champagne or almond sparkling wine for some celebratory fun with white chocolate.
Dark chocolate is the most challenging for pairing, with its tannic qualities and low sweetness. Something like a sparkling shiraz, an Australian invention, brings a bit of spice with its heavier body.
Go Forth and Pair
To recap: choose a sparkling wine that is sweeter than the chocolate you’re trying to pair; and match lighter-bodied chocolates with lighter-bodied bubblies, and heavier-bodied (darker) chocolates with full-bodied grape sparklers.
Cuisine’s choice, for instance, for this Valentine Pots de Crème would be a spumante or Moscato d’Asti — both of which have lower alcohol and acidity and are enjoyably inexpensive.
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