Say “I Do” to the Marriage of Wine and Chocolate
My little purse shaped box of truffles my mother sends to me every year arrived in the mail the other day. Valentines Day has been a tradition she upholds every year, and chocolate is the love she sends.
Chocolate, roses, and now wine have become symbols of love that we share with people we care about. And Valentines Day has deep roots in history; just as wine and chocolate do.
So why do wine and chocolate have such an affinity for each other? It lies in the tannins in the wine and chocolate… that bitter dark flavor; and in the flavonoids that give both their antioxidant qualities.
But Valentines Day is about love and romance not chemical compounds. So why does chocolate and wine in combination make your emotions soar?
Chocolate melts at body temperature, so the feel of the chocolate melting in your mouth garners an emotional response, but there is more to it than that. Caffeine is the most well known of the chemical ingredients. Theobromine, a weak stimulant, is also present, in slightly higher amounts. The combination of these two chemicals may provide the “lift” that chocolate eater’s experience. Perhaps the most controversial findings come from researchers at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, California. They believe that “chocolate contains pharmacologically active substances that have the same effect on the brain as marijuana, and that these chemicals may be associated with chocolate craving.”
With wine you try to compliment the flavors you smell and/or taste as you swirl the glass. “Floral with a hint of milk chocolate”, or “dark robust chocolate, heavy in the nose”, are not just the whims of adjective hunting wine writers. Many Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlots have that dark chocolate flavor from the tannins leached from the skin of the grapes as they are crushed.
But not all red wines are a good match for chocolate, and even though champagne is romantic it doesn’t do chocolate justice either. Late harvest wines, dessert wines, and ports are good choices.
Here are a few I like to match with my mom’s chocolates.
Riesling is grown in many places, but does the best in its native Germany and in California. The Riesling grape is believed to be indigenous to Germany, and has been planted there since the fourteenth century. Riesling is a sweet but complex white wine that is great as a dessert wine. It often has fruity and floral flavors. It’s great with rich milk chocolate or a white chocolate mousse.
Merlot used to be mainly a red blending wine. Soft and compliant, it was used to mix with cabernet in the French Bordeaux wines. Recently, though, it has been discovered as an exceptional wine in its own right. Not quite as harsh as other reds, mellow but still complex, merlot is a perfect match for dark chocolate or coco powder infused walnuts.
Cabernet is one of the most popular wines on the market. Cabernets can be mellow and mild, hearty and rich. It has a deep red color, with the primary taste often being black currant. Other overtones can include blackberry and mint. Traditionally aged in oak, the wine also takes on an oaky, vanilla flavor. I like serving Cabs with a chocolate fondue and fresh berries.
Port is fortified wine from the Douro Valley, Portugal. The term “port” can only refer to these wines, much like French regions lay claim to certain areas like “champagne”. Port first became popular when the English were at war with France, and could therefore not drink French wines. Port goes well with any kind of chocolate, but local chocolate maker, Isabella Zanger’s, wine-filled chocolates add a little extra “lift”.