While pairing chocolate and wine (especially red wine) is a classically romantic notion, creating a combination that allow both components to shine requires thoughtfulness. The challenge lies in competing flavors and textures which risk overwhelming or clashing with each other. But a few helpful hints can help you navigate these two indulgences and bring out the best of each. Rather than directing you to specific wines or vintages, we instead offer advice that should allow you to walk into any wine store with confidence.
Two seemingly contradictory but actually complementary approaches are to make pairings a study in contrast, or a delight in symmetry. You can increase the sweetness of the wine to mirror that of the chocolate, or take the opposite approach and enjoy a drier, more tannic wine to contrast with a sweeter chocolate.
Before we offer two suggestions for each of our chocolates, one “compare and contrast” and one “like with like”, we have one overarching suggestion in choosing wines to pair with chocolate. You should explore different grapes and styles for wine and chocolate pairings than you would for a regular meal. While the vast majority of wine sold and enjoyed is still and dry wine, be it red or white, there’s an entire universe of wine styles out there, from bone-dry sparkling to lusciously-sweet fortified, that will bring out the best in our chocolates and expose your palette to lesser-known wines.
In order of ascending Cacao percentage:
Compare and Contrast: Our sweetest, creamiest chocolate would strike a smart balance against a dry sparkling wine. While Brut Champagnes are of course the classic of this category, comparative values can be found with Italy’s Proseccos, Spain’s Cavas, and sparkling wines from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Of course, we must suggest our namesake Scharffenberger Cellars Brut Excellence as an especially opportune pairing.
Like with Like: The creamy texture of the 41% Cacao milk chocolate would feel right at home alongside a rich Chardonnay which has undergone malolactic fermentation (the widely used winemaking technique which turns tart, malic acid into creamy, lactic acid). Julia Child was an early advocate for Scharffen Berger, as well as the Chalone Estate Chardonnay from California. Another good option would be a white Burgundy (also 100% Chardonnay) from the Côte de Beaune. Selections vary by region with imports, so a good wine shop is your friend in tracking one of these down.
Compare and Contrast: Outside the mainstays of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Gris lie what are often referred to as ‘Aromatic White Wines’. This grab bag of lesser known varietals, such as Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, and Gewürztraminer, offer exotic aromas and just enough sweetness to counterbalance the semisweet 62% Dark Chocolate. One charming and widely-available field blend of Aromatic white grapes is the Hugel Gentil from France’s Alsace region.
Like with Like: A ripe, fruit-forward new world red wine could go shoulder-to-shoulder with our 62%. Myriad wines fit this description, including Shiraz, Zinfandels, and Malbecs. Specific suggestions include Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz, Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel, or Clos De Los Siete Malbec.
Compare and Contrast: It’s time to enter the oft-neglected world of dessert wines. Port wines are made by adding neutral spirit to a red wine mid-process, which halts the fermentation process while the wine still contains a powerful punch of natural sweetness. Late Bottled Ports and Tawnies offer great values, including those from the reputable Churchill’s Port house.
Like with Like: A full-throttle red wine would stand up to this chocolate’s delicious bitterness. Stags’ Leap’s Petite Sirah is a outstanding and brawny wine, and Italy’s Valpolicella Ripassos, which are made from dried red grapes and offer both sweet and savory notes, would make for a sumptuous and complex pairing. Among others, Zenato is a consistently excellent producer of these unique wines.
Compare and Contrast: A classic pairing with foie gras and sweetbreads, Bordeaux’s Sauternes are among the world’s most coveted sweet wines, and made in painstakingly small quantities. Chateau d’Yquem is the gold standard (and priced accordingly), but a good wine shop should be able to help you find a similar sweet wine experience for a much friendlier price.