Best Wine with Chocolate (and why!)

Wine with chocolate is one of the most popular food pairings out there. It’s simple to understand why. Wine and chocolate are both delicious, so why wouldn’t you want to pair them together? However, just as there are many different types of wines and chocolates out there, there are also many different ways in which you can go about pairing them.

I’ve put together some tips on how best to match your wine with your dessert.

Wine with Chocolate? Really?

I hadn’t really considered it as a pairing until someone sent me a gift of Champagne & Chocolates from Fortnum & Mason a few years ago. It was something of an epiphany for me and a wonderful gift to receive. I often gift it to others myself now. Champagne with chocolates is great but this opened my eyes to how many wines can pair with chocolate.

There’s no better way to enjoy your favorite chocolates than with a glass of wine in hand, which is why it’s the perfect combination for a Valentine’s Day date or a romantic evening at home.

Pairing with Chocolate

Choosing an appropriate pairing isn’t as simple as finding someone who likes both food groups. Chocolate lovers tend to prefer sweet wines while others prefer dry ones but that doesn’t always work.

There are many ways people pair wines with desserts. From simple choices like serving red wine with dark chocolate truffles all the way up through complex pairings involving some serious research and experimentation.

Let’s take a look at how we pair wine with chocolate.

First off, which Chocolate?

There are many chocolate types but there are two main categories that cover most of what you find in the market. Milk chocolate and dark chocolate. You will find both with other added flavors.

Milk Chocolate

The most common type of chocolate is Milk chocolate. It is usually sweet and creamy with a mild flavor. It’s made from cocoa solids, sugar, milk powder, and other flavorings like vanilla or coffee.

Milk chocolate is also less expensive than dark chocolate because it doesn’t take as many cocoa beans to make it. It also has a higher percentage of sugar and fat than dark chocolate. The higher percentage of sugar makes it sweeter and creamier, but also less flavorful.

Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate has a higher cocoa content than milk chocolate and is significantly more bitter. It’s also richer and more flavorful.

The flavor of dark chocolate can range from fruity to earthy to nutty depending on what kind you’re eating. There are countless combinations out there so there is guaranteed to be something for everyone.

Pairing With Milk Chocolate

Milk chocolates are better matched with sweeter wines. So, if you’re pairing it with milk chocolate, the wine should be a bit sweeter.

If it’s milky, creamy sweetness you’re looking for, then a dessert wine like Sauternes or Tokaji is an easy choice. Both are made from white grapes and aged in oak barrels.

Unlike Port, they don’t get fortified with brandy. Instead of adding anything to the wine after fermentation, Sauternes is bottled at a high alcohol level and spends years maturing on its lees (the yeast cells that remain after fermentation) in large wooden vats called foudres.

The resulting liquid is sweet but not cloying thanks to the presence of tannins from the skins of red grapes used during fermentation. These lend body and structure to what would otherwise be an overly delicate beverage.

Sauternes

My favorite is Sauternes. If you’ve never tried this before you are in for a treat.

I recommend you try one of these excellent examples:

2014 Chateau Suduiraut

Producer tasting notes: “Château Suduiraut 2014 has a deep golden yellow colour and is still restrained in its expression. The first nose reveals oaked notes of toasted hazelnut, followed by white flowers, spices such as ginger and white pepper, and finally very ripe yellow fruit. The wine is full in the attack and continues in rich and fresh form on the palate. Aromas of yellow peach, roasted pineapple, ginger and preserved lemons mingle in a long, unctuous whole. The finish is absolutely delicious, lingering for a long time with honey and spiced notes.” – Chateau Suduiraut

2017 Chateau Rieussec

Producer tasting notes: “Beautiful pale gold color. The initial nose offers remarkable depth. Aeration reveals the complexity of truly great years. All the characteristics are present: freshness, precision, and purity. On the palate, the wine presents an impressive combination of power and finesse. The finish is tremendously long and harmonious. As is often the case in exceptional vintages, the sweetness is masked by the wine’s balance. A magnificent Rieussec that is already sublime and will still be so in ten and many more years’ time.” – Chateau Rieussec

2019 Chateau Coutet

A less expensive Sauternes than the others but no less a wine for it.

Expert tasting note: “A rich, golden, sweet wine with ripe stone fruit and Smokey, sulfurous notes on the nose. On the palate concentrated, ripe apricot fruit is lovely & juicy. The wine is full-bodied & has a superb rich texture. Alcohol is in balance & despite the fresh acidity the wine finishes sweet.” – 6/20 DCAMW

Tokaj

Tokaj is much less well-known than its French counterpart but equally delicious. It is produced from Furmint, a grape indigenous to Hungary. The grape dries first before undergoing alcoholic fermentation with native yeasts. Rather than being forced by sulfites as most other wines are done these days.

Like Sauternes, it ages for several years and is then bottled at around 6 percent ABV. When consumed on its own or paired with chocolate-based desserts such as cakes or puddings, this makes for an incredibly satisfying experience.

Since this article is all about the ‘Best’ wines for chocolate, I have included the absolute best for completeness, irrespective of price. I have also included some more reasonable, excellent value alternatives.

Here is the best Tokaj you will find:

Royal Tokaji Essencia

Probably the best you can buy but it is expensive.  If you can find it, expect to pay the best part of $2,000 a bottle.

Critic tasting note: (2003 vintage) “Surprisingly subtle, yet maddeningly complex, this is a rare treat to unravel slowly, sip by sip. Sweet and honeyed on the nose with scents of freesia, orange peel, and stone fruit, but accented with just a hint of sun-dried hay. The palate is deeply concentrated with undulating waves of honey, beeswax, and fruit, but balanced with striking tangerine acidity. Remarkably long on the finish.” – 94/100Wine Enthusiast

Back in the real world, you can try these other excellent examples for a fraction of the price of the Royal Essencia:

2017 Royal Tokaji ‘Szt. Tamas’ Aszu 6 Puttonyos

Critic tasting note: “This wine comes from one of Tokaji’s most famous vineyards. It is light amber in color with heady aromas of honeysuckle, freesia, beeswax, and honey. It has pleasant heft on the palate and there are intense flavors of tinned peach, clover honey and apricot conserves. It is a well-made and well-balanced wine that ends on a sweet note and makes you want to go in for another and another, sip. Drink now–2050. Jeff Jenssen” – 99/100Wine Enthusiast

2013 Hetszolo Aszu 6 Puttonyos

Critic tasting note: “Aromas of caramelized pineapple, tinned peach, and honeycomb prepare the palate for flavors of dried apricot, orange zest, and English toffee. This is a well-balanced wine with good acidity and a touch of saline in the persistent finish. Drink now or through 2043. Jeff Jenssen” – 98/100Wine Enthusiast

Pairing with Dark Chocolate

In general, darker chocolates will pair better with dry wines. The reason for this is that the tannins in the wine will help to balance out some of the sweetness in the chocolate. It’s important to note that this depends on how dark your chocolate is. If you’re using very dark chocolate, like 70% cacao or higher, then you may want to pair it with a sweeter wine so as not to overpower it.

If you prefer the dark stuff and want something more bitter, caramel-y and with a dry finish then it’s better to pick a red.

A good choice is Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux blends as they are full-bodied but not too heavy. Merlot is also good (particularly in France), as is Zinfandel (especially from California).

Here are the best of each:

Cabernet Sauvignon

Substance ‘Cs’ Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

From the winery itself, “Classic Cabernet Sauvignon. Currant, blackberry, cigar box with touches of chocolate, cedar, and pencil lead. Full flavored & just so damn good. I should raise the price!”

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet

This Sonoma California wine is laden with deep garnet colors, flavors of black currant jam, rose petals, and chocolate, with an enticing nose of cassis, blueberries, tobacco, tarragon, and roasting coffee. The seamless palate begins with ripe berries, follows with a full-bodied mid-palate, and ends with a long, savory finish with fine-grained, well-integrated tannins. With proper cellaring, this wine will give drinking pleasure through 2031. Pairs perfectly with grilled salmon, roasted duck, veal, venison, or mushrooms.

Flat Top Hills Cabernet Sauvignon

This is a rich, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon. It is distinctly dark fruit on the palate with cocoa and vanilla notes. It has gentle spices like nutmeg and cassis. The finish is smooth, long, and velvety.

Bordeaux

2019 Duffau-Lagarrosse Chateau Beausejour

This wine is harvested from old vines grown in chalky clay soil, which delivers a distinctive wine. It opens with a fruity bouquet of raspberry and blueberry with hints of plum, chocolate, and spice. It is also fruity on the palate. Rich, medium to full-bodied, beautifully balanced, and a wine that will age well if cellared.

2020 Chateau Mangot Cuvee Todeschini ‘Distique’

A great value authentic Bordeaux. It is ruby red in color with aromas of black and red berry fruit. It has notes of cherry, vanilla, and oak. This is a dry, medium acid, medium alcohol Bordeaux with good tannins.  Another that will benefit from aging.

2018 Errazuriz Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve

Looking beyond France’s borders for some value, this Chilean red is bold and exceptional.  It is deeply ruby red in color with an instant smack of blackberry and cherry.  It has notes of oak with chocolate, black pepper, and a little spice. It has good acid and the finish is velvet smooth. Outstanding wine.

Merlot

Mayacamas Mt. Veeder Napa Valley Merlot 2019

This mountainside Napa red, from the historic estate Mayacamas, has 5% cabernet franc in the blend that seems to lift the herbal notes on the nose. Bright blueberry fruit is balanced by savory mushroom and pencil-lead flavors that are brilliantly held by the acidity and fine firm tannins that will allow this to age.

Arietta 2019 Merlot “Hudson” Carneros Napa

The 2019 Merlot Hudson Vineyard is full of dark fruit, chocolate, and other savory notes that add complexity to the wine. The wine has a fruity bouquet, with aromas of fresh blueberries and raspberries mixed with vanilla and oak.

Château Lyonnat Emotion, Lussac Saint-Emilion, 2016

The wine’s deep and intense ruby color is accented by a powerful nose with aromas of black fruits, blackcurrant, and darker berries. Notes of toasty oak lend complexity to an already complex bouquet. 

The wine’s aroma and flavor are bold, yet elegant. The woodsy scent of truffles lingers on the palate after each sip is swallowed.

Zinfandel

Journeyman Wines, San Lorenzo ‘The Pearl’ Old Vine Red (Alexander Valley)

A floral bouquet with notes of tobacco and anise. This is a bold, full-bodied red

It has rich flavors of chocolate, with dark fruits and pepper. Velvet smooth mouthfeel and a tannic finish. Let it breathe before serving.

Hartford Family Winery Hartford Dina’s Vineyard Zinfandel

Hartford Russian River Valley Zinfandel presents aromas of ripe plum, blackberry, and black cherry. White pepper and allspice add complexity to this wine’s fruity bouquet. A burst of blueberry, raspberry, nutmeg, and chocolate flavors leads to a long-lasting finish.

Carlisle Papera Ranch Zinfandel 2020

Another excellent Zinfandel from Russian River, California. 

Ruby-red in color. On the nose, it is bright cherry with aromas of blackberry and raspberry with notes of vanilla and tobacco. It is medium-full-bodied and very smooth on the palate. 

White Chocolate

It is better to pair white chocolate with sweeter wines. You should note that white chocolate is not actually real chocolate. It is more like a candy in that it has no cocoa solids and very little cocoa butter content. Also, white chocolate will generally pair better with fruity wines than dry.

Port with Chocolate

Another option is Port, which can have a real depth of flavor and work well with all sorts of chocolate. The wine has a balance of sweetness and acidity, and many producers make both sweet and dry wines that are equally good with chocolate.

The best way to choose your Port is by the vintage: for example, an older vintage will be more complex than the younger version (the quality will also depend on the year).

Port

Try out these excellent examples:

Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port

Expert tasting note: (1985 vintage) “The wine is starting to lose its deep red color & become quite brickish. The aromas are at a mid-point between plumy & pruney red fruits & dried fig & date. There is an overlaying of spirit & chocolatey notes. There is good sweetness, but its richness & freshness help to balance this. The wine has fresh plummy fruit & a rounder, more developed, figginess. The alcohol is warming & rounds out the finish. There is a lovely long complex finish.” – 06/20 DCAMW

Fonseca Vintage Port

Critic tasting note: (2017 vintage) “(2020) A youthful solidity to this, pure, vinous plum and cherry black fruits, gorgeous silkiness and the sheer concentration of the components – fruit, tannin, and acid – are going to give this terrific longevity surely. Price quoted is per bottle, but most retailers are offering in-bond, and by the six-bottle case at time of review.” – 95/100Tom Cannavan

W & J Graham’s Single Harvest Tawny Port

Critic tasting note: (1994 vintage) “Bottled in 2018 after nearly 25 years in wood, this wine is sumptuous with its rich toffee and spice flavors. They contrast with the hints of fresh acidity from the wood aging, giving a dry core to the mature sweet fruits. The wine is completely ready to drink. Roger Voss” – 95/100Wine Enthusiast

Conclusion

Wine with chocolate is one of the most luxurious and fun pairings there is. Chocolate and wine are the perfect match. It’s like peanut butter and jelly or ham and cheese, except better! The two go together so well that they’re almost impossible to separate once they’re introduced to each other. They’ve been around for centuries and will continue to be eaten together long after we’re all dead and gone.

There are plenty of options for pairing wine with chocolate. I’ve covered some of the basics here, including different types of chocolate and how different wines work with each one. My personal favorite is Sauternes, probably because I have a sweet tooth.

It doesn’t stop here, the combinations are almost endless. The next time you are entertaining you can really impress with these pairings. Or perhaps you can create a unique gift combination. It is a wonderful gift to receive. Gifttree.com offers a really nicely packaged Silver Oak Cabernet and Chocolate Pairing.

If you like sweet dessert pairings then take a look at my other article on the Best Wine with Cheesecake and the Best Wine with Pumpkin Pie.