Brushing your teeth and then taking a giant swig of orange juice — that’s how James Alford of Foxcroft Wine Co. compares the palate experience of badly paired chocolate and wine.
Yes, that comparison is shudder-inducing, and he’s not wrong. But that contradicts the marketing.
Look anywhere wine and chocolate are sold the few weeks before Valentine’s Day, and you’ll see images of red wine and chocolates suggested as the perfect gift for your loved one.
The obvious message, likely devised by a marketing team without any wine-pairing knowledge, is that all red wine and dark chocolate taste good together.
“Wrong,” Alford says.
It’s the “all” part of that statement that presents the problem, because it’s only some red wine that pairs nicely with a dark chocolate truffle, he says. The most commonly assumed pairing of a dry red with a sweet bite, however, is contrary to the science behind which flavors enhance each other.
“It’s important to make people understand we’re talking about something that is actually scientific,” he says.
Breaking it down simply, tasting an almost no-sugar drink with a high-sugar dessert won’t improve either one, and in fact, will cause an unpleasant sensation that may make you think you really don’t like the wine you’re tasting.
“One thing with a lot of sugar and one with almost no sugar don’t pair well together,” Alford says.
The result will bring out the tannins and acidity of the wine to an uncomfortable level for most people. The solution, Alford says, is to pair a sweet thing with the other sweet thing — in this case a sweeter red wine with a chocolate truffle — which will cause the sugars to essentially cancel each other out and then allow you to taste the other flavors in the wine or chocolate.
Elizabeth McDaniel, owner of LaRue Fine Chocolates, has some guidance for those wondering what they should pair together for the quintessential Valentine’s Day gift, with some consideration for people’s tastes.
“I think people should do whatever makes them happy,” she says. “If having a highly tannic Napa Valley cab makes you happy, then do it.”
But, she says, if you’ve had that toothpaste-and-orange-juice experience, there are some points to consider, and she’s spent the last several years homing in her recommendations.
At the end of February, McDaniel is opening her first brick-and-mortar chocolaterie in the Poe West development in the Village of West Greenville. A main purpose of the shop and bar is to pair her handcrafted high-end chocolates and desserts with alcoholic beverages.
As for wine, she says to look for zinfandels, grenache-based blends, and syrahs/shirazes that are on the jammier side for the sugar balance. In addition, maybe look for a sweeter white wine, as well, she says.
“I think that some bubbles go really well with chocolates that are on the more biscuity side,” she says, offering another option.
Wine, however, isn’t her top recommendation to go with chocolates.
“Bourbon or cognac are my favorite to pair with chocolates,” she says.
She often holds beer pairings, as well, and recommends porter and stout beers along with milkshake IPAs that work well because of the lactose content.
Those pairing beverages and food take into account fat content, the sugar content, the residual sugar in the alcohol and the tannin level of the wine, but the science doesn’t negate personal taste.
“Everyone’s taste buds are different,” McDaniel says.