National Chocolate Day 2015: Chocolate and Port Pairings with Tim Gaiser, Master Sommelier
In preparing for National Chocolate Day on October 28th, Tim Gaiser, MS, gives us the lowdown on Chocolate and Port, as he pairs some of America’s most beloved chocolate with a selection of Ports from Sogevinus’ historic portfolio.
I have a very difficult job here in front of me. My immediate task is to “taste” chocolates across a wide range of styles—from mass market commercial brands like Hershey’s and Snickers to artisan bars from Ghiradelli and Valrhona – and suggest pairings with ports from the well-respected Sogevinus, a firm with a lot of outstanding Port producers/houses. I know what you’re thinking: it’s a tough job but somebody has to do it. You would be right. But before we get to the nitty gritty here are two thoughts about chocolate and wine pairing:
- The golden rule about sweet wine and dessert still applies. That rule states that the wine has to be sweeter than the dessert—in this case chocolate—or both wine and dessert taste bad.
- The chocolate-Cabernet thing: pairing chocolate with a red wine like Cabernet Sauvignon seems to be somewhere between urban myth and a universal rule. I’ve done more than a few chocolate and wine pairings over the years and in reality half the population when pressed to eat and drink both together find the experience to be tough love. Why? Because everyone’s tolerance of bitterness varies widely. Cacao, the magic ingredient in chocolate, is tannic, bitter, and astringent just like the bitter even astringent tannins found in red wines like Cabernet. Add bitterness in chocolate to the bitterness in the wine and the bitter factor doesn’t increase linearly–it compounds, much to the delight of some and to the aversion of others. That’s why a fortified sweet wine like port will be better with chocolate than red wine almost every time. Now to the tasting and wine recommendations.
- Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar: surprisingly sweet with a waxy texture. More milk/dairy flavor than chocolate. Needs a wine to match the sweetness but also with a bit of tannin so the pairing won’t be cloying. A young tawny port like the Barros 10-Year-Old would work well.
- Dove Bar, Milk Chocolate: it says “Silky Smooth” on the wrapper. I think the cocoa content probably hovers around 15% here, if that. Not as sweet the Hershey bar but close. Pairing? White port along the lines of Kopke 10-Year-Old White would be delicious with it.
- Snickers Bar: there’s a lot of other “stuff” in a Snickers bar aside from milk chocolate in the form of peanuts, caramel, and nougat. The bar is rich, not overly sweet, and has a great texture. No wonder Snickers bars are the number one selling chocolate bar on the planet. Pairing? An aged tawny port but not too old; the 2000 Cálem Colheita will do nicely.
- Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup: combining peanut butter and chocolate is one of mankind’s greatest achievements. With the Reese’s cup we’re dealing once again with milk chocolate and considerable sweetness but tamed by the peanut butter. An aged tawny—20 years or older—would be perfect. Try the Burmester 20 Year-Old-Tawny.
- KitKat Bar: milk chocolate again with the crunchy—and very sweet—wafers. I didn’t recall KitKat bars being so sweet but this is right up there with the Hershey Bar. A glass of chilled white port would work well. Try the Kopke 20-Year-Old White Port.
- Ghiradelli “Intense Dark”60% cacao. Now we’ve moved over to the big leagues in terms of chocolate quality and cacao intensity. With 60% cacao content the Ghiradelli bar is medium-sweet at best with some serious flavor intensity along with tannins on the finish. Pairing: the Ghiradelli bar needs a good late-bottled-vintage port like the 2009 Cálem LBV.
- Valrhona “Le Noir Amer”71% Cacao: serious chocolate from one of world’s top producers—and the best thing you can possibly do with $2.99 at Trader Joe’s. This bar completely nails a perfect balance of fruity chocolatey sweetness with the bitterness of cacao and just a touch of bitterness. The finish/aftertaste is very long, persistent, and delicious. Pairing? Something with medium sweetness and more than a bit of tannin like the 2011 Kopke LBV.
- Valrhona “Le Noir Extra Amer” 85% cacao: this is grown up chocolate and by far the most intense entry of the entire tasting. There’s just barely enough sweetness to counter balance the rich, earthy, and bitter cacao notes. The finish is miles long and very persistent. Any wine paired with the 85% Valrhona not only has to match the overall intensity of the chocolate but also have enough sweetness and tannin to match the same elements in the bar. Best to look for a new release of vintage port or LBV like the 2012 Kopke Quinta de São Luis.
About Sogevinus Fine Wines
Sogevinus was Portugal’s first Port company, owning the four classic houses of Kopke, Burmester, Cálem and Barros. Focused on producing high quality Port and Douro D.O.C. wines, their goal is to promote dynamism and excellence from the vineyards to the consumer’s table. As leaders in the category of rare Colheita Port wines (single vintage tawny style Ports), with wines dating to the 1600s, Sogevinus also places a large emphasis on tourism to their stunning steep-sloped wine region in northern Portugal.
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