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‘What’s the best wine to pair with chocolate?’

Master Sommelier Isa Bal shares his suggestions for pairing wine with chocolate, and explains the kinds of sweet wines that marry up well with white, dark and milk chocolate flavours

chocolate wine pairing

In our Ask the Sommelier series, we’re putting your wine-related questions to the world’s top sommeliers. In this instalment, head sommelier and co-owner of London’s Trivet, and Michelin’s Sommelier of the Year Isa Bal explores the best wines with chocolate.

‘I love chocolate, but I struggle to drink wine alongside both chocolate on its own and in desserts – should I be reaching for a sweet wine to complement the dish, or go more leftfield with something that will cut through the richness?’
Sabrina from Paris, France

isa bal
Master Sommelier and IWSC judge Isa Bal says you'll need to find wines that match the intensity of the chocolate in question

Sommelier Isa Bal responds:

‘I think that some people perceive pairing wine and chocolate as being challenging, but it’s probably just because they have no real experience of pairing it successfully. It’s not really any different to matching anything else, you just need to find the right wine. However, if you’re struggling with pairing and the chocolate in question is in a dish among other components, you could focus on the overall flavour of the dish rather than the chocolate by itself.

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‘When it comes to pairing chocolate and wine, it depends what type of chocolate you’re trying to match to the wine. For a milk chocolate dessert, like a warm souffle or that style of chocolate pudding, a sweet red, like a black Moscato would be quite good. If you’re looking to pair wine with bitter chocolate, like dark chocolate or untreated dark chocolate, then I think maybe a young vintage port with some sweetness but with considerably more structure is the best way to go. At Trivet, we’ve paired a beautiful chocolate and caramel dessert with a Sandeman Quinta do Vau 1999 (or even an Old Fashioned cocktail). Milk and dark chocolate are quite different, with the lighter body of milk chocolate-based dishes versus the structure of dark chocolate dishes. The wine must match up to the intensity of the type of chocolate.

Tannin-rich wine styles with lots of structure and a full body won’t work so well with milk or white chocolate

‘You’ve also got to take the level of sweetness into account as well. For dark chocolate, the bitterness needs to be balanced out with a sweet wine, but for a milk and white chocolate you could go slightly less sweet for your pairing. There are things that you can do to the dish to aid the pairing, too, like add a little salt to the chocolate in the dish to accommodate the sweetness from the wine.

chocolate
Isa Bal: 'For dark chocolate, the bitterness needs to be balanced out with a sweet wine. For milk and white chocolate, you can go slightly less sweet'

‘For very milky and white chocolates, you could consider matching it with a Madeira wine or perhaps a Sauternes that’s turned almost brown with age. The flavour profile of these wines matches well with chocolate – the structure, the mouthfeel and the general flavour profile is quite like those milkier styles of chocolates, and so they complement each other well.

‘You need to make sure the wine isn’t too heavy for milk and white chocolate; tannin-rich styles with lots of structure and a full body won’t work as well here. But for a slightly different chocolate pairing option, you could try a fortified red wine from the South of France.’

Interview by Louella Berryman

Do you have a question to put to the world’s top sommeliers? Send them to editor@cluboenologique.com