Wine and chocolate seems like the perfect combination—two beautiful concepts wedded to create gustatory bliss. And it can be that way. The right chocolate paired with the perfect wine can create a near-orgasmic taste experience. But the wrong wine opposite a too-sweet chocolate creates nothing but horror. A bad pairing can turn an otherwise fabulous dessert to tree bark and a rare vintage to battery acid.

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So what’s the right choice if you’re standing in BevMo looking for something to pair with milk chocolate bunnies stolen from the kids? How do you choose from a great wine list the best match for the pastry chef’s chocolate decadence?

According to Chris Walker of Léal Vineyards, your best bet is to pair like to like. “Chocolate and Wine both have complex flavors. Pairing them together can be tricky. A good rule of thumb is to try and match a wine’s sweetness with the chocolate’s sweetness,” she says. Consider both the residual sugar and fruit-forwardness of any wine you’re pairing to chocolate. Wines with a lot of residual sugar work well with sweeter chocolates, while a big fruit-forward red wines can work as a daring combination with a dark chocolate that’s on the bitter side.

Specifically, try sweet whites such as Rieslings and Gewürztraminers paired with sweet light chocolates. A nice German Riesling might be a perfect accompaniment to pilfered milk-chocolate Easter eggs.

For a bold statement, substitute a Cabernet for the usual dessert wine with a bitter-chocolate molten cake. Léal’s Cabernet Sauvignon is more fruit-forward than most, and makes a good chocolate accompaniment. A. Rafanelli Winery of Sonoma offers potent dark chocolate bites between tastes of their jammy boutique Zins and fruity Cabs.

Dessert wines and chocolates are a natural match. Late harvests, ice wines, and botrytis-infected wines can all pair well with chocolate desserts. Port and chocolate is a classic combination. But beware—older, earthier ports tend to be less sweet, and can turn sour if a sweet chocolate sucks the fruit aromas from the wine.

Chris also knows what to steer clear of. “Avoid the dry wines that don’t have residual sugars. I can’t think of anything chocolate that would pair well with Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio or Chenin Blanc,” she states.

A great place to learn to pair wine with chocolate is at Rivers of Chocolate, an annual charity event held in Saratoga, California. Chocolatiers, chefs, and wineries come from all over California to celebrate the joy of chocolate. Winemakers bring their best chocolate-friendly vintages. Brownies, cakes, cookies, and of course chocolate fountains surrounded by dippable strawberries and marshmallows are only the beginning. Food offerings range from unique savory dishes incorporating chocolate (think chocolate barbecue sauce) to every type of truffle imaginable.

Attendees are given a wine glass as they enter the festival, and can make their own choices as to which wines work best with which chocolates as they progress from booth to booth. Friendly winery staff are always helpful and will answer any question, and often point guests toward the tidbits they think pair best with their wines.

But don’t get too daring. While the rules of wine pairing have become much looser in recent years—reds being served with fish and whites with slathered racks of ribs—the chocolate dessert course is not the place to go hog-wild. The wrong combination sucks all the delicate fruit from the wine and leaves nothing but harsh acids. Stick with the classics for a smooth, delicious wine-and-chocolate experience.

Want to Visit Rivers of Chocolate?
Sunday, April 29th, 2007, 1:00pm to 5:00pm
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