I am a chocolate fanatic — a love that I share with many other Italians. Italy, after all, is the birth place of Ferrero Rocher, Nutella, Kinder Eggs and hosts Eurochocolate, the largest chocolate festival in Europe, in Perugia each spring. According to a report by the CBI Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Italians consume about 4 kg of chocolate per year. This most certainly confirms that I am not alone in my adoration of this sweet treat. And as a wine lover, the topic of Italian wine pairings and chocolate often comes up.
Italy has a plethora of artisan chocolatiers and local chocolate boutiques in every region, keeping sweets as exciting as when I was a child. You will find chocolate in every form and style, from oversized chocolate easter eggs wrapped in metallic foil to cold-processed chocolate from Modica. In addition, Italy is home to desserts like the frozen tartufo, Capri’s flavorful torta caprese and bonet, a rich chocolate pudding from Piedmont’s Langhe region. And who could forget gelato al cioccolato?
At a very young age, my mind swirled with images of chocolate bars and today as an adult, I eat a bite of chocolate every day. If the call of chocolate rings in your ears this month, why not pair it with a glass of wine? The marriage will heighten your sensory experience.
How To Pair Wine and Chocolate
The secret to pairing wine and food is matching the weight and flavor-profile, so you complement what you’re eating and drinking without overwhelming either one. In the case of pairing wine with chocolate, you want to match the sweetness of the chocolate with the sweetness of the wine. Chocolate is the key here — determine how sweet your chocolate bar or dessert is, then find a wine to pair with it.
Pairing wine and dark or bittersweet chocolate
Dark chocolates, which Italians love most, have a higher percentage of cacao and possess a bitter, more tannic nature to them. Tannins give that mouth-coating, puckering sensation — the same taste when you drink espresso without sugar. Therefore, you want a wine that has a higher tannin structure to it. These wines include Primitivo, a dry red which hails from Puglia, or the dessert wine Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG, a wine once enjoyed by the Ancient Romans, which is now made by selecting the best bunches of grapes which are left to dry for 3-4 months.
These wines can stand up to the tannins in the dark chocolate. My favorites are from Cantine Miali Primitivo, a budget friendly wine of the Miali family which has been making wine since the late 1880s. I also like the Corte Rugolin Recioto della Valpolicella, currently run by brother-sister duo Elena & Frederico Coati who manage a vineyard that dates back to the 1600s.
Pairing wine and chocolate with fruit, like cherry, orange or raspberry
Brachetto is my go-to with fruit-laced choices in dark chocolate. This is a light, slightly effervescent Italian sweet red wine from Piedmont with sweet cherry, raspberry and strawberry notes. Brachetto, the name of the grape, produces a beautiful frothiness in the mouth. Lambrusco, a sweeter or fruit-forward style, is also a good partner with dark chocolates that are filled with fruit. Another slightly bubbly Italian wine, Lambrusco often shows red and black cherry, plum and raspberry notes that dovetail well with the chocolate’s sweetness. Be careful not to select an overly dry Lambrusco as it will be too austere to marry with the chocolate.
Pairing wine and milk chocolate
Milk chocolate has a soft, creamy texture to it with lower tannins and bitterness than dark chocolate. Its velvety, round mouth feel allows it to work well with the luscious, mouth-coating Vin Santo, a classic Italian dessert wine predominantly from Tuscany. The richness and flavors of caramel, cream and hazelnut found in the wine stand out when paired with milk chocolate.
Vin Santo (translated as “holy wine”) is rich in history, and is thought to have been used during Mass in Catholic churches. There is great variability in taste from one Vin Santo producer to another because of how the wine is made. The dessert wine is usually made with Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes in Tuscany and Umbria, although producers in other regions use grapes indigenous to their areas.
Once the grapes are harvested, producers then lay them on straw mats, or hang them to dry, in a warm ventilated area for 3-6 months. As the juice of the grapes evaporates, the sugars in the fruit become concentrated. The result is a sweet, viscous dessert wine with a glistening golden amber hue. Vin Santo is a delicious way to end a meal, and perfect for pairing with milk chocolates or dipping with twice-baked cantucci biscuits.
My go-to selection is the Felsina Vin Santo del Chianti Classico.
Pairing wine and white chocolate
One of my favorite chocolates is white chocolate, with its creamy, mouth coating texture. The list of wines to pair with white chocolate is immense. A slightly sweeter style Moscato is my top choice, as the wine’s light, fresh vibrancy doesn’t overshadow the white chocolate. The two are synergistic, with textures and flavors bouncing off each other. The grape Moscato can produce a sparkling dessert wine in many different styles, from dry to very rich and sweet. I like Vietti Moscato d’Asti with its fresh apricot and peach notes with a vibrant acidity.
What’s your favorite wine to pair with chocolate?