Words: Angela Mount "Its a tough job, but someones got to do it" is the phrase that sprung to mind when I set off on a quest to find out whether wine and chocolate could live together. Easter is looming and that means chocolate, and lots of it, so it seemed the right time to put this to the test.
Can the two co-exist? I'm delighted to say that the answer is yes, but choose with care. Just like wine there is great chocolate, but there is pretty horrible, gloopy muck, full of greasy cocoa butter, and not much else too - if that's what rocks your boat, I'd stick with a cup of tea to accompany it.
There is a world of exciting, artisan-crafted chocolate out there - from all over the world. I recently co-hosted a wine and chocolate pairing evening, with Spencer Hyman, who is as passionate about chocolate as I am about wine, and has set up an online subscription business for true choc lovers called Cocoa Runners. He and his team whizz around the world sniffing out the best bean producers and also the best chocolate-makers; his range is vast, encompassing chocolate bars from Brooklyn to Budapest, Cleethorpes to Saigon.
For wine, it's all about the grape, the soil, and how you make it; with chocolate it's pretty much the same, which is why Great Western Wine have teamed up with Cocoa Runners to stock a wide range of chocolates, matched with specific wines. The chocolate range is broad, ranging from the darkest, most intense and highest cocoa content bars, to fudgy, creamy and unctuous milk varieties.
So what works? The old adage is that you need to drink something sweeter than the chocolate itself - easily done, but a bit predictable. After an exhaustive and extensive afternoon of wine and chocolate-matching (I did say it was a tough job), here are my recommendations for you to enjoy the ultimate in indulgences - and yes, red wine can work with chocolate, and does so rather nicely, if you pick the right one. So throw your preconceptions aside and try a few of these with your Easter chocolate fest...
This has over 70% cocoa solids, with depth and intensity, it's sweet yet has a balancing bitter note - think oozingly rich chocolate fondant. Rich, spicy red wines can work well here, as the balance between the sweetness and the bitter edge in dark chocolate marries well with an intense, voluptuous drink. Chilean Carmenere can be great, Viña Falernia Carmenere Syrah, 2014 was spot on. In this wine, one third of the grapes are left to dry out to a raisin-like state, which means the wine is richer and takes on an 'amarone' type of intensity, with truffly, mocha notes, powerful enough to balance the brooding intensity of dark chocolate.
The world's favourite style; here, the milk content adds to the sweetness and luxuriously creamy texture. Australian-style Muscats generally work well, but can overpower with their exuberant personalities, but my two favourites in this category are lesser well-known sweeties. First up, a glorious sweet red, somewhere between a dessert wine and port. Bertani Recioto 2012 from Italy is my go-to choice. Its mix of cinnamon, spice, and candied peel, is silky, sumptuous and utterly indulgent. My other top choice was PX Bella Luna - almost syrupy in texture, sensuous and swooningly enchanting, with its decadent raisin, dried fig and toffee character.
People either love or hate white chocolate. Its a mix of mainly cocoa butter, milk and sugar, often flavoured with vanilla. This is where traditional dessert wines work well, with their gentle, honey and caramel edges. Patricius Late Harvest Tokaji 2015 from the majestic Tokay region of Hungary is the style to fit the bill here, with its notes of acacia honey, honeysuckle and dried, candied oranges.
To sum up, wine + chocolate = happiness.