With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, many of Napa Valley’s wineries have signs beckoning guests with wine and chocolate tastings.
And it makes sense, right? Wine is good. Chocolate is good. Wine and chocolate must be great.
In fact, a lot of people think so.
But I’m not one of them.
Why? Because sweetness in food makes a wine paired with it taste more acidic and more bitter.
Wine already is pretty acidic—it has a nice, cleansing snap and leaves a bright taste in your mouth. And red wine has bitterness thanks to its tannins—the compounds that give you that dry-mouth sensation. The bigger and bolder the red, generally speaking, the more tannins.
So pairing chocolate with any wine is going to make the wine taste more acidic, usually painfully so. And red wine is even worse, because the chocolate will also accentuate the wine’s bitter tannins.
The next time you’re drinking wine, do this experiment to experience what I’m talking about. Take a sip and notice how acidic and/or tannic the wine is. Then take a small spoonful of sugar or a bite of something sweet, then taste the wine again. The second sip will taste more acidic and more bitter than the first.
This phenomenon is a fact. What’s not a fact, however, is how much you may or may not enjoy it.
Many do, which I chalk it up to that some people like a big boom in their mouths. It’s the same sentiment that accounts for sourer and sourer candies, darker and darker roasts of coffee, and higher and higher alcohol levels in wine—although happily it seems many of these trends are waning and even experiencing some backlash. Perhaps we’re learning that finesse and subtlety can also be nice.
The bottom line is that, with any food and wine combination, what constitutes a perfect pairing is up to you.
But if you want to soften the experience of wine and chocolate, if you, like me, find the combination harsh and want to make it work better, your best bet is to choose a really bittersweet chocolate—the less sugar and more bitterness in the chocolate, the less the accentuation of the wine’s acidity and bitterness will happen.
Or serve dessert wine, which is sweet enough to stand up to similarly sweet food.