Wine and beer tasting events are great places to learn about how specific vintages and varieties pair with chocolate. (Yes, you read that right, beer and chocolate!) People get to learn about why it’s great to serve these ingredients together and how each one complements the other. Here is some basic information about chocolate and alcohol for you to know before you attend a tasting, or perhaps to help you host your own.
Chocolate and Wine
Chemically speaking, there are compounds in both chocolate and wine called polyphenols that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. In cacao beans, the polyphenols are flavonoids, while the polyphenols in grapes are tannins, which is something that sometimes gives people a headache. Flavonoids and tannins both taste bitter, so the key is to create a perfect balance between the two.
There are two common types of chocolate to pair wine with: milk chocolate and dark chocolate. Milk chocolate has more sugar, which is why many people think milk chocolate creates a beautiful pairing with a sweeter white wine. Milk chocolate is also easier to match with wine than dark chocolate, but dark chocolate tends to be the more common pairing choice because it is better at counterbalancing any sweetness the wine brings. A dark chocolate pairs perfectly with a strong red wine, like a Cabernet, which highlights the peppery notes in the chocolate. There are a lot of tannins, and the residual sweetness in some of the red wines can soften the bitterness. If not, the pairing will not be balanced.
Tangle’s founder and chocolate maker Suzanne Forman was recently at a local winery called Black Birch Vineyards where several hundred wine lovers tried Tangle Chocolate with a red, a rose, and a white wine selected by Black Birch. Interestingly, while a number of the guests assumed they would prefer chocolate with the red wine, they found that it also paired well with the rose and the white, and in fact, some people preferred those combinations over the chocolate with red. It just goes to show that we all taste things a bit differently, and the flavors of these agricultural products are extremely nuanced, so it’s important to try new combinations with an open mind and be prepared for a surprise.
Chocolate and Beer
Not only does chocolate pair well with wine, but it can also pair well with beer. Beer and chocolate both have a nice balance of sweet and bitter flavors. A stout beer, for instance, pairs well with a fruity chocolate, like Tangle, or a coffee-flavored chocolate like Tangle’s coffee-infused chocolate. Stout tends to have a bitter flavor with some chocolatey notes blended in, which is why it pairs so perfectly. Those flavors combined with the contrasting flavors of sweet, or the complementary flavors of bitter, create a match made in heaven.
Chocolate and Spirits
There may be another article in the future about chocolate and spirits, but for now, let’s just acknowledge that chocolate martinis are great drinks that pair wonderfully with chocolate. A basic chocolate martini includes vodka, Irish creme, and chocolate liqueur. A little bit of Tangle’s coffee-infused slivers of chocolate would meld perfectly with the Irish creme and create a great contrast of flavor.
How to Taste
Before enjoying one of these wonderful pairings, it is important to know the correct way to taste them. A good jumping off point is to try the wine or beer on its own first to get a sense of the flavor. After enjoying a sip or two, you can eat a small piece of chocolate. Remember that you want the chocolate to melt in your mouth so that you can fully experience all of its subtleties, and if it’s a chilled beverage, you’ll need to let the chocolate rest in your mouth a bit longer. Then, take another sip of the wine or beer while the chocolate flavor still lingers. This way of tasting allows you to really understand how the flavors of each ingredient change depending on how and when you taste them. The wine may taste sweeter one way, and bitter another, the beer more malty, hoppy, or roasty.
Chocolate and alcohol pairings are quite popular, and while you may not think they go great together, they often do! Often, but not always, a goal of wine and beer tasting is to balance the sweet, sour, bitter, and salty notes between the food, wine, and beer, and perhaps also to learn something—and to hang out with some friends during the experience does not hurt either.