I recently met up with a team from Chateau Ste. Michelle to taste chocolates and wines in advance of a pairing event. Imagine a conference room table filled with bottles of wine and bags of chocolate. We each had a paper cup for spitting and emptying our glasses, and it wasn’t long before those paper cups were full.
Having done this exercise many times before, I’ve learned a few things.
- The oenophiles think the chocolate steps on the wine.
- The chocophiles think the wine steps on the chocolate.
- Substitute Scotch, cheese, or coffee for “wine” in 1 & 2
Tasting is a very personal experience, and it is heavily influenced by your point of view. It draws on memories you bring to the table from your entire life. No two people will have the same taste memories, which is a poetic way of saying that no two people at our tasting felt the same way about the wine and chocolate pairings. My point of view as a chocophile is that I want the chocolate to sing and the wine to sit nicely in the background, complementing the chocolate. As you can imagine, the wine (Scotch, cheese, coffee) experts want exactly the opposite.
We found consensus on the pairings, but there were some significant differences of opinion. The most surprising decision was to pair Valrhona’s Manjari 64% (Madagascar origin cacao) with Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Cold Creek Vineyard 2016 Columbia Valley Riesling. A sweet, white wine with a dark chocolate?! Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would recommend this.
How did we get to this point? Admittedly we were having difficulty pairing the Madagascar with any wine, but I was not willing to eliminate it from the tasting event. Madagascar-origin chocolate is a must-have for any chocolate tasting because it is a gateway chocolate. Its bright, red-fruit and citrus notes are a revelation, illustrating terroir in dark chocolate. Its fruitiness makes it an approachable dark chocolate for milk chocolate lovers willing to try dark chocolate. The interesting acidic notes that make it a great chocolate are exactly the notes that make it almost impossible to pair with wine.
We were getting ready to throw in the towel when I said, “While I normally wouldn’t suggest pairing a dark chocolate with a white wine, perhaps we should try the Madagascar with the sweet Riesling.” I figured the sweetness of the Riesling might temper the acid from the Madagascar. It worked. Some of us liked it better than others, but everyone thought it worked well enough to add it to our event.
At the end of the day, taste is personal. There are no right or wrong answers about what pairs well with chocolate. Think of it as a glorious journey that gives you permission to try two decadent, luxurious treats in your quest to find pairs that make each other stronger. Or to find pairs that are good enough for you to enjoy on a regular basis.
Here are the wine and chocolate pairings from our event with Chateau Ste. Michelle held on April 22, 2018.
- Valrhona Dulcey toasted white chocolate with Domaine Ste. Michelle Extra Dry Columbia Valley
- Michel Cluizel Vila Gracinda 67% (São Tomé origin) dark chocolate with the Chateau Ste. Michelle 2014 Cold Creek Vineyard Syrah Columbia Valley Limited Release
- Valrhona Manjari 64% (Madagascar) with the Cold Creek Vineyard 2016 Riesling, Columbia Valley
- Felchlin Maracaibo Venezuela 65% with 2013 Mourvèdre Columbia Valley Limited Release (link is to the 2014 release)
- Felchlin Maracaibo Venezuela 65% with Chateau Ste. Michelle Canoe Ridge Estate 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Horse Heaven Hills
- Areté Brasil 70% with Whidbey’s Vintage 2015 Washington Port