Wine and chocolate form two of the palate’s greatest pleasures. Pairing these two delights together, though, is a notoriously tricky process, with many claiming the tannins and acids in wine easily clash with the rather intense flavors often found within chocolate. At Ayza Wine & Chocolate Bar, a NYC establishment that’s part French and Mediterranean restaurant, part wine bar and part chocolateria—there’s a menu dedicated to all thingsÂ chocolaty from cakes and truffles to cocoa-inspired cocktails and even chocolate beer—sommelier Eric Delcros negotiates this delicate balance on a daily basis. The Fontainebleau, France native, who previously held the sommelier position at Manhattan’s esteemed French culinary temple La Grenouille, is well versed in which beverages complement which bonbons. Below are some of his tips and favorite combinations.
What’s a quick and easy way to discern good chocolate from bad?
Good chocolate should snap cleanly when you break it, not crumble or bend.
Fresh chocolate should smell chocolaty. If it doesn’t smell chocolaty, it probably won’t taste very chocolaty either.Â
Finally good chocolate will begin to melt immediately in your mouth.Â It should be smooth and velvety, not grainy.Â
What are the most important guidelines to follow when pairing wine and chocolate?
Typically the wine should be at least as sweet, if not a touch sweeter than the chocolate you are serving it with. Otherwise, the taste may quickly veer towards bitter or sour.
When pairing wines with chocolate, your best bet is to match lighter, more elegant flavored chocolates with lighter-bodied wines; likewise, the stronger the chocolate, the more full-bodied the wine should be. Similar to formal wine tasting, if you will be experimenting with several varieties of chocolates, work from light to dark. Start with a more subtle white chocolate and end on a dark or bittersweet chocolate.
Which wines best complement milk chocolate and which go betterÂ with dark? What about white chocolate?
White chocolate tends to be more mellow and buttery in flavor. Sweet wines, like Charles Hours 2006Â Jurancon UroulatÂ will pick up the creaminess of the chocolates and any fruit tones on the scene. Pinot Noir, such as a 2005Â P. Maufoux, complements milk chocolate, a chocolate mousse cake or warm chocolate molten cake while Riesling (try a 2006 Schloss Vollrads) and Muscat (try 2006 Domaine deÂ Durban) go well with mild milk chocolate truffles. Also Champagne Blanc de Blancs, like a Paul Goerg, for milk chocolate-dipped strawberries.
Last, but not least a classic milk chocolate pairing to consider is a nice 10-year-old Churchill Tawny Port—a very safe bet when looking for a perfect wine to accent milk chocolate.
Dark or bittersweet chocolates need a wine that offers a roasted, slightly robust flavor itself, with perhaps a hint of its own chocolate notes. Cabernet Sauvignon, like Summers from Napa, has a history of perfecting the dark chocolate match.
What are your thoughts on chocolate beer? What are some of your favorite chocolate beers on the market?
What better way to live life than to combine two things so great in nature? Obviously, I would recommend the one we have on the menu, the very tasty and classic Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. Rogue’s Chocolate Stout is alsoÂ spreading very fast nationwide.Â Other good ones on the market includeÂ Brooklyn Brewery, Black Chocolate Stout and Samuel Adam’s Chocolate Bock.
Do you typically pair the chocolate beer with certain foods at AYZA Wine & Chocolate BarÂ or serve it as a dessert in its own right?
We usually recommend the chocolate beer with our chocolate truffles or chocolate based cakes. We do not pair the chocolate beer with food but does not mean that you can not. If you find the right sauce and ingredients to create a good dish, Chocolate beer could be the right complement.
More heavenly wine and chocolate pairings:
By Jeanette Hurt
2005 Madrigal Zinfandel and Omanhene 48% cocoa milk chocolate. “The Zinfandel mimics the chocolate’s sensation while providing a symphony of fruit and complexity,” says Jaclyn Stuart, of Indulge Wine, Chocolate, Cheese and Charcuterie Bar in Milwaukee.
2007 Eno Pinot Noir and Christopher Elbow’s strawberry balsamic caramel.Â “It’s very warming to have them together,” says Jennifer Bingham at Eno wine and chocolate bar in Chicago.
2006 Leo Pinot Noir and Lake Champlain’s Dark Spicy Aztec bar.Â “The chocolate brings out Pinot’s subtle spice,” says Michelle DeGuzman, of Rico’s Coffee, Chocolate and Wine Bar in Colorado Springs.
Chateau St. Michelle Riesling with Sweet O’s peaches and champagne white chocolate. “The crisp acidity and classic mineral notes work wonders with the silky truffle,” says Jeanette Dubreil, of Sweet O Wine & Chocolate Lounge in Glendale, AZ.