I remember the disillusionment well….
When I was an impressionable nineteen year old, I was given a box of chocolates and a bottle of fizz for Valentine’s Day and thought my beau was a fine figure of romance. I mean, we are programmed to believe that love cannot live without this particular pairing. However, after a slug of sweet sour bubbles, the chocolate just tasted like a lump of sugar.
A second sip of fizz only made me feel like the heart had been ripped out of the experience. Well, we were students and the fizz was ever so affordable, read ‘cheap’, as was the chocolate, read ‘bar of Dairy Milk’. A good thing though that I persisted with the romance, married the man, and then worked on developing a lifetime appreciation with better bubbles and better chocolate as well.
However, this pairing still needs to be approached with care if you are going to consume them together as a Valentine’s treat. While most sparkling wines or Champagne have the acid to refresh the palate after a mouthful of blissfully rich chocolate, the chocolate may be still too sweet and intensely flavoured and overwhelm the wine. Leaving your bubbles tasting like soda water with not enough juice to add much interest or any softness.
There are ways around it, of course! I say eating a chocolate chip bikky with white and milk chocolate chips and walnuts with a glass of Arras Grand Vintage, one of my favourite Aussie sparklers. Decadent I know!
Delicate flavoured chocolate: If you are living in the USA, it is likely that you will have less of an issue finding a match for the lighter styles of chocolates, including those filled with delicate tidbits, as many of your domestic sparkling wines have a ripeness level and sweetness that will match more delicately flavoured chocolate. There are also some of the sweeter dessert styles of Champagne (look for the term ‘sec’ on the label) such as Moet & Chandon Nectar Imperial. Some rose Champagnes will work too. Also, you will find that one of the sweet German sekts, such as Henkell, may also work (Henkell does go nicely with Afternoon Tea).
In Australia, there are some home grown sparkling wines that have plenty of flavour and sweetness. A Moscato is a good bet, so too would be a sparkling Sauvignon Blanc that is in the sweeter realm. If you are after a sweeter style of bubbles that follow the traditions of sec style Champagne, then look for Chandon (Australia) Cuvee Riche. It is rich and plush and delicious.
Rich chocolate: These are the dark chocolates, or milk chocolate with intensely flavoured fillings. Here you really need to experiment. For instance, I have found in some classes that I teach that a creamy semi-dark chocolate is quite nice with Gosset Brut Excellence.
Some combinations of paler coloured fizz work, but this is where you either love it or hate it. A safer bet is to drink a velvety sparkling red with this type of chocolate.
Here in Australia, we are very lucky to have many Sparkling Shirazs available. To cope with the tannins and acid in these wines, there is a generous dollop of sweetness. With this combination, plus the plush fruitiness that defines a sparkling red, chocolate is a natural match.
My other bit of ‘learned’ advice is, if you find that your bubbles do NOT go with your chocolate – simply put the chocolate to the side until you are finished savouring your bubbles.