Chocolate is excellent. Wine is excellent. Together, they should be a natural power couple — but it’s not quite that simple.
Wine and chocolate each have their own tannins and acidity, which can harmonize when they’re operating at the same wavelength: A bit of sweetness can round out the other’s sharp edges. But like many couples with two strong personalities at play, there’s a good chance of clashing. That’s why the name of the game is balance, which is found by playing with commonalities and contrast to create something better than the sum of its parts. And since we’re all about playing the field, we’re bringing beer and spirits into the mix as well.
Here are 12 chocolate dessert and beverage pairings that we stand by.
The oxidized, resonant notes of dried stone fruit, coffee, and roasted nuts in Banyuls bring dimension to a chocolate soufflé, and the just-shy-of-syrupy weight of the fortified wine accentuates its light-as-air texture. It’s a match made in (the French section of) heaven.
A pavlova’s crisp exterior juxtaposed with its marshmallowy inside is dreamy all on its own, but most are kicked up a notch with the addition of macerated berries and whipped cream. Piedmontese dessert sparkler Bracchetto d’Acqui, made from partially fermented Bracchetto grapes, brings similar textural lightness to the table and its own luxe, berried character. It would be hard to find a more charming duo.
Mint chocolate chip ice cream fans, this one’s really for you. Here, the earthiness of the mousse’s dark chocolate meshes elegantly with the dusty mint quality of Fernet. Each brings some balancing bitterness to the table to keep things from becoming cloying, and the rich texture of the mousse gets a cooling lift from the amaro’s mint.
Pairing dessert with non-dessert wine can get sticky, but Malbec (especially Argentine Malbec) has a round, berried character and full body that makes for a beautiful match to a fudgy brownie. The Malbec will balance the richness of the baked good, as well as bring some fruity notes front and center.
If you’re not already an Armagnac drinker, this pairing is an excellent way to dip your toes into the world of the storied spirit. Its notes of salted caramel, dried fruit, and hint of baking spice bring out the custard in the Boston cream, and it kicks up the chocolate topping a notch.
Amaro Nonino could make an amaro lover out of just about anyone on its own, but it reaches new heights when paired with a rich, chocolaty tart. The bitterness of the liqueur helps balance the sugar in the tart, and the herbal and citrus notes will help lighten up its dark earthy notes.
Stout already has chocolaty notes thanks to its extra-roasted malt, but in a sturdy imperial stout, that cocoa character really shines. So, when you think about it, it’s kind of a no-brainer to pair the beer’s bitter grain flavors with this celebratory classic.
Dark chocolate from Madagascar tends to boast notes of raspberry and blood orange, a delightful surprise for those new to single-origin chocolate. The honeyed stone fruit notes of Calvados let these sunshine-y fruit shine through.
Forget those cloying, creamy dessert Martinis and open a bottle of sherry instead. While the fortified wine carries a fussy reputation in the U.S., it’s got a lot of range thanks to the magic (and science) of oxidation. A dark, nutty oloroso brings out the toasty, salty peanut flavors in peanut butter cups for utter sweet-savory bliss.
Strawberries and Champagne are an iconic pairing for a reason. But not just any Champagne will pair bring out the best in the iconic, chocolate-dipped treat — you’ll need a bottle with a bit of its own sweetness. And though America gravitates largely toward drier styles, it’s worth going back to the sweeter stuff for this matchup alone. The bubbles in a demi-sec Champagne will stand up to a juicy, tart strawberry and its tannic chocolate shell perfectly. Plus, the fruit flavors in the wine play nicely with the fruit itself. (Cheese lovers: This principle applies to honey and cheese, too. Sweetness smooths out harshness; acidity and bitterness don’t faze it.)
Rum is too often relegated to the cocktails-only part of our bar carts, and that’s a shame. The nutty, fruity flavors of a high-quality aged rum are similar to the gourmand notes we love in bourbon, and they deserve to be experienced neat alongside something decadent. Buttery caramel takes those gourmand notes to the next level.
Japanese whisky can invoke the same whiffs of fruit and smoke as Scotch does, and when it’s paired with a crunchy, nutty chocolate bar, its malt flavors get even toastier and more pastry-like. Salty, sweet, and totally lovely.
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