Death by chocolate….
…yes, chocolate really is a killer to most wines. It is the combination of intense sweetness and mouth-coating texture that causes the majority of wines to taste sour and unappetising against a rich chocolate dessert.
The best wines for the job are themselves sweet, but with enough weight to meet the chocolate on level terms. This rules out most of the world’s more subtle sweeties: racy German Rieslings, the finest Sauternes, the delicately-balanced Chenins Blanc of the Loire. Fortified wines are often the safest choice, where adding spirit to the wine has boosted alcohol, body and sweetness. Port fits the bill, but so do wines made from the aromatic Muscat grape. These have an affinity with chocolate, from heavyweight Australian liqueur Muscats, to medium-weight French versions like Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise. One top tip is sparkling Muscat, the most famous of which is Asti Spumante. Indeed, you won’t find me recommending too many bottles of sweet £3.99 fizz on this page, but a supermarket Asti was sensational with dark chocolate!
For savoury dishes that are enriched with chocolate – like a Mexican Mole sauce, or a classic venison casserole – a big-hearted Merlot, Shiraz or Zinfandel works well, as would powerful, lightly-oaked whites like a Chardonnay or Marsanne.
With chocolate desserts
Tesco, Sweet Asti Spumante, Italy
Only 7.5% alcohol, so perfect for sipping in the garden, but also terrific with chocolate where its sweet peach and pear fruit and gentle lime acidity combine on the palate in a delightfully rich and creamy marriage.
Quady, Essencia, California
Chocolate and orange is a classic combination, so this Californian wine made from the Orange Blossom Muscat is a banker. Lovely aromas of cold tea and marmalade and a palate that is sweet and luscious with good citrus acidity.
Chapoutier, Banyuls, France
Banyuls is made in Southern France by the Port method using ripe Grenache grapes. This has a sweet nose of rose-hip syrup, violets and chocolate. The palate is alcoholic and powerful, but there’s plenty of fruit, class and length.
Les Clos de Paulilles, Banyuls Ambré, France
A much lighter style of Banyuls, this has a flowery nose and raspberry and strawberry fruit on the palate. There is sweet oak, and nuances of tobacco and herbs. Quite a long, focused finish.
With chocolate-enriched savoury sauces
Fox Wood, Chardonnay Reserve, France
Despite the Ozzy-sounding name, this is in fact a French wine that combines ripe, tasty fruit and serious Old World structure. The nose has buttery oak (from barrel fermentation) and the palate has peachy fruit. A classy, food-friendly Chardonnay that should cellar well for 3 – 5 years.
Fox Wood, Old Bush Vine Syrah, France
This has a smooth, pepper and raspberry nose with little scents of herbs and wild flowers. The palate is smooth-textured with a charcoal edge to ripe black fruit. Some vanillin oak is well-judged into a long, pure finish. An extremely impressive wine made from 45 years old vines.