Chocolate can be the ideal food to pair with alcoholic beverages that contain complex flavors. Dark chocolate is my favorite type of chocolate to use in pairings because it has the deepest, richest notes which truly complement and bring out flavors in drinks like port wine and whiskey. Whatever type of chocolate you employ, make sure it has a high percentage of cacao. Eighty percent and higher is a good rule of thumb; lower amounts can mean that the chocolate also contains wax, vegetable oils and other unpalatable ingredients.
Look for chocolate with high cacao levels and not a lot of sugar, especially when pairing with a non-dessert wine. Wines like cabernet or merlot can taste bitter and overly tannic when paired with very sweet chocolate.
How to Pair Them: Pair like with like. For example, a creamy white chocolate makes an excellent pairing with a light Riesling, while a heady, intense dark chocolate with 80 percent cacao pairs well with a cabernet or malbec. Dessert wines like port and muscat are the typical choice for wine and chocolate pairings, because the sugar content of the wine is usually at the same level or higher than that of the chocolate. Experiment by buying a few bottles of wine ranging from sweet to full-bodied, less tannins to more, and a range of chocolate from white to dark. The key is to remember that the wine and chocolate should complement one another, not cancel each other out.
A sip of good whiskey followed by a bite of chocolate is one of the great gastronomic discoveries of my adult life. It’s a magical, alchemical process where both the whiskey and the chocolate bring out flavors in each other that weren’t obvious before. A chunk of ordinary milk chocolate suddenly pops with fruit and vanilla, while an intense scotch softens and sweetens.
How to Pair Them: When pairing, look for single-origin chocolate (meaning the cacao beans are traceable back to one region or farm), which is preferable to chocolate from blended beans, because cacao beans have differing flavor profiles. Some cacao beans can have hints of smoke and spice, just as a whiskey does. As with wine, pairing like with like is a good rule of thumb. If you’ve got your hands on some smoky Laphroaig single malt, you’d be wise to pair it with a similarly smoky chocolate made from dark-roasted beans.
Beer can be difficult to properly pair with chocolate, but with the current vogue for artisan craft beers, it’s more possible than ever to find a delicious match. There are many breweries experimenting with cacao as an ingredient, and unsurprisingly, beers with chocolate notes pair well with chocolate!
How to Pair Them: Steer clear of light-bodied beers and instead look for a heavier, malty beer like porters and stouts. Chocolates containing a little fruit or spice work beautifully when paired with beer with a similar flavor profile. Try an orange-infused truffle with a beer like Blue Moon, which contains orange peel and coriander. Milk chocolate, when paired with a fruity Belgian lambic, can become surprisingly complex. I like to throw a few different chocolates into my bag when I visit my local craft brew pub, then ask the bartender for pairing suggestions.
Editor’s Note: Thirsty for more chocolate pairing advice? Check out Kate’s How to Pair Chocolate with Food.
Kate Steffens is a pastry chef, writer, DJ, artist, designer and all-around Renaissance woman. She is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy and the University of Texas at Austin. She runs the rock-and-roll chocolate company, Straight Outta Chocolate. When she's not elbow deep in chocolate, you can find her reading, gardening, working on art projects and listening to old records.