Published October 18, 2012
Whether your sweet tooth begs for satisfaction or not, it’s pretty hard to turn down a chocolate truffle. But pairing a decadent piece of chocolate with wine can get a little tricky, especially when it comes to dessert wines.
Chocolate can have very intense flavors beyond its sweetness. It can be bitter, fruity, acidic, or have nutty characteristics as well. Dessert wines are typically assumed to have overwhelmingly sweet flavors, so sweet in fact, that many substitute eating their dessert, with drinking it. Dessert wines however are not always so sweet, they too can be dry, bitter and acidic. So how do you get them to match?
The general rule of thumb with pairing wine and chocolate is the stronger the chocolate, the bolder the wine should be. A sweet dessert wine needs to be similarly intense if it’s going to pair well. The key is to enjoy both, so you wouldn’t want one to overpower the other.
At this year’s New York City Wine & Food festival, David Funaro, senior chef chocolatier at Godiva teamed up with sommelier Anthony Giglio to find the perfect wine matches for Godiva’s Cake Truffles. The variety of truffles included the intense flavors of Cookie Dough, Birthday Cake, Pineapple Hummingbird Cake, Molton Lava Cake, and Butterscotch Walnut.
After Funaro explained the flavor profiles and inspiration behind each truffle, he turned the stage over to Giglio, who unavoidably joined the room in their chocolate induced trance as he took the first bite.
The best, and most frequent advice many sommeliers will give the untrained wine taster, is to drink what you like, simply, drink what tastes good to you. Everyone’s palate is different, everyone tastes different flavors, and therefore stressing that what one experiences at a tasting isn’t ‘wrong’ tends to set people at ease.
The selection of wines to try varied in taste, texture and style. The first was a Laurent Perrier Demi Sec; this wine sparkled and had fruity notes, but was dry to the finish, and was a tough one to find the right match. The dry nature of a wine at times doesn’t mesh with a more bitter-style chocolate. The group found the Lava Cake truffle’s sweet brownie interior to match nicely, however the professionals also mentioned white chocolate to be a strong pairing.
Another wine to sample was the De Cosse ’08 Sauternes. This wine is much less crisp and acidic than the sparkling, sits a bit heavier on the palate, and finishes smooth with a hint of honey. The Sauternes was not overpowering or too sweet, and would accompany sharp cheeses like gorgonzola perfectly. In this case however, the cookie dough truffle seemed to work nicely.
The majority of the room seemed to rave about the third wine - Beni Di Batasiolo Brachetto Spumante. Brachetto is a light, fresh red wine with a touch of sparkle. The flavors are predominantly of well-ripened raspberries and fresh flowers. The wine can be chilled slightly and is a fail-proof pairing with both milk and dark chocolate. There was unanimous agreement that this wine paired with the Birthday Cake truffle, yet matched nicely with almost all of the chocolate options.
The last two sampled wines were less sweet on the nose, and indicated a presence of more alcohol when smelled. Smells can be deceiving, however. The Sandeman Sherry medium dry Amontillado had a touch of sweetness when initially sipped, but finished with a nutty complexity. The Butterscotch Walnut truffle was its perfect counterpart.
The Graham’s 10-year Tawny Port has a fruit forward toffee-like nose, was medium-sweet initially when sipped, then smoothed out with a caramel finish. This was another favorite which worked with several of the truffles.
So the next time you're planning a dinner party, consider truffles, which aren’t as filling, but are rich and satisfying. With these simple rules you don't have to skimp on the dessert wine. The point is have fun with it, experiment, and enjoy the adventure of discovering your own sweet pairings.