Strawberries and cream. Cinnamon and apples. Banana and caramel. Some matches are made in flavour heaven. Whilst there’s still a way to go when it comes to vegan cheese being of the same standard as regular cheese for wine pairings, some wine and food-pairings don’t need veganizing – like red wine and dark chocolate!
But why do wine and chocolate pair so well together in the first place?
Like all good things, pairing wine and chocolate doesn’t always come easily. Red wine and dark chocolate go well together because they share certain compounds– but, like any relationship, similarities can quickly throw things off-balance. The key to success is to choose good-quality partners, and learning to embrace the bittersweet nature of dark chocolate and a dry red wines that coat the mouth with smooth, balanced tannins. Here are some basic principles for pairing wine and chocolate, as well as a few suggestions to get you started (if you needed an excuse….)…
The Best Red Wines for Chocolate
Luckily, the best wine and chocolate pairing is the easiest match to veganize! Darker, richer chocolate needs stronger wines, so favour good quality vegan dark chocolate. Red wines have an abundance flavours to balance dark chocolate; cherries, warm spices, coffee, even earthy notes like leather and tobacco bring something to the table.
Try robust but still fruity wines like California Zinfandels, Argentinian Malbec (both are the same grape, as it happens) or Petit Sirah. Maybe a port-style wine like Rioja, but aged for more depth to the enhance the fruitiness. For chocolate with cocoa solids of around 55% (a sweetened dark chocolate, essentially), try a slightly more refined, but still substantial red wine – like Merlot or a high-quality Pinot Noir. The right bottle of either varietal will display interesting fruit notes and silky tannins that will go down a treat beside good-quality chocolate.
Dark chocolate and mint doesn’t work with wine, but there’s huge potential in ginger, salted caramel, sea salt, coffee, perhaps even chilli – which is notoriously difficult to pair with wine.
Port and Chocolate: The Vegan-friendly After Dinner Course
For something with a little grandeur, try Port with dark chocolate. Ruby (deep red) Ports are sweeter than dry reds, but less cloying than true dessert wines and have lovely spiced red fruit flavours that range from just-plucked raspberry, to jammy plum and strawberry. And is there anything better than raspberries drizzled in dark chocolate?? An absolute game-changer when everyone else is tucking into the cheeseboard and nobody thought to bring Violife.
… Tawny Port with White Chocolate??
Whispers on the grapevine recommend this interesting wine and chocolate pairing. Am I surprised? Yes. Am I entirely convinced? Not yet, but I’m very excited to try it. The vanilla creaminess of white chocolate coating figs, cooked fruits and raisins might be a little too overkill… or it could be the most perfect wine and dessert pairing ever.
Is red wine and dark chocolate actually good for you?
Good news: both dry red wines and dark chocolate contain Flavonoids- a group of natural chemicals that offer anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative and cancer-fighting properties. Chocolate made with a high portion of natural unsweetened cocoa powder have higher level of flavonols (a type of Flavonoids), hence why dark chocolate containing a higher percentage of cocoa solids is often heralded as good for you.
Findings from a study conducted in 2010 found that eating 49 g of 71% dark chocolate would provide you with the same quantity of flavonoids as that of 196 ml of Tannat wine, which is the daily wine intake recommended to produce health benefits in an adult of 70 kg body weight. Personally, I’d round those up a little bit on a Friday night, but hey-ho.
Dark-skinned berries like blueberries, cherries, and red grapes contain another antioxidant, Resveratrol. For those not biochemically-inclined (myself included) red wine flavenoids can be loosely grouped into Anthocyanins – red, purple, blue or black colour pigments – and Tannins. Most wine-lovers will recognise that term; found mostly in red wines, it’s what gives the wine that distinctive lip-smacking dryness, what we’d call mouthfeel, and caters so well to pairings with high-fat foods like cheese.
Does Wine Pair With Milk Chocolate?
Luckily, due to the low percentage of cocoa solids, cheap vegan milk chocolate would be awful for pairing with wine. Decent quality milk chocolate, however, can offer some exciting opportunities, because it is usually half chocolate, half cream – and this extra fat sings to the same tune as cheese where wine is concerned. A general rule being that sweet foods need a sweeter wine, match sweeter red wines with chocolate to avoid the wine coming off as bitter and heavy. Remember that the more refined sugar and less cocoa solids are present, the harder it is to pair with a wine; so opt for good-quality vegan chocolate with at 35-45% cocoa solids.
I’m pointing out milk chocolate not just for the vegan milk chocolate options readily available in the UK, but because you can make your own chocolate-based vegan desserts, containing whatever percentage of sweetness and cocoa solids you like. And what about chocolate-flavours desserts, truffles, puddings, or baking? . . .
Pairing Wines with Vegan Chocolate Desserts
There’s scope here not just for experimenting with different wines and levels of cocoa solids, but also different textures. In the afterglow of Veganuary 2019, more and more restaurants are offering vegan-friendly desserts – and they aren’t just fruit salads and sorbets anymore. Las Iguanas, for example, offer a chocolate coconut tart on a nut base, dusted in cocoa powder. Nice enough on its own, but I can’t help wondering how incredible this would have been paired with a sweet sparkling red wine.
Pairing sweeter sparkling wines with rich, smooth vegan desserts like aquafiber mousse, avocado pudding, and silken tofu pudding promises to be a sensation party. Sparkling wines from Italy like Lambrusco or Brachetto d’Acqui would keep the marriage light through flavour, not to mention literal bubbles. Still or sparkling Muscats could work too. Or perhaps young Ruby port, which offer warming spices and could work well with decadent homemade vegan truffles.
I haven’t tested port and truffles yet, but I can vouch for a similar pairing: fruity Tempranillo and homemade dark chocolate truffles. Intense, brownie-like truffle in harmony with silky tannins, with the fruit of the Spanish red wine matching nicely with the bitterness of raw cacao powder. Sold? Thought so: here’s two recipes for vegan truffles and wines to pair with them.
Vegan Truffles & Wine
Melting coconut cream and vegan chocolate to make vegan ganache produces the silkiest, melt-in-the-mouth dairy-free truffle you can imagine. Dusted in cacao powder and then smothered in a layer of dark chocolate, these are intense and decadent. These were tried alongside this Rosé Cava but I would also recommend a silky Italian red (here’s a very good vegan Valopolicella Ripasso!)
Rosé is a good match for chocolate truffles, too; especially smooth, decadent coconut cream truffles. I tested this theory on my original recipe with creamy dairy-free truffles, and also a later upgrade: vegan Ferrero Rocher with Rosé Cava . Mould the ganache around a whole hazelnut, and then roll the ball in chopped hazelnuts before coating in melted chocolate. As hazelnuts go well with rosé, it makes the pairing even better!
Ultimately, of course, the best vegan-friendly wine and chocolate pairing for you will be chosen by you. Really enjoy Bournville Orange with a supermarket-own brand Merlot? Go for it. Enjoy the excuse to taste many wines and open many bars of chocolate in the name of finding the perfect pairing – and what a valiant quest it is. But always stick with the one that gives you the most pleasure- that’s what it’s for, after all.
Happy drinking (and munching!)