How to Pair Wine and Chocolate

Shady Lane’s head winemaker gives her tips for combining this indulgent duo
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Shady Lane Cellars is hosting a “three vices” tasting event with coffee and chocolate from local businesses and, of course, wine. Photo courtesy of Shady Lane Cellars

A hot cup of coffee, a square of dark chocolate, and a glass of wine. According to Shady Lane Cellars’ executive winemaker and general manager, Kasey Wierzba, these are a few of the “vices” that keep Michiganders going in the harsh winters. These delicious indulgences are also the inspiration behind the winery’s upcoming “three vices” wine pairing event.

The tasting, which will be held on March 9 at the Suttons Bay winery, is a collaboration with two local businesses, chocolate company Nativo by Thrivu and Panther Coffee.

“The purpose of this tasting is to really create an experience of the senses,” Wierzba says. “It’s a chance to grow your palate. Once someone can recognize flavors and aromatics with their senses and can put it in their mind, it becomes easy to catalog those tastes and use them later.”

Combining chocolate and wine is a no-brainer, and Wierzba shares her tips to create a particularly memorable pairing.

  1. Pay attention to the tannin.

“Something important to remember is that chocolate and wine both have tannin,” Wierzba says. “The darker the chocolate, the more tannin in it. When you’re pairing, you don’t want to go with something with too much tannin because it can exhaust your palate.”

Cool-climate wines, like those made in Michigan, are just the thing.

“Cool-climate wines have a lower, fruitier, more bouncy tannin that is more malleable,” Wierzba says. “They tend to have a fruity flavor, which is the result of a higher acidity, and pair nicely with the fruitiness of chocolate.”

  1. Go fruit forward.

Much like wine, chocolate can have fruity notes. The level of fruitiness depends on where the chocolate is from, the type of cacao it’s made from, and other factors.

“Chocolate’s fruitiness can range from tropical fruits to citrus to dark, rich berry fruits,” Wierzba says. “Choose fruitier, softer wines instead of rich, earthy wines to pair with chocolate.” She is a fan of Shady Lane Cellars’ Blaufränkisch and Pinot Noir for these types of fruit-forward pairings.

  1. Consider the chocolate.

“One of the chocolates we pair is a darker, 65% cacao chocolate with a fig jelly preserve in the middle,” Wierzba says. “We pair this with a Gewürztraminer. The fig notes really make all the fruity notes in this wine pop. It’s an interesting pairing because a lot of people think that you can’t pair a white, fruity wine with a deeper, more intense dark chocolate.”

When you pair wine with white chocolate, Wierzba points out, it’s important to take sweetness into account. “Rich, creamy white chocolates typically have a caramel-driven taste,” she says. “A dry, acidic white wine can help to cleanse the palate and offset any flavor fatigue you might experience. It keeps it livelier.”

Visit shadylanecellars.com/event-home/events to learn more about Shady Lane’s upcoming pairing event.

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