You ask yourself, “What’s for dessert?” Chocolate, of course, because it’s on your mind. Valentine’s Day is approaching, and you know that it will be part of the celebration. While no historical connection exists between chocolate and St. Valentine, Americans have forged a bond because they overwhelmingly prefer the flavor to any other sweet. But the combination also makes sense. Like chocolate, love is sweet, sometimes bitter-sweet, sometimes just bitter. If you love wine, you have yet another reason to eat chocolate if you need one. Chocolate and wine together create a fine ending to a fine meal but not just any chocolate or any wine.
So you’re going to have a dinner party and gather friends around the table. The dessert is chocolate, but which form it takes is very much age-related. If you’re 20-something, you’ll gravitate toward layers, maybe chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, topped with ice-cream, and then drizzled with more chocolate. The ice-cream is important. Almost every dessert that you eat is topped with ice-cream because when you were a teenager, it was a major food group all by itself and, as often as possible, comprised an entire meal. The memory lingers. But if you want to combine your enthusiasm for wine with your enthusiasm for chocolate, this kind of dessert would need to be toned down.
If you’re thirty something and have children of your own, ice-cream will have become pedestrian. Seeing enough of it drip down their chins, ruins the image. Your chocolate cake will be denser and topped with a just a dollop of Chantilly cream. A California late-harvest red will have enough sweetness to complement this chocolate dessert beautifully.
If you’re forty or fifty-something, the dessert situation becomes more complicated but the wine pairing easier. You know that you’re middle aged because your doctor has taken to warning you about the triple demons, cholesterol, blood sugar, and excess weight. You find out that chocolate takes on less caloric forms than cake, for instance a chocolate soufflé, a chocolate and pear tart, or maybe baked pears with chocolate sauce. A sparkling, lightly sweet Moscato d’Asti would complement these lighter chocolate versions and would be delicious with these desserts or any other fruit dessert, with or without chocolate.
Suddenly you’re sixty. Do you give up chocolate entirely along with night driving and bending over? Not at all. You’re finally old enough to savor it straight in its most intense form, and best of all, you can happily combine chocolate with many different wines, all of them deeply red.
Chocolate has undergone a quiet revolution and is no longer defined by Hershey or See. You can now find bars of chocolate in concentrations of 60 to 80 percent cacao from particular places like Cameroon, Madagascar, the Solomon Islands, and even from particular plantations. This is chocolate in its purest, richest, smoothest form, and it even has health benefits. It’s a complex food with over 300 compounds and chemicals in each bite, some of which are antioxidants that reduce cholesterol and blood pressure. This chocolate combines best with red wine, which has many of the same healthful attributes.
The alcohol content of the wine will be related to its ability to complement chocolate, although the wine needn’t be as high as in a late harvest wine. For instance, California Zinfandel and Italian Amarone are both usually at least 15% alcohol, but many other California reds reach the same alcohol level. Check the label when you make your choice. Along with chocolate, you could serve some cheeses and nuts to fill out the course. Dessert will never be easier, and no matter your age, if you love chocolate and wine separately, you’ll love finishing a meal with both.