Beyond Champagne and Chocolate: A Valentine’s Day Pairing Guide


Poor chocolate. Every February it suffers at the well intentioned but ultimately misguided hand of romance. While sparkling wine and chocolate are two of life’s greatest pleasures, enjoying them together, unfortunately, is anything but pleasurable. The reason? Most Champagne and sparkling wine is dry or nearly dry and most chocolate is, well, sweet. To rescue both of them from this annual massacre, we offer this year’s Valentine’s Day Pairing Guide—for every kind of love.

If “it’s complicated” (and what relationship isn’t) a bar of dark, bitter chocolate with a hint of heat (try Poco Dolce’s Mayan Chile or Vosges’ Red Fire made with ancho, chipotle and cinnamon) is more appropriate than sappy strawberries. The obvious pairing is Madeira, a fortified wine that has seen its share of turbulence. Heated to over 100 degrees for months and then aged in oak for years, Madeira is smoky, nutty, even savory in its sweetness.  Look for Bual or Malmsey on the label, which are the richest, with 10 to 15-year-old being the better quality.

When only bubbly will do, make it Iron Horse Vineyards’ Wedding Cuvée, a sparkling wine made with Pinot Noir grapes (which give it a slightly pinkish hue) from the Green Valley appellation in Sonoma. Made in the same complicated, time-consuming method used in Champagne, the wine is rich, lush and complex without being sweet. We recommend pairing it with Redwood Hill Farm’s Camellia, a soft, creamy Camembert-style cheese that comes from goats raised overlooking the Iron Horse vineyards.

Does your lady hate chocolate? We’ve heard about people like this. It’s incredible, but forgivable. A lovely little bottle of Sauternes-style wine is a perfect match for a plate of fruit and nuts, cream, honey and marmalade. Look for the Nobility — a late-harvest botrytis-affected wine made in Sonoma with Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes — that has the same golden hue, honeyed texture and sweeping acidity of Sauternes (and at half the price).

If the little ones are imposing themselves on this year’s festivities, soften the blow with a bottle of Bugey Cerdon. This rosé sparkling wine made from Gamay and Poulsard grapes from a region near Savoie at the base of the alps is bright, fruity and sweet enough to complement, say, a dozen tiny cupcakes (Kara’s chocolate velvet come to mind). K&L has a bottle of Caveau du Mont July for $15.99.

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