Wine, especially bold, full-bodied red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and even a less conventional wine like a smoky Syrah have long evoked romance, elegance, and celebration. But around seven years ago, for the first time, a seemingly new wine came onto the scene, just in time for Valentine’s Day: a wine with chocolate.
Chocolate wine at the time may have seemed strange to some, but for wine producers, it seemed only natural. After all, dark chocolate is a favorite dessert pairing with rich wines, and many wines contain natural cocoa undertones, so why not take it up to the next level?
During 2012 in particular, chocolate wines began making their debut around the United States, many just as Valentine’s Day was around the corner.
In the November 2011 issue of Wine Spectator, a feature entitled “Chocolate In My Wine?” caught wine consumer’s attention. Even then, the magazine predicted that chocolate wines would become one of the biggest trends in the wine industry.
By the end of 2011, one company alone sold over a million bottles of chocolate wine.
The Washington Times echoed the enthusiasm, claiming that chocolate wine was more natural of addition that some skeptics may think, joining the rising popularity of dessert wines in general, including fruity wines like Moscato and sweet bubbly whites like Italian Prosecco.
Still, there is push back. Alison Shoemaker, the contributor to The Takeout, an online publication, recently wrote an article arguing that chocolate wine takes sweetness too far and masks the flavor of the wine itself.
She went so far as to call the chocolate wine she tried “a headache in Swiss Miss form.”
So what’s the truth: is chocolate wine a decadent dessert or a mistake?
In this article, we’ll be discussing the pros and cons to chocolate wine, unmasking some of the misconceptions, and explaining how to find the best chocolate wine.
What exactly is chocolate wine?
While specific recipes vary, chocolate wine is normally made by combining dry wine with sweet red wine, or dry wine with sugar, and bitter to sweet chocolate.
The original recipe published in the 1700s called for Sherry or Port, with unsweetened Baker’s chocolate, sugar, and a bit of rice flour.
Other recipes use red wine, cocoa powder, milk, and eggs.
The main theme is wine, either entirely a sweet wine or a mix of a sweet and dry wine; sugar; chocolate, in the form of hard chocolate or cocoa; milk and or eggs; and a thickening agent, such as flour or cornstarch.
How is chocolate wine made?
Again, while the procedure varies, chocolate wine generally follows a fairly basic procedure. Wines are blended, and, as desired, spices added.
The chocolate, milk, and any eggs are combined separately and eventually, the concoction is blended until smooth. Often, heat is used to melt chocolate.
Did Ms. Shoemaker have a point?
Finding the best chocolate wine, in fact, can make the difference between loving it or hating it. According to the article, Alison Shoemaker only tried a handful of chocolate wines, most of which, if not all of which were from the chain supermarket, Aldi.
The problem? She was likely sampling bulk wine. If the wine itself does not have enough distinct flavors to it, it can easily become overwhelmed by chocolate, and it can quickly become a one-note drink.
That isn’t to say chocolate wine doesn’t have its drawbacks. Nor is it to say that everyone will like chocolate wine. A good rule of thumb, before we go into more details, is that if you only drink dry wines, and eschew any dessert wine, you aren’t going to likely enjoy chocolate wine.
If, on the other hand, you enjoy sweet dessert wines and maybe also rich wines with cocoa undertones, there’s a chance you might enjoy chocolate wine–so long as you get the best version possible.
Is chocolate wine a new fad?
While chocolate wine ascended in popularity in recent years in the United States, it’s actually much older than you might think. In fact, some claim to trace chocolate wine back to 18th century England, when dry red wines and port wines were combined, then an infusion of bitter chocolate and milk was added.
By some accounts, chocolate wine can be traced as far back as 1723, when a man by the name of Jon Nott published a recipe for White Chocolate Wine in The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary.
While it is unclear just how popular chocolate wine was over the centuries, what’s clear now is that it’s making a re-emergence, in new ways, in the American market in particular.
Why wine and chocolate?
The general concept of wine with chocolate is not uncommon; consider that there are many expert pairings for regular wine and high-quality chocolate.
A number of wines pair quite well with chocolate. The main piece of advice is normally to match the wine’s level of bold or more subdued flavors with the chocolate.
- White chocolate pairs well with soft Riesling, Moscato, Port, Ice Wines, Cream Sherry, and Lambrusco
- Milk chocolate pairs well with Pinot Noir, Merlot, Port, Madeira, and some Moscato
- Dark chocolate pairs with Maury, softer Zinfandels, Syrah or Shiraz, Port, and Sherry
So in a sense, it makes a bit more sense when you consider directly combining chocolate and wine, however unconventional it may seem.
But to be clear, choosing the best chocolate wine is a bit different than a wine with food pairing matching sweet wines with chocolates.
Still, we’ll keep this in mind for later on.
What could I serve with chocolate wine, then?
What you serve with chocolate wine is a bit up to you, but we do have some suggestions. When pairing chocolate wine, keep it simple. Chocolate wine is already rather sweet, so you don’t want to add too much to that sweetness.
While it may be tempting to pair chocolate wine, for instance, with a rich chocolate dessert, consider a lower sugar, lighter dessert like angel food cake served with fresh fruit. Or even better, pair your chocolate wine with a cheese and fruit tray for an extra decadent touch.
Of course, chocolate wine can also be drunk alone, as an after-dinner treat.
What exactly does chocolate wine taste like?
While chocolate wine has a chocolate component to it, the taste has or at least should have a bit more depth. Many present initial tastes with a lighter, fruit-forward wine with a strong chocolate finish.
How do I find the best chocolate wine?
How to find the best chocolate wine is a little tricky. Unlike most other wines, there isn’t as much information or universal consensus. However, by applying some basic principles of wine and flavor pairing, we can suggest some strategies.
Who makes chocolate wine?
While there are a number of options for chocolate wine, a number of producers stand out as most popular and prominent. ChocoNoir, Confectioner’s Chocolate, ChocoVine, Chocolate Shop, The Chocolate Cellar, NV Désirée, Cocoa di Vine, Red Decadence, Cooper Vineyards and Trentadue stand out.
Does alcohol content matter?
The percent alcohol is actually something you want to look at. Some negative reviews of chocolate wine revolve around those that taste watered down. While there is no ideal percentage, aim for something that is not too far out of range for what you might expect with regular wine. The average wine is between eleven and twelve percent alcohol. Anything from ten to fourteen percent is your best bet.
What kind of chocolate should I look for?
One of the greatest risks when looking for chocolate wine is coming across something that is more reminiscent of inexpensive syrup than refined or rich. For that reason, if at all possible, you do want to note what kind of chocolate is being used. The following are all good signs, but what you like is based somewhat on personal preference:
- Baker’s/ semi-sweet or bitter: The same type of chocolate used in the original recipe from the 1700s, this tends to be a safe bet and provides pure if not exceptional chocolate flavor which can be adjusted in sweetness. The semi-sweet and bitter undertones also mimic some that naturally occur in red wines.
- Cocoa: You have two options here–regular or Dutch-processed. Regular cocoa will actually be more rich and intense while a Dutch-style provides more of milk chocolate. Both are better options than syrup.
- Dark chocolate will provide a richer, fuller taste than milk chocolate, though it is not for everyone or every wine. Do keep in mind that the term is somewhat flexible in meaning. That is, every country has different ways of measuring what makes dark chocolate, dark. It’s likely you want to be able to see the percent cocoa, though that would be arguably ideal.
What kind of wine is best with chocolate wine?
In other words, do I want wine with a full or lighter body? We’ve mentioned that often a sweet wine is added to make chocolate wine but if you want some depth, red wine is the best match. A more full-bodied red wine will produce a more rich, wine forward chocolate wine while a lighter red wine will make the chocolate more playful. What red wine makes the most sense goes hand in hand with what chocolate is being used.
- For soft milk chocolates, look for a light body, fruity red wine such as Lambrusco or Pinot Noir.
- For darker chocolates, a fuller fruit-forward red wine like Touriga Nacional and Cabernet Sauvignon adds rich depth.
- For an especially light and playful chocolate wine, consider a sparkling wine.
What sort of finish do I want?
Finish refers to the lasting flavor notes, and also how long they last after you sip. Not all chocolate wines will discuss finish, but if the wine does, a silky or smooth finish is a nice pairing. For darker chocolate wines, a lingering finish is a plus, but many chocolate wines may in fact have a shorter finish, which is not so much a problem as long as they are being paired in a meaningful way.
What about flavor notes?
Normally, when we’re trying to figure out how to find the best wine or any wine for that matter, we look carefully at flavor notes. With chocolate wine, it’s important to see that the flavor notes of the wine itself is mentioned and not just an emphasis on the chocolate.
- Dark to light berry notes, depending on the type of chocolate. Blackberries, cherries, raspberries, and even strawberries or blueberries
- Undertones to add depth, such as caramel, mocha or vanilla (just be wary that some of these might be artificially added, so pay attention to how it’s being described)
- Spices, including baking spices such as clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon provide an especially festive feel
- Avoid anything that is overly earthy or mineral
What are common add-ins, and how do they impact the chocolate wine?
Common add-ins include some kind of thickening agent, sugar and often milk.
- Milk will make for a richer and creamier chocolate wine, but it may also risk muted the flavor of the wine.
- Sugar, of course, is added to make the wine and chocolate sweet. While you may not be able to determine the exact level of sweetness, words such as ‘residual’ or ‘touch of’ indicate a more subtle sweetness. If you want a fuller, richer wine it may be best to look for keywords such as this. While sugar is course is needed to make chocolate wine, too sweet of a chocolate wine can be cloying and weak in flavor.
What about the price?
When it comes to chocolate wine, the fact of the matter is that you have fewer options, and chances are, you won’t end up spending much. Normally, a too cheap wine may be a bad sign, but when it comes to chocolate wine, the truth is you’re looking for a fun dessert wine, not the greatest wine that comes from a revered vineyard or has been finely aged.
- Chocolate wine is relatively inexpensive. Payless attention to the price tag and more attention to the characteristics of the wine
- That said, also be sure to purchase a brand that is well known or a wine that has been tested. Steer away from an off-brand and make sure you can at least learn something about the company, and, ideally, the wine itself.
Is there anything else I need to know that would be helpful for selecting the best chocolate wine?
Our final piece of advice is to go in with an open mind that chocolate wine, quite simply, is meant to be a different experience than regular wine. You won’t have some of the complexity, but chocolate wine does not need to be one-note, either. Remember, chocolate wine is meant to be a fun, festive dessert wine.
Do you have any recommendations for the best chocolate wine?
Depending on if you’re looking for a lighter or richer chocolate wine, your preferences may vary. Still, consider the following chocolate wines during your search:
First, a note about Choco Noir: This is a simple, carefree choice of chocolate wine and perfect for entertaining a variety of guests. While not inherently rich, complex, or bursting with wine flavor, it’s popular among those who may not drink wine as frequently but want to avoid something that is either flavorless or too strong. Smooth, soft chocolate with wine produced in California, this is not necessarily your best choice in that you don’t have much description in terms of flavor notes.
- ChocoVine Dutch Chocolate and Red Wine: Looking for an alternative, or a chocolate wine that’s still soft and approachable? Consider this version by ChocoVine. Dutch chocolate from Holland pairs with Cabernet Franc for a silky and smooth, rich, but not overly sharp or bitter wine.
- Chocolate Cellar Chocolate Red Wine: This chocolate red wine is a nice option if you want to make sure the wine itself is prominent enough, and if you’re craving a little more complexity out of chocolate wine. Dark chocolate, coffee beans, and cherry notes make for a richer chocolate wine. The lingering notes are sweet but also accented with cocoa.
- Red Decadence Chocolate Wine: This medium body red wine blend from Washington is another option for chocolate wine with a bit of depth. Black cherry, blackberry, and plum complement dark chocolate without becoming overwhelming.
- Trentadue Port Chocolate Amore: Chocolate extract is added to merlot and port wine for a sweet, chocolatey and smooth finish. The sweetness is more subtle, and the flavors gentle, focusing more on the pairing with the wine itself and less an overly sweet rendition.
- Cocoa Di Vine: Though it isn’t our very top pick, this wine comes from California and is an easy, rich and friendly option for entertaining. Vanilla and caramel undertones and a silky finish make it a nice treat–but you won’t get very much of a wine flavor.