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Is wine the best chocolate pairing option?

Chocolate pairing with red wine seems to be the most acclaimed culinary experience suggested for festive events. Is it?


Published February 9, 2020

“Red wine and chocolate” seem to be the acclaimed pairing for festive events. You can indeed read in popular media that red wine is an aphrodisiac and that chocolate antioxidants provide ammunition to keep your energy for the evening.

From a sensory point of view, chocolate flavors and mouthfeel sensations go well together. Like wine has its wine aroma wheel to help describe wine perceptions, so does chocolate. 

Did you know that the most important sensory attributes for good wine and chocolate pairings are textures and flavors?

But, is wine the best beverage to pair with chocolate?

 I turned to science to find an answer and found an article published in 2012 by Italian researchers on the topic. The title is:” The hedonic response to chocolate and beverage pairing: A preliminary study” [1].

They hadn't found any systematic study that attempted to understand people’s preferences for chocolate and chocolate pairing with beverages. So they took on the challenge.


How did scientists test the best chocolate pairing?

They selected three types of chocolate, based on their coca content (30%, 70%, and 99%), and that was widely available in Italy.

They then selected 18 beverages based on a previous survey asking people to share the drinks that they found appropriate for a chocolate pairing. 

Finally, they asked 80 frequent chocolate consumers to participate in their study over several days, considering the number of beverage and chocolate pairings to taste (54 pairs, that’s a lot!).

This study was an intense process, in three phases, however, necessary to record people’s appreciation of each pairing without much bias.

Phase 1: 

People tasted a sample of each chocolate and recorded how much they liked it on a scale going from 1 - I dislike it extremely to 9- I like it extremely.

They did the same exercise with the 18 beverages, and in 2 sessions because tasting 18 samples varying from water to Whisky in one sitting is exhausting.

Phase 2: 

People came back nine times to evaluate a total of 54 beverage-chocolate pairs.

The task required from the participants was a bit complicated but doable with the right amount of instructions.

“ Consumers were told to take the portion of chocolate served and let it melt on the tongue for 5 s. They were then instructed to move the chocolate around their mouths so that the chocolate could coat the oral cavity. A sip of the beverage was then taken and moved around the mouth, and each pair was scored on overall liking.” (page 706)

People answered then two questions:

  1. How much do you like this pairing?
  2. Which flavor was dominant: Chocolate or the beverage.


What did we learn about beverage and chocolate pairing?

Overall, the 30% and 70% cacao content chocolates paired quite well with most beverages.

In particular, people liked 30% cacao chocolate paired with liqueur wine, balsamic vinegar, black tea, Port wine, sparkling wine, Lambrusco wine, coffee, and grappa.

For the 70% cacao chocolate, balsamic vinegar was the best match. (Remember that the study took place in Italy. Indeed a chocolate pairing I should try.) Liqueur wine, Belgian stout, and sparkling wine, all paired with the 70% cacao chocolate, but much less than the balsamic vinegar.

The challenge came with the 99% cacao chocolate. I can expect this chocolate to be extremely bitter and very slow to melt in the mouth as it does not contain much fat or sugar. Balsamic vinegar (again) was the best match. Balsamic vinegar is sour and viscous and often has sweet aromatics notes. These sensations can balance the bitter taste and dry mouthfeel of the chocolate when both are in the mouth.


In terms of wine and chocolate pairing, 

Sparkling wine, Lambrusco wine, Sauvignon wine, and the Port wine matched best with the lower cacao content chocolate. People liked somewhat the sparkling wine- 70% cacao chocolate pairing. As I say often, you are rarely wrong with Sparkling wine and food pairing.

The only two red wines, Lambrusco and Port wines, paired better with 30% cacao chocolate. The sweetness and fattiness of this chocolate can compensate for the dryness and alcohol-burning sensations of these two wines.

Overall, balsamic vinegar, coffee, liqueur wine, and Port wines appeared to be the right choice for chocolate pairing in most circumstances.


Another interesting finding,

People’s liking for a beverage conditioned the love of this beverage-chocolate pairing. 

The scientists concluded that “beverage features take a greater supporting role than food in the formulation of consumer pair liking judgment.”

Therefore choosing a wine you like first, and then food that won’t dominate the wine flavors seems to be the best strategy when it comes to wine and food pairing.

The Italian researchers used a rigorous procedure to understand beverage-chocolate pairings. The way people tasted the 54 pairs does not represent the way we usually consume chocolate and wine. However, the learnings provide useful guidance if you rarely practice such food pairing.




Reference: 

Gianluca Donadini, Maria Daria Fumi, Milena Lambri, The hedonic response to chocolate and beverage pairing: A preliminary study, Food Research International, 48, 2, 2012, Pages 703-711, ISSN 0963-9969, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodres.2012.06.00



Categories: Lifestyle, wine aroma


Isabelle Lesschaeve

Principal, Blog author, and Wine Tasting Coach

Internationally renowned wine sensory scientist, Isabelle demystifies wine tasting and helps serious wine lovers sharpen their tasting skills and tasting notes in a supportive community.

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