Left: South-Valley confectioner Petits Noirs suggests a spicy Valentine’s Day pairing of a bite of cardamom-chocolate truffle with a sip of local red wine. Right: Local white wines play exceptionally well with treats featuring dulcet flavors, such as Petit Noirs’ Sweet Corn Salted Marcona Almond chocolate.

Wine-and-chocolate pairing

Love them, love them not

By Catie McIntyre Walker / Photos by Greg Lehman

The verdict is in: Some wine lovers enjoy a bite of chocolate with a sip of red wine, and others do not. Opinions by winemakers and wine writers for loving or not loving these two luxurious “food groups” can be as contentious as ... well ... as the recent presidential election.

There are numerous articles claiming one must stop the “silliness” of pairing chocolate confections with wine, while other reviewers celebrate the union of these rich mates on the palate.

Some critics of wine-and-chocolate pairings even go as far as picking on the red-foil heart-shaped boxes filled with chocolate gooey centers, nuts and chews. (I must admit, I rather love the tacky, nostalgic heart-shaped boxes.)

Critics of the wine-and-chocolate duo often take a scientific approach to their despair of the famous pairing. In an article for online wine publication, Pacific Northwest native Erika Szymanski, a journalist of wine science with a Ph.D. in microbial enology from Washington State University, details some reasons wine and chocolate do not make good partners:

Wine and chocolate ... a bit like a mother-daughter team: they don’t get along well because, in some ways, they’re just too darn similar. Both are concentrated sources of flavonoids (a class of polyphenol), some of the compounds that give wine its backbone, chocolate its bitterness ...

(R)ed wine is rich in tannin, but so is chocolate. Cocoa powder actually contains more tannin than black tea. So if you’ve ever thought that a piece of chocolate made your red wine taste more “dry,” there’s a good explanation ... Tannins, and flavones in particular, are part of what make a wine feel “dry”; they quite literally bind to the proteins that help make your saliva viscous, pull those proteins out of solution, and therefore make your mouth feel less moist ...

The acid in wine doesn’t do chocolate any favors, either. Tannins feel more astringent in acidic environments. Chocolate is slightly acidic — pH around 5.5 — but wine is much more so with a pH somewhere closer to 3, so the presence of acidic wine in your mouth may make the chocolate taste more astringent, too. ...

Sugar presents its own challenges ... We perceive ethanol as sweet all by itself ...

Scientifically, these explanations make sense if you are conducting professional tastings for wine notes — and especially in the case of a wine judge.

The only thing on a wine judge’s palate, other than wine, should be plenty of water to stay hydrated and to keep the palate clear; an unsalted bland cracker; and at the very most, a raw button mushroom to soak up any residual wine on the tongue. Yet many an ardent lover of wine and chocolate throws science out the door.

Wine-and-chocolate lovers will meet their match in the Walla Walla Valley. A variety of pairings are within reach, as many area wineries subscribe to the notion of this culinary duet. Valley wineries will often treat visitors — especially during special-event weekends — to combinations such as wine-infused chocolate cupcakes or chocolate cordials filled with their own selected red wine.

Not to mention, the Valley is home to chocolatiers whose specialty is pairing the bean with the grape — including Bright’s Candies’ Walla Walla Wine Cordials, filled with local wines, and Petits Noirs Fine Chocolate and Confections.

The specialty of Lan Wong and James Boulanger of Petits Noirs is crafting chocolate inspired not only by the fruits grown in the Walla Walla Valley, but also derived from the various complex notes found in the wines produced in the region. Their beautiful creations of chocolate truffles and Tablettes (tiles of chocolate framing a colorful assortment of dried fruits, herbs and nuts) are both pleasing to the eye and, paired with specific local wines, luscious on the tongue.

Petits Noirs’ chocolate-and-wine pairings defy science with a sweet, yet savory, violet-chocolate truffle paired with bold and rich Cabernet Sauvignons. A hint of spice is nice with a cardamom-chocolate truffle and a sip of red wine.

Cherry-anise chocolate is a match for the cherry-driven notes of Walla Walla’s famous Merlots.

The adventureous palate may discover Petits Noirs’ Spicy Piglet dark-chocolate Tablette — featuring pork rind and cayenne pepper — which responds to a glass of smoky Syrah.

White wines often also ignore science as well. Chardonnay, Roussane, Viognier and even Champagne can make chocolate magic happen on the palate when the pairing is enhanced with corn nuts or almonds.

So the next time you are out wine-tasting in the Walla Walla Valley and Tim or Lori from Don Carlo Vineyard hands you a chocolate-dipped potato chip to be paired with their Italian-influenced red wines, or the tasting-room staff at Tero Estates suggests you have a purple foil-wrapped dark chocolate “kiss” paired with their Cabernet Franc or Malbec, remember: You are not in science class. It’s recess — savor it.