When I was planning my wine and chocolate party I had the lovely opportunity to speak with Peter Marks, an expert on the subject. Peter is a wine master and wine educator at COPIA — The American Center for Wine, Food, and Arts — in Napa, CA. He has won an array of wine-related awards and even hosted a wine-centric television show. His highly sensitive tastebuds are not afraid of sweet Rieslings or White Zinfandels. To see what he taught me about pairing food and wine, read more.
PartySugar: How do you choose a food and wine pairing?
Peter Marks: I don't over analyze it. It really depends on your mood and who you are serving. I think about the general weight of the food, the level of sweetness in both the dish and the wine, the level of fat. You have to find a balance between the salt and the acid. If you have a very acidic white wine, you can lessen the acidity by eating something salty. Season the food to make the wine taste better. Also remember that many wines that may taste sweet are actually super fruity. The intensity of fruit gives the impression of a high level of sugar.
PS: What are some classic wine and chocolate pairings?
PM: A dry Cabernet Sauvignon with chocolate is a classic pairing that we do at Copia. But half the people who taste it love it and the other half don't. When pairing wine with anything avoid extremes. Don't choose a wine with heavy tannins to pair with bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, instead, look for young, fruit-driven wines. Choose a wine that is as sweet or sweeter than the food to maintain a level of sweetness. If the wine is less sweet you'll have that drinking-OJ-after-brushing-your-teeth effect that creates a bitter, bad taste in your mouth. Rieslings work well with chocolate because they are both sweet and acidic. Madeiras complement chocolate with nuts or caramels because the wine has a baked nutty character. For milk chocolate a super-sweet Port, cream Sherry, or late-harvest Riesling are nice selections.
PS: Can you pair Champagne or sparkling wine with chocolate?
PM: In general, most sparkling wines are very dry and highly acidic so they don't pair too well with it. The sweeter styles a doux or semi-sec are OK to pair with something like white chocolate. A fruity sparkling wine also may work like a Rosé or a Blanc de Noir. Other options are a Spumante or Moscato di Asti, which go well with caramel and vanilla flavors. These are lower in alcohol and super-sweet sparklers. Sparkling Shiraz is very good with dark chocolate. An
PS: What advice do you have for a young wine drinker who doesn't know much about wine? How can they pair wine and food?
PM: Select wine you like, serve food you like and go from there. Pay attention to what happens when you enjoy the two together. Choose flavors that either mimic or contrast. Richer foods tend to go better with richer wines. Match the flavors of the dish to the wine or contrast the two. Contrasting always provides a surprising result. I love to pair a Riesling with smoked foods.
PS: What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
PM: It's more a philosophical effect. For me to really enjoy a pairing, I have to be with my favorite people. Usually my favorite pairing is the food and wine I am currently having. However, I really enjoy fresh salmon with lighter red wines like a Pinot Noir or a Beajulois Nouveau.