Why red wine and chocolate aren’t meant to be

I have no love advice to offer today, but am in the matchmaking business, so I would like to play cupid to a dysfunctional couple. Chocolate and red wine seems like a match made in rose petal-strewn beds and bubble baths, but the two couldn’t be more ill-suited for one another. The idea behind the pairing makes sense. You love chocolate and you love red wine. Your merlot may even grant you hints of cocoa, and you probably have a little left in your glass when dessert is served. But bring the two together and they fight like an old married couple.

The most important rule to remember when pairing wines with dessert is that the wine ought to be sweeter than what you are eating. Since most table wines are completely dry, even bittersweet chocolate makes red wine taste acrid. What a waste of two perfect treats.

“But I don’t like sweet wines,” I hear you all whine. To which I respond, “Yes, you do.” The key to making amends with dessert wine is to buy a high quality one and to actually drink it with dessert. Just like top quality chocolate, a good dessert wine will have enough fruitiness, acidity, and complexity to temper its sweetness. Also, just like with chocolate, a little goes a long way, so keep the pours small. No dessert wines are meant to be drunk by the goblet.
What chocolate with what wine though? A good rule of thumb is the darker the chocolate, the darker the wine. With dark chocolate desserts (or just straight up hunks of it), I like Banyuls from France’s Rhône Valley, ruby port, or Italy’s Recioto della Valpolicella (basically vinified raisins). For a local match made in heaven, Glass House Winery’s Meglio del Sesso combines Norton and Chambourcin grapes with ground dark chocolate. The infused wine is racked off the sediment (dubbed “chocolate mud”) and then sweetened slightly while the chocolate mud goes into owner Michelle Sanders’ wine cream chocolates.

With milk chocolate mousses, Bordeaux’s famous Sauternes and Hungary’s legendary Tokaji (both of which are made from grapes affected by Botrytis cinerea, the fungus known as noble rot) make an unlikely but delightful pairing.

For desserts that combine fruit with chocolate, I prefer muscat (from Australia’s “stickies” to Italy’s Moscato d’Asti), framboise (like Bonny Doon’s infusion of raspberries), Italy’s fizzy red called Brachetto d’Acqui, or ice wine (see Winespeak 101).

Chocolate studded with nuts, toffee, or caramel go beautifully with off-dry sherry (oloroso, PX, or cream), Italy’s hazelnuty Vin Santo, and tawny port.

There is one dream date of a wine that woos every dessert­—chocolate or not—into blissful submission: Madeira. This 400-year-

old fortified wine produced on the Portuguese island of the same name is heated up to 140 degrees for at least 90 days before it’s oxidized through barrel-aging. Choose one on the sweeter side (like Broadbent 10-Year Malmsey, which has caramel notes enlivened by tangy acidity) and stop committing senseless crimes of passion. It may take some adjusting, but chocolate and red wine are definitely better off going their separate ways.

Bigs bucks in Virginia wine
Good news for our once-boutique wine industry just keeps on coming. The results of the first economic impact study conducted since 2005 are in and show that our wine industry contributes $747 million dollars annually to Virginia’s economy representing a 106 percent increase. The number of wineries have increased from 129 in 2005 to 193 in 2010 with full-time jobs at wineries and vineyards rising from 3,162 to 4,753. These figures owe a lot to tourism—the number of wine-related tourists visiting Virginia went from 1 million in 2005 to 1.62 million in 2010. They’re brandishing their credit cards, too—money spent at wineries shot up from $57 million in 2005 to $131 million in 2010.

Love is in the air
Virginia is indeed for lovers, and wine lovers who visit Veritas Winery this month will be greeted with a 6′ “L-O-V-E,” spelled out with corks hanging above the tasting room bar. Veritas is the first tourism destination to profess its love in a campaign launched by the Virginia Tourism Corporation to remind us of our state’s 40-year-old brand.

Warming up to winter
Winter in Virginia wine country means fewer crowds and more personal attention. Through April 1, you can purchase a Winter Wonderland Winery Passport and taste at Keswick Vineyards, Blenheim Vineyards, Jefferson Vineyards, and Castle Hill Cider for one $15 fee.

Winespeak 101
Ice wine (n.): A dessert wine produced from grapes that freeze on the vine. The sugars and other dissolved solids do not freeze, but the water does, resulting in small quantities of very concentrated wine.