Grape and Cacao—wine and chocolate pairings at BOE

Raaka 71% dark chocolate with sea salt, 2006 BOE Social Club Red, 2009 BOE Chardonnay, and 2010 Cabernet Franc Rose, were among several wines and chocolates paired at a recent BOE wine and chocolate event. Photo by Jonathan W. Walton

by Jonathan W. Walton

In the dimming light, sprawled out before us on a big communal table at the BOE (Brooklyn Oenology) tasting room, were several half empty bottles of New York wine surrounded by ten or so mounds of Brooklyn-made chocolate. Chocolate and wine makers together, we dove in one by one, systematically comparing over 80 combos without realizing that the smorgasbord had grown to overflowing. Between testing a riesling with smoked chocolate, and gearing up for the black-truffle-chocolate pairings, I took a step back and tried to fathom the decadence before us on this chill winter night. With a deep breath, I washed down the riesling and got back to work.

For most folks, the idea of eating a load of cocoa in the weeks after a certain chocolate-filled Hallmark holiday is not exactly appealing. But I’d make the case that, just like rose after the end of summer, and Champagne in the cool months following New Year’s Eve, chocolate and wine are a unique culinary treat to be enjoyed in many contexts and freed from the chattels of February romance.

It used to be a simpler world for chocolate and wine, a world made up mostly of port and a lot less top-tier dark chocolate. As the chocolate industry shifted toward more artisanal producers that feature single-origin bars and unique infusions, the options for pairing table wines greatly increased. One perfect example is a match-up of Brooklyn Oenology’s 2010 Sauvignon Blanc with Mast Brothers Serrano Pepper Dark Chocolate. In the old wine and chocolate paradigm, a Sauvignon Blanc would never be considered a good match for chocolate, but with Mast Brother’s addition of the serrano pepper to their chocolate, the tables turn. Herbaceous notes of the Sauvignon Blanc that would have fallen flat on a simple dark chocolate come alive when had with the serrano pepper; the chocolate actually highlights latent peppery flavors in the wine! A good pairing indeed, and one that couldn’t have existed with chocolates of Valentine’s Days past.

Over the last few weeks of pairing local chocolates with local wines, I noted that remarkably few patterns emerged to guide one’s matching choices in the expanded categories of fine chocolate and wine. The classic advice still holds fairly true, that you want to select a chocolate less sweet than the wine you will be having with it. For something like a milk chocolate, or anything in the below 60% dark range, you can look to the fortified sweet wines of the world. One of my favorite match-ups highlighting this end of the classical approach is Fine and Raw’s supple bonbon bar paired with Channing Daughter’s Pazzo, a madeirized dessert merlot. While the bonbon bar is relatively sweet, the Pazzo is sweeter still, and its lightly oxidized style brings out many interesting secondary flavors in the chocolate.

On the other end of the classical chocolate-and-wine pairing spectrum you can marry dry table wines to the best, darkest chocolate you can get your hands on. Brooklyn Oenology’s 2006 Social Club Red is a delicately complex, dry bordeaux blend that is more at home with pasta situations than anything sweet. This red is refreshingly dry when had alone, which means that if you were to pair it with anything sweet, say a Swiss milk chocolate, it would transform the wine into something tasting more like vinegar; it would be sour. In comes Raaka Chocolate’s 71% dark bar with sea salt. This amazingly savory bar changes the texture of the Social Club Red a bit, yet the rich quality of the bar, along with its touch of salinity, triggers your thirst and makes the Social Club Red all the more gluggable.


While these two pairing examples show the usefulness of the classical chocolate/wine approach, I have encountered as many, if not more, pairings that disprove the dark/milk, dry/sweet matching logic. There are so many more unique chocolates available today than in years past; many of these bars’ singular flavors pair unpredictably with table wines. It might be more confusing than it used to be to pair wine and chocolate, but where there are more pitfalls there are also more undiscovered flavors and hedonistic moments to be had. My advice, sadly, is pretty simple: try a ton of different combos and keep an open mind about how each pairing changes both the chocolate and the wine. And above all, enjoy!

Brooklyn Oenology Winery (‘EN-ology, or simply ‘BOE’), a local winery which applies the work of Brooklyn artists on its bottle labels, is hosting a new wine release party and artist reception on Friday, April 6th from 7pm – 12am in its tasting room at #209 Wythe Ave at N. 3rd St. in Williamsburg.  The party celebrates the release of Brooklyn Oenology 2010 Pinot Gris ‘Orange’ Wine, and the opening of a solo exhibition of work by artist Jeff Huntington, whose painting “Torrera” is featured on the 2010 Pinot Gris label. 

To celebrate, BOE will feature $2 off glasses of 2010 Pinot Gris, 10% off all bottles of BOE wines, and complimentary snacks will also be served.  BOE winemaker Alie Shaper and Jeff Huntington will both attend and the reception is open to the public.   All are invited.