'Tis the season for my two favourite food groups: wine and chocolate. Food groups? You might think that's a stretch, but after reading Red Wine Diet ($19, Penguin, 2007), the new book by British scientist and researcher Roger Corder, who recommends we drink red wine and eat dark chocolate every day, you may be tempted to rethink that notion and realize it can be the perfect wine pairing.
A pharmacist and professor of experimental therapeutics, Corder studied the diets of some of the longest-living humans -- inhabitants of the French wine-producing region of Madiran and the islands of Crete and Sardinia -- and concluded that although they eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts and berries, it's actually their consumption of tannic red wine and dark chocolate that's a significant factor in their longevity. Corder says that both contain high concentrations of pigments known as flavonoids, the most significant being proanthocyanidin, which has a beneficial physiological effect on our hearts. Any time a health expert prescribes wine and chocolate, it's a great day!
Wine and chocolate pairings
Recently, I tasted Belgian Côte d'Or chocolates under the watchful eye of Dana Zemack, a chocolate expert from Boston whose blog and website, thetastyshow.com, is the absolute gastroporn of melt-in-your-mouth moments. Here are our conclusions, but don't hesitate to try other combinations.
Lait Intense, 34% cacao. Milk chocolate is high in cocoa butter, which delivers a creamy, soft texture along with rich vanilla flavours. Courvoisier VSOP Exclusif Cognac ($80) with a wafer of this chocolate is heaven on the tongue. The richness of the chocolate effectively coats the palate, counteracting this young cognac's initial sting. The pairing brings forward wonderful toffee, nut and oaky vanilla nuances. Curiously, this chocolate had a less desirable effect on Courvoisier XO ($200), reducing the cognac's more complex spirit to merely pleasant.
Noir de Noir Mignonnette, 54% cacao. Most sweet wines work with chocolate -- provided the former is sweeter than the latter. Port is a no-brainer, but the fruitier Taylor Fladgate First Estate Reserve ($16) and Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage Port 2001 ($18) fare better than a nutty 10-year-old tawny. Another great match worth trying is Southbrook Vineyards Framboise ($16/375 mL), a delicious fruit wine that's made from Ontario raspberries.
Noir 70% cacao. Look for New World wines aged in American oak, such as the jammy Rosemount Diamond Label Shiraz ($16) from Australia or the spicy Rosenblum Zinfandel ($20) from California. Avoid the tart, lighter reds of France's Bordeaux and Burgundy regions, as well as the Tuscany region of Italy -- those reds tear the heart out of chocolate, leaving only a bitter bite.
Noir 86% cacao. The smoky, tobacco flavours of this extra-dark chocolate play beautifully in concert with a well-aged cognac like the profoundly complex Courvoisier XO ($200). Another spectacular match you may enjoy: Mort Subite Framboise ($4/372 mL), a Belgian fruit lambic beer.
Noir Orange, 70% cacao studded with candied orange peel. These tiny crunchy specks of candied orange zest embedded in dark chocolate would clash with most combinations, but here are two they sparkle with: Ice Bees ($40/375 mL), a vidal icewine produced by the 20 Bees winery in Ontario, whose sweet, peachy, apricot flavours accentuate the chocolate's citrus notes; the other perfect pairing is Grand Marnier ($46/750 mL), the ever-popular orange liqueur.
As with any food and wine combination, it pays to experiment on yourself before doing so with guests, so enjoy your wine and chocolate.