When compiling this list of the best wine and chocolate pairings, we knew exactly who to turn to. That would be restaurateur Piero Selvaggio, the owner of Santa Monica's famed Valentino restaurant, a destination for anyone looking for transcendent Italian cuisine or a romantic date spot.
It also happens to have one of the best wine cellars in town—perhaps even in the country. With up to 130,000 bottles from 2,800 different labels, the extensive selection of classic and obscure wines has earned Valentino Wine Spectator's top-tier Grand Award every year since 1981, and the magazine has even gone so far as to call the cellar "the greatest wine cellar of them all."
When we spoke to him in 2016, Selvaggio was preparing to celebrate Valentine's Day at Valentino with "the [wine] equivalent of a great red rose." That would be a single 2-ounce pour of Donnafugata Ben Ryé passito di pantelleria, which is widely regarded as one of the world's best naturally sweet wines. But what if your Valentine prefers a box of Valentines day chocolates to wine and roses? Read on for Selvaggio's picks for a perfect chocolate and wine pairing.
Structured, naturally sweet wines balance bitter dark chocolate's sharp taste, a result of its high cacao content. "Sherry wines are always the very best," Selvaggio said. "They are the ones that have enough alcohol and structure to hold up to dark chocolate, and that is definitely one of the great directions to take." He recommended cream sherries in particular, though Italian marsala and French banyuls also made his list of suggestions.
"Sweet and sweet are just two things that go together rather than fight," Selvaggio said. Sticking to this guideline for wine and chocolate pairings, he suggested coupling sweetened dark chocolate with a dessert wine, such as a California port wine. A rich, honeyed sauternes from France would also pair nicely, as would an Italian brachetto—a slightly sparkling red wine from Italy's Piedmont region—if you're looking as a lighter, more effervescent option.
Any wine capable of complementing milk chocolate's rich creaminess needs to "add a little refreshment," Selvaggio said. For this reason, he recommended a wine containing aromatic, fruit-forward muscat, a large family of grapes that includes familiar favorites such as pleasantly sweet moscato d'asti. Some non-vintage ports may also work well with milk chocolate, but Selvaggio emphasized the importance of choosing a port whose initial flavor is strong and creamy.
It isn't technically chocolate, but white chocolate lends its subtle taste to plenty of desserts. "Ice wine is probably the first [pairing suggestion] that comes to mind," Selvaggio said. The honeyed fruit flavors of ice wine reinforce Selvaggio's belief in the sweet-sweet combination. For this reason, he also recommended sweet and semisweet rieslings.
Selvaggio offered two options for chocolate-covered strawberries. Riesling is versatile enough to complement the dessert without overwhelming it. However, wine can also be the star of the pairing, as is the case with a Hungarian tokaji. "It will have a structure all on its own, and it will have a great, high content of natural sugar," he said. "The little acidity of the strawberry will actually kind of harmonize with the richness of the tokaji."
|Bitter dark chocolate||cream sherry, marsala, banyuls|
|Sweet dark chocolate||port, sauternes, brachetto|
|Milk chocolate||muscat, moscato d’asti|
|White chocolate||ice wine, semisweet riesling|
|Chocolate-covered strawberries||riesling, tokaji|