St. Valentine’s Day may not have been created by the chocolate industry, but it certainly helps support it. The day honoring one or more Christian saints named Valentinus ranks fourth in candy-giving holidays, making it a key contributor to the nation’s more than $19.5 billion in chocolate sales each year, according to the National Confectioners Association. That’s a ton of truffles and a king’s ransom in Hershey Kisses. A heart-shaped box of chocolates has become de rigueur for those who want to woo their ladies and gentlemen fair.
But what beverage is suitably romantic to wash down the fermented seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree? On Feb. 14, many romancers will choose Champagne and other sparklers. But if bubbly is not your beverage of love, other wines are even more complementary to the various types of chocolate. Following are some suggested pairings.
For purists, white chocolate is not chocolate at all, because it lacks the cocoa solids that define the confection. Nevertheless, some people prefer the ivory-colored blend of cocoa butter, sugar, milk solids and salt. Wines of a slightly sweeter nature are called for here.
The Mia Dolcea 2011 Moscato d’Asti ($13) fits the bill. Produced from Moscato grapes grown in Italy’s Piedmont region, the wine named “My Sweet” in Italian is characterized by a creamy sweetness and a flavor palate redolent of apricot, honey and pineapple. Subtle acidity and a delicate mouthfeel add to its appeal as a food wine.
For something similar, yet completely different, try the Heinz Eifel Eiswein NV ($26 for a 375 ml bottle). It’s 70 percent Sylvaner grapes and 30 percent Riesling grapes frozen on the vine before picking. This dessert wine from Germany’s Rheinhessen region has an intensely sweet flavor palate. Sip and savor the flavors together after each bite of white chocolate.
For something a little closer to home, try Cedar Creek Rosé ($21), produced by Cedarburg’s Cedar Creek Winery from 90 percent Marechal Foch and 10 percent Edelweiss grapes. At 18.5 percent alcohol by volume, this rosé fits squarely in the dessert wine category. The beautiful pink shade and bright fruit flavors refresh and romance the palate.
Chocolate in one form or another has been around since 1100 B.C., but milk chocolate first emerged in Germany in 1839. Blending cocoa solids with milk powder, liquid milk or condensed milk gives the chocolate a lighter, slightly sweeter flavor. Hershey is the leading U.S. purveyor of milk chocolate.
Milk chocolate calls for different wine pairings.
Since the movie Sideways, pinot noir has emerged as one of the most provocative, sensual and romantic wines. J Vineyards Estate Grown Pinot Noir ($34) is one of the category’s most rewarding products. Created from pinot clones grown in California’s Russian River Valley, the wine offers spicy dark fruit aromas and flavors of currant, plum and cherry in the glass. The wine’s acidity makes it food-friendly, and its allure contributes to romance.
If you’re on a tighter budget — or maybe a little less romance in your heart — try the Cavicchioli 1928 Lambrusco Emila IGT Dolce NV (a mere $7). This ruby red, semi-sweet wine has flavors of black cherry and currants, as well as a slight effervescence. It’s highly approachable for the novice red wine drinker.
If you favor Italian sparklers, you might opt for Banfi’s Rosa Regale ($20).
Produced using the Charmat process rather than Champagne’s traditional, double-fermentation approach, the wine is a collision of cranberry and raspberry aromas and flavors laced with a round finish and crisp acidity that make it a good palate cleanser. It’s deep-pink hue looks good in the glass.
Purists believe that dark chocolate, with its high concentration of fermented cocoa solids and its documented ability to lower blood pressure, is the only chocolate worth eating. Its dark, rich flavors come closest to providing the chocolate “experience” so many crave. With the right red wine, which also provides health benefits, dark chocolate can be part of a meal made in heaven.
Start off strong by serving St. Supéry 2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($27). The Napa Valley wine — a blend of 77 per- cent Cabernet, 11 percent merlot, 5 percent Cabernet Franc, 5 percent Malbec and 2 percent Petite Verdot — represents the consummate Bordeaux-style blend. With its purplish-red color, blackberry and plum aromas, and the Valley’s unique terroir, this wine is finely framed and elegant in its delivery.
For some- thing more “rustic,” as the category is called, few can beat the Frog’s Leap 2011 Zinfandel ($29). Produced from 85 percent of the signature grape, 14.5 percent Petite Syrah and 0.5 percent Carignan, the Napa Valley wine stresses big flavors over high alcohol levels. The wine delivers like a harvest of summer fruits — raspberry, fig and huckleberry for starters — blended not as a jam but with taut refinement. There is more here than often meets the palate. But if your sweetheart already knows California reds from grape to glass, something special may be in order. Try combining your dark chocolate selection with a 2008 Santi Amarone della Valpolicella DOC ($45), on of Italy’s most profound wines. Grown in the country’s Veneto region, Amarone producers take an extra step during the harvest process that makes the wine so extraordinary. Grapes in the blend — 65 percent Corvina, 30 percent Rondinella and 5 percent Molinara — are harvested in October then dried in an open shed for four months. The drying time concentrates the grapes’ natural sugars, resulting in a richly condensed and deliciously powerful profile. Flavors of plum and cherry team up with hints of cloves and cinnamon in this deep garnet-colored wine, with a taste of toasted almonds on the back palate.
Amarone is not an everyday wine, so St. Valentine’s Day may just be the day to share it with someone you love.