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Is dark chocolate good with red wine?

Dark chocolate and red wine are two popular indulgences that many people enjoy. But does combining them make for a tasty pairing? There are several factors to consider when determining if dark chocolate goes well with red wine. In this article, we’ll explore the science behind food pairings, examine the flavors in dark chocolate and red wine, look at expert opinions, and provide serving recommendations to help you decide if this duo is a delight or a disaster.

The Science of Food Pairings

When considering if two foods go well together, it helps to understand a bit about food chemistry and how flavor compounds interact. Here are some key principles that influence pairings:

Flavor Bridges

Similar or complementary flavors create harmony. For example, the cocoa notes in dark chocolate bridge nicely to the cocoa undertones in many red wines. This flavor bridge connects the two.

Flavor Balances

A food pairing tastes best when there is a balance of sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami flavors. Dark chocolate is bitter and sweet while dry red wine offers sour and bitter notes. The combination provides balance.

Texture and Weight

Foods should have complementary mouthfeel and weight. Silky smooth dark chocolate and the round texture of red wine match nicely in the mouth. Additionally, both provide a rich, mouth-coating experience.

Aroma and Tannins

The way foods interact in the mouth also impacts pairings. Dark chocolate melts smoothly while the tannins in red wine help cleanse the palate. Their aromas also mingle interestingly.

Flavors in Dark Chocolate and Red Wine

Now that we’ve covered some pairing principles, let’s examine the specific flavors found in dark chocolate and red wine.

Dark Chocolate Flavors

Here are some of the main flavors found in dark chocolate:

  • Cocoa – Ranges from nutty to fruity
  • Sweetness – From sugar content
  • Bitterness – From cocoa compounds like caffeine and theobromine
  • Roasty – From high-heat processing
  • Earthy
  • Spicy – e.g. cinnamon or cayenne often added
  • Smoky

The cocoa percentage and ingredients influence the exact flavor profile. But in general, as the percentage increases, the chocolate becomes more bitter and less sweet.

Red Wine Flavors

Red wine flavors vary based on the grape varietal and terroir but often include:

  • Fruitiness – Cherries, plums, berries
  • Earthiness
  • Spiciness – Black pepper, clove, vanilla
  • Herbaceousness
  • Cocoa
  • Smokiness
  • Floral

The tannins in red wine also contribute an astringent, bitter, drying sensation. Bolder, oaked reds have more robust tannins.

Expert Opinions on Pairing Dark Chocolate and Red Wine

Now that we know the flavor profiles of each, let’s examine some expert wisdom on pairing dark chocolate with red wine:

Recommended Pairings

Many experts agree rich, fruity red wines that aren’t too tannic pair best with dark chocolate. Specific successful pairings include:

  • Pinot Noir – The fruitiness balances the bittersweet chocolate.
  • Zinfandel – Notes of plum and spice complement chocolate.
  • Malbec – Full-bodied yet smooth with cocoa notes.
  • Port – Intense sweetness contrasts with bittersweet chocolate.
  • Cabernet Franc – Red berry flavors work with chocolate’s fruitiness.

In general, Old World wines like Italian Amarone, Spanish Rioja, and French Bordeaux also pair well. Milk chocolate pairs better with sweeter, fruitier wines.

More Controversial Pairings

While the above pairings are generally agreed upon, experts disagree over whether full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon meshes well with dark chocolate’s bitterness. The tannins may clash. Merlot is also controversial – some find it delightful while others think it makes the chocolate taste sour.

Serving Recommendations

Following some serving tips can make your dark chocolate and red wine experience as delightful as possible:

Get the Right Chocolate

Stick to quality dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa content. Artisanal chocolate with complex flavor notes pairs best. Milk chocolate is too sweet. Avoid chocolate with add-ins like caramel or nuts that can clash with wine.

Select the Proper Wine

As noted, pinot noir, malbec and other fruit-forward, low-tannin reds pair best. Bolder cabs and merlots are more hit-or-miss. Tend toward mid-weight reds.

Mind the Order

Savor the chocolate first so the red wine can clear your palate. If you drink the wine first, the chocolate may taste dull.

Take Small Bites

Bite-sized morsels allow flavors to mingle best. Avoid large mouthfuls. Let the chocolate melt smoothly on your tongue before sipping the wine.

Cleanse Your Palate

Take small sips of water between pairings to reset your palate. The contrasts will stand out more.

Experiment With Temperatures

Cooler red wines allow chocolate flavors to shine while warmer temperatures accentuate the wine notes. Decanting red wine several hours before serving softens tannins.

Add Some Contrast

A nibble of salty Parmesan or sip of coffee can provide an interesting flavor and texture contrast.

Food Pairing Principles in Action

Let’s summarize how the guiding principles of food pairings relate to matching dark chocolate with red wine:

Flavor Bridges

The cocoa notes in both provide a complementary bridge.

Flavor Balance

Bitter and sweet chocolate balances sour, bitter wine.


Smooth chocolate and silky red wine offer similar mouthfeels.

Aroma and Tannins

Red wine tannins cleanse the palate from the chocolate. Their aromas mingle nicely.

Research on Dark Chocolate and Red Wine Pairings

Scientific studies provide further insight into this combination:

Survey Results on Perceptions

In a 2019 survey published in the Journal of Wine Research, researchers found most people considered red wine and dark chocolate a good pairing. Cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir were perceived as matching best.

Effects on Taste Perception

A study in the Journal of Food Science found participants rated the sweetness and bitterness of chocolate more intensely after drinking red wine. Researchers concluded the wine appears to amplify chocolate’s natural flavors.

Polyphenol Interactions

Compounds called polyphenols give both chocolate and red wine antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Researchers found these polyphenols bind well together, potentially enhancing absorption.

Potential Health Benefits

Beyond tasting delicious together, dark chocolate and red wine may also offer unique health perks:


Cocoa and red wine are both rich in antioxidant compounds that fight cellular damage from free radicals. Combining them provides an antioxidant boost.

Heart Health

Compounds in cocoa and red wine called flavonoids promote heart health by increasing good cholesterol, reducing bad cholesterol and lowering blood pressure.

Blood Flow

The flavonoids in chocolate and wine also help improve vascular function and blood flow, reducing the risk of blood clots.

However, moderation is key. The calories, sugar, alcohol and fat can negate benefits if overconsumed. Stick to a 1-2 ounce serving of dark chocolate with a 5 ounce glass of red wine.

Potential Downsides of Pairing Chocolate with Red Wine

Despite many experts proclaiming them a delight, the combo of dark chocolate and red wine isn’t for everyone. Here are some potential downsides:

  • Bitterness – The astringency of bold red wines can amplify dark chocolate’s bitterness.
  • Metallic taste – Some red wines create an unpleasant metallic taste when paired with chocolate.
  • Coating texture – The duo may coat the mouth too much for some.
  • Alcohol overpowers – The nuances of chocolate can be drowned out by high alcohol wines.
  • Too sweet – Milkier or sweeter dark chocolates clash with dry red wine.
  • Pairing fatigue – The richness can quickly become overwhelming.

The pairing really comes down to personal taste. Don’t force it if your palate perceives discordant flavors.

Pairing Guidelines by Chocolate Type

Not all dark chocolate is created equal. Here are pairing suggestions based on chocolate variety:

Cocoa Percentage

Cocoa Percentage Recommended Wine Pairing
70% dark Pinot noir or Beaujolais
80-85% dark Northern Rhone Syrah
90%+ Port or heavy Cabernet

Higher cocoa content pairs better with bolder, heavier wines that stand up to the intensity.

Region of Origin

Chocolate Origin Best Wine Matches
South America (Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador) Malbec
Mexico Zinfandel
Madagascar Pinot noir
USA (Hawaii) Red Zinfandel or Syrah

The red wine choice can highlight the regional cocoa flavors.

Bean Variety

Bean Variety Complementary Wine Style
Forastero Juicy Beaujolais or Pinot Noir
Criollo Lighter reds like Pinot Noir
Trinitario Jammier Merlot or Cabernet
Nacional Sweet red Port

Matching the wine to the natural flavor profile of the cocoa bean results in better pairings.

Pairing Tips for Different Red Wine Varietals

Each red wine varietal has its own characteristics. Here are pairing suggestions for popular types:

Pinot Noir

Fruity yet light bodied pinot noir works with many dark chocolates. Opt for a 60-70% cocoa bar.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Full-bodied cabs stand up to over 85% chocolate. Milk chocolate gets overwhelmed.


The softness complements chocolate but high alcohol versions overpower. Pair with 70% cocoa.


Lush, velvety malbec Harmonizes with chocolate’s creamy texture. Avoid milkier chocolates.


Spicy, jammy zins pair well with 60-75% chocolate. White chocolate is too sweet.


Northern Rhone syrahs mesh beautifully with bittersweet chocolate around 70% cocoa.


The inherent sweetness of port balances intense dark chocolate at 85% cocoa or higher.

Dessert Recipes Using Dark Chocolate and Red Wine

If you want to experience chocolate and wine together in dessert form, here are some tasty recipes to try:

Chocolate Wine Truffles

With red wine for flavoring, these truffles encapsulate the pairing. Roll in cocoa powder for presentation.

Red Wine Chocolate Cake

This moist chocolate cake uses red wine for a complex flavor. Top with chocolate ganache or glaze.

Chocolate Wine Brownies

For fudgy brownies, swap water for red wine. They pair great with a glass of Cabernet.

Chocolate Wine Pudding

This pudding uses red wine as one of the liquids. Garnish with whipped cream and shaved chocolate.

Chocolate Wine Mousse

Light yet rich, this airy mousse uses red wine to complement the dark chocolate.

Chocolate Wine Ice Cream

For a boozy frozen treat, add red wine to chocolate ice cream. Scoop into a wine glass.

Pairing Events and Chocolate Shop Offerings

If you want to experience the duo in a guided setting, some chocolate shops and wineries offer tasting events. You can also find chocolate truffles and bonbons infused with red wine flavors. Local wine and chocolate pairings are a great date night option.

Final Thoughts on Chocolate and Wine

While personal taste plays a role, dark chocolate and red wine can harmonize beautifully when the right elements align. So break off a square of silky 70% cocoa chocolate. Swirl a lush Pinot Noir or velvety Malbec. Indulge in a few blissful bites and sips. With the guidelines above, you now have the knowledge to create your own delicious pairing experience that highlights the flavors of both elements. Experiment with different varietals and cocoa contents to discover your perfect match.


Dark chocolate and red wine can be an excellent pairing when done right. The key is choosing a fruity, low-tannin red wine that will complement the cocoa notes in the chocolate. Bolder cabernets and heavily sweet chocolate cause clashes. Focus on quality artisanal chocolate with at least 70% cocoa. Red wine accentuates chocolate’s inherent flavors. For the most delightful experience, take small bites and sips while cleansing your palate in between. With compatible flavors, textures, and aromas, the duo makes for an indulgent treat for your tastebuds and your health. Follow the suggestions in this article, and you are sure to find chocolate and wine blends that delight your senses.