On Valentine’s Day, you can have your candy and your glass of wine and feel good about it, too—if, that is, the wine is red and the chocolate is dark. Both dark chocolate and red wine contain components called polyphenols that are actually good for your heart and blood vessels in moderation. Several studies show that consuming dark chocolate candy can modestly lower blood pressure and improve blood flow to the heart and brain. Research also shows that one or two glasses a day of red wine reduces the risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack and hardening of the arteries in otherwise healthy people by 30 to 50 percent, compared to non-drinkers. The two are an unbeatable combination when it comes to good taste and good health.
To make the most of this combo, for starters, choose a dark chocolate candy with at least 50 percent cacao. (That means no milk chocolate.) And select a deep red wine, because the deeper the color, the more polyphenols it contains. Then, look for interesting combinations.
Both chocolate candy and wine have a complex array of flavors that can be tricky to match,says Karen Hochman, editorial director of Thenibble.com, a specialty foods blog. “The perfect pairing of chocolate and wine balances sweetness, fruitiness and acidity of both—and your own flavor preferences, of course,” she says.
Beginners can keep things simple and still make excellent choices with some general suggestions, she says.
Semisweet or bittersweet chocolate candy. Chocolates with a cacao content of more than 50 percent—pair best with red wines and port (typically, a sweet red fortified wine with a higher alcohol content than regular wine.) “Try cabernet sauvignon from Robert Mondavi, pinot noir from Mondavi, Beaulieu or Beringer; merlot from Hogue Cellars or Kendall Jackson—all under $10 a bottle,” Hochman suggests. If you like zinfandels, a heartier grape, look for Bogle, Ravenswood Winery and Rosenblum Cellars.
Berry-flavored chocolate. A flavor called “red fruit,” can be found naturally in some chocolate candy, depending on the cacao and how it is processed. It can also be infused into the chocolate, or be found in a cherry cordial or a bonbon with strawberry or raspberry cream. For any of these, grab the cabernet, merlot, pinot noir or ruby port, which have their own red berry flavors, Hochman suggests.
Nut-flavored chocolates. Whether the chocolate contains nuts or nut paste like gianduja (hazelnut paste) or marzipan (almond paste), try a tawny port, a red wine aged in wooden barrels that gradually mellows to a golden-brown color and a “nutty” warm flavor, to complement the nuttiness, Hochman suggests. Also consider a cream or fino sherry (wine fortified with brandy) or match the candy with the corresponding nut liqueur, such as amaretto for almonds and Frangelico for hazelnuts, she suggests.
Mint advice. Mint can be a very pronounced flavor, whether in chocolate mint cremes, mint thins, mint bars, or other variations of mint and chocolate candy, Hochman says. “Some California cabernets and zinfandels have pronounced minty nuances of their own and actually work well with mint chocolate, but they tend to be costlier bottles,” she says. “Ask your wine merchant if there are minty cabs in your price range.”
Caramel-filled chocolate candy.Chocolate caramels are delicious with a cream sherry such as Harvey's Bristol Cream (around $12), which has nutty and vanilla notes that complement caramel (and toffee, too). Christian Brothers Cream Sherry sells for around $5.00, although it lacks the complexity of Harvey's.
Tropical chocolates. Chocolate candies with flavors such as citrus, pineapple, mango and similar fruits, are tricky to pair, with a tartness that calls for vin santo, an amber-colored dessert wine from the Tuscany region of Italy, Hochman says. (There’s a similar wine, vinsanto, from the Santorini area of Greece). Like many dessert wines, vin santo/vinsanto tends to be pricey ($40 and up for a half bottle, 375 ml.) But Villa Puccini sells 500 ml bottles in the $12 to $14 range.
Chili-infused chocolate candy. This spicy-sweet combination needs a fruity, fortified red wine to pair with, Hochman says. “Look for a ruby port from Dow, Fonseca, Taylor Fladgate, Sandemans or Warre, famous producers of fine vintage port. These ports sell for $12 to $15, but your retailer can steer you to brands under $10 that do the trick.” (Christian Brothers is $5.00). If you insist on a non-fortified wine, try a zinfandel by Bogle, Ravenswood Winery and Rosenblum Cellars, she adds.