Additional articles BY COURTNEY COCHRAN

Wine & Chocolate SOS

What you REALLY Ought to Know About Pairing These Two Treats

I really wish someone would sit men down early in life and teach them this all-important talent. And no, it’s not their multiplication tables, nor does it have anything to do with the birds and the bees (helLO, that’s what cable’s for). And it’s certainly nothing as dull as how to – yawn - change a tire. This talent, instead, is something they only need to call upon once a year.

For the rest of their lives.

And that thing is – you guessed it – how to pair wine with chocolate. I can’t tell you how disconcerted I am every February 14 as I see men scurrying home to their sweeties with those token signifiers of romantic bliss – a box of chocolates and a bottle of Champagne. The problem is, chocolate, being the gooey sweet substance it is, calls for a wine that’s both high in alcohol (to cut through the mouth-coating goo) and SWEET (to complement chocolate’s saccharinity).

Because most Champagne is dry and of only moderate alcoholic strength, you don’t have to be a Mensa candidate to figure out that this rote combo falls flat every time.

Fortunately for readers of this column, it’s not too late to put your newfound knowledge to work this year. Read on for the low-down on two dynamite sweet wines that are sure to pair up beautifully with chocolate AND win the approval of your special someone. Just beware the extra kick of alcoholic strength; you need to make sure that YOU don’t fall flat before the night’s over!

The Ultimate Chocolate Wine
Made in a tiny appellation in France’s southerly Languedoc-Roussillon, Banyuls is a rich straw-colored dessert wine that’s considered the ultimate match for chocolate. Made from mostly Grenache grapes to which neutral grape spirit (as in booze, like a flavorless Brandy) has been added part way through fermentation, these wines are both sweet AND higher in alcohol thanks to the addition of the spirit. (The spirit kills the yeast responsible for fermentation, the process that converts the natural sugars found in grapes into alcohol, leaving behind residual sugar in the wine.) The wines are then left alone for up to 30 months or more to develop their complex aromas and flavors before bottling. Expect layered notes of figs, nuts, baking spice, licorice, orange peel and herbs.
Extra credit: Pair up the extremely rare Banyuls Blanc with white chocolate for a heart stopping combo. Watch for those from Domaine du Mas Blanc, available for about $26.

The Old Standby, Seen In a New Light
It’s a pity we don’t all drink more Tawny Port. The fabulously aromatic wine, redolent with aromas of nuts, caramel chews, raisins and coffee, is unfortunately often dismissed as stuff only fit for serious post-dinner chats by the fireside. For those us who don’t have a penchant for late night debates in front of an open hearth (does anyone even HAVE a fireplace anymore?), this means we don’t drink much Tawny. Which is too bad, because it’s absolutely fabulous with chocolate, not to mention all sorts of other rich and nutty desserts. Made in the same way Banyuls comes to life – fermenting grapes are fortified by the addition of high alcohol grape spirit, which also stops fermentation and leaves the wine sweet – Tawny Port is then softened over time by extended oak aging. Besides giving it time to develop its gorgeous bouquet, the time in oak also makes the wine lighter in color, hence the name “Tawny.” Pair it up with milk chocolates, especially those with nuts in the mix, for a deliciously complex match that should spark some fire of its own. The best versions are aged Tawnies; watch for Cockburn's 20 Year-Old Tawny Port, about $37.