Karletta Moniz on Chocolate and Booze

Karletta Moniz, The Culinary Muse, is a San Francisco based chef, writer, and food consultant whose passion for chocolate has inspired the creation of her new website, The Art of Tasting Chocolate, and her chocolate tasting and pairing classes. Her client list includes Disney, Neiman-Marcus, Jamba Juice, ABC-TV, and more...

[Note: Her next class is on June 1, 2007 at the Cheese School of San Francisco on Russian Hill.]

I have this theory about how the pairing of chocolate and red wine started. It's 1970. A couple marketing guys are trying to figure out what to do with a warehouse full of Cold Duck. Valentine's Day is fast approaching. You know the rest.

Or maybe it happened around the same time that chefs and winery owners started proclaiming that red wine was great with filet of sole and that there was nothing wrong with pairing a Chardonnay with a juicy rare T-bone. And frankly, if that's what you think tastes great, go right ahead.

But don't you want to know why some pairings work and others don't? Wouldn't you really rather skip the expensive mistakes and go right for the matches made in heaven? Why ruin a $25 glass of Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose Champagne with a milk chocolate truffle? I want a pairing to go beyond just knocking back a glass of wine and a piece of chocolate. I want it to deliver a brand new experience. I want the sum to be greater than its parts. Here are some of my favorites pairings that are guaranteed to take you to the next level:

Port: Never paired chocolate with a libation before? Start with port. Why? It is novice- and pocketbook-friendly. A good bottle of 10 year-old tawny port can be found for less than $25. Pair this with gianduja (chocolate and hazelnut) or a high percentage cacao milk chocolate. Trader Joe's has a good selection of reasonably priced ports and well-priced chocolate from Valhrona and Scharffenberger.

Sherry: Not just for spinster aunts or English detectives in BBC mysteries. My favorites are the sherries made from the Pedro Ximenez grape variety. A sip of Sandeman Royal Ambrosante Old Solera Pedro Ximenez (aged 20 years) is delicious, a taste of Amedei of Tuscany's Chuao dark chocolate is bliss. Combine the two and you have entered the realm of the divine where the flavor of dark raisin and molasses are almost overwhelming. It is hard to believe that a glass of liquid and a square of chocolate can deliver so many flavor nuances.

Madeira (Malmsey):
For a combination that is smooth caramel bliss, try a Malmsey type Madeira paired with a high percentage cacao milk chocolate like Guittard's 38% Cacao or El Rey's 41% Cacao. The sweetness and acidity are a perfect match, as are the slightly viscous mouthfeel of the Madeira and the creamy milk chocolate.

Effervescent: Treat yourself to a glass of the 2005 Accornero Brigantino made with the Malvasia di Casorzo grape (a relative of the Malvasia grape varietal used to make Malmsey). Loads of raspberries and strawberries with a slight frizzante that tickles the tongue and clears the palate between nibbles of dark chocolate-covered strawberries. A very romantic pairing.

Scotch: Go for the smooth single malts with just a hint of smoke. Oban Highland 14 is just the one to pair with the spicier dark chocolates that confectioners are creating these days. A sip of Scotch and a bite of Green & Black's Maya Gold (dark chocolate, orange, and hot spices) will warm anyone up on a foggy San Francisco evening.