Valentine's Day Wine Notes by Brian

Wine & Chocolate

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A sudden snowy February with some rather cold temperatures has settled in on our beloved island. And, well, I know all of you LivingWhidbeyIslanders are hunkering down with provisions to ride the weather out for a while. I also know that cabin fever sets in pretty quickly around here and we must get out and about! Here’s a local event put on by four of our island wineries and two distilleries called “Red Wine and Chocolate Tour”, normally slated for the two weekends flanking Valentine’s Day, the event has been rescheduled due to our snowy weather: see RW&C Tour

A note about this event: A lot of hard work and effort is put into the Red Wine and Chocolate Tour with wonderful local chocolatiers joining in to create special treats to accompany wines and liquors. I encourage attendees to have open minds and palates and just go with what is being offered during this event. I say this because... here it comes... dry red wine and dark chocolate are not meant for each other! They are both great individually, but I think you’ll find the bitter slam to your palate will be a bit of a downer without the finesse that the vendors have put in the versions of chocolate/wine pairings. Pace yourself. Too much of a good thing can quickly become a rough night and morning in more ways than one.

That’s not to say that when you are home and have that “super-high-percentage-of-cocoa” dark chocolate bar and the Cabernet Sauvignon that you shouldn’t give it a go. Before sipping any wine, and, with a clean palate, take a bite of the chocolate and enjoy it, swallow and chase it with a sip of Cabernet. Let the wine sit in your mouth a few seconds and swallow. Or, do the good old…. “close your eyes and don’t say anything” routine we talk about. Think about what you are experiencing. Like that? Maybe, maybe not. After you’ve finish that initial taste, reverse the procedure and take a sip of Cabernet followed with a bite of dark chocolate. See what you think -- it’s your palate. The clash of flavanols (types of tannin), which both chocolate and red wine have, are not complimentary to each other and fight each other on your palate to a sour bitterness.

What can make this work, be fun and delicious, are the little things that yield big results. For example, a red wine with a bit of Residual Sugar (RS) can make the combination more palatable (RS is when fermentation is stopped, and sugars are not fully converted to alcohol). Like a Ruby Port and perhaps a lesser dark-version of chocolate. Fruit components like Cherries with chocolate, and a sip of Pinot Noir, which has a natural affinity of cherry notes, are yummy combinations. Blueberry, Blackberry, Raspberry & Loganberry can add a pleasant flavor component to cut the dark chocolate bitterness and help with the nice fruit-forward Syrah or Zinfandel you’re tasting. Truffles made with the right balance of cocoa, fat (milk fat/cream), berries and fruit-forward wine are pretty darn delicious!

Another element that can change things, are nuts. Milk Chocolate or semi-sweet dark, with nuts and perhaps some caramel, along with a Tawny Port (that’s the brown port which is nutty and aromatic) is a wonderful combination. Think Chocolate brownie or a cake-type bar with nuts and a Tawny Port or delicious Pedro Ximenes (PX) Spanish Sherry made from hot sun dried white PX grapes and processed in a Solera like all sherries, but comes out as a dark, rich, sweet raisin flavor explosion.

Mainly, if you’re attending the Red Wine and Chocolates Tour, have a great time and indulge with that special someone in a couple of the wonderfully romantic and healthy aphrodisiac ingredients offered during these Valentine’s Weekends! I’ve put together some combinations that we’ve experienced and have enjoyed.

Wines that go with Dark Chocolate

(with a higher percentage of cocoa and very little milk, if any)

Ruby (Red) Port:

This is the original Port from Portugal. It is sweet because it has RS, and most have notes of cinnamon and pairs great with high cocoa percentages chocolate. The higher alcohol in Port comes from the addition of distilled grape spirits to kick it up.

“Port-style” Red Wines:

There are several single-varietal Port-style wines (Not from Portugal) with plenty of them made in Washington. Whidbey Island Winery makes a delicious Barbera Port that has nice cherry/berry notes and goes great with chocolate. Blooms Winery makes their “Ruby” with a blend of Merlot and Petit Verdot (Peh-teet Vehr-Doh) and Holmes Harbor Cellars makes a Zinfandel Ruby they call “Port of Call”. Spoiled Dog Winery makes a Malbec version of Ruby Port-Style wine called Possession Port. Another really great Zin-based Port-style wine is from Thurston-Wolfe winery of Prosser. Wade Wolfe also makes a Ruby from Washington-grown “Port grapes” of the varietals used in Portugal.

Vin Santo from Tuscany:

This wonderful amber colored Late Harvest wine has wonderful flavors of cherries, cinnamon, some nuttiness.

Wines that go with Milk Chocolate

(Usually better with red wine as they are about 50/50 chocolate & cream)

The Ruby Port and Port-Style wines (as mentioned above).

Recioto della Valpolicella:

Now THIS is a decadent lovely wine from the Veneto Region of Northeastern Italy. Think Verona and Venice. Made with the rich, dark Corvina, Rondinella and a few others like Molinara. These are the same grapes used to make the dry version of this wine famously known as Amarone and Ripassa.

Brachetto d’Acqui (think: Brick-e-Toe dee -Ah-Key):

This is a sweet sparkler from Northwest Italy called Piedmont (Piemonte). So delicious and great with rich chocolate desserts!


This is France’s entry into the port-style wine. From the South of France, mainly Languedoc-Roussillon area and primarily made from the red Grenache and a portion of white grapes. It is also a fortified wine. Grenache is a primary Rhone varietal and commonly blended with Syrah to make “Cote Du Rhone” and many other wonderful wines.

Sparkling Shiraz:

(If you’re an Aussie) or Syrah if you’re anywhere else. However, some of the best Sparklers of this varietal in a sweeter style are from Australia.

Wines that go with White Chocolate

(technically isn’t chocolate since there is no cacao…the part of the chocolate with the flavanols)

So here is where is really opens up… White chocolate has much more fat in it than the Dark or Mild Chocolate and can be a great way to enjoy some richness!

Pinot Noir: aka: Red Burgundy

This varietal is usually a lighter, medium bodied red and already has notes of cherry and berries.

Ice Wine:

Usually made with Late Harvest Riesling grapes which have frozen on the vine and have been harvested by brave pickers well bundled up against the weather. There are other versions but, Ice Wines will have “higher” notes of citrus, even pineapple. Delicious with a White Chocolate dessert.

Brachetto d’Acqui:

As I mentioned earlier, as well as Moscato d’Asti. Both semi-sparkling, light and sweet. The Moscato is made from white Muscat grapes and will work great with a white chocolate dessert or if the white chocolate has some flavoring added to it.

Other fruit forward versions of red blends, Syrahs, Zinfandels, Merlots & Malbecs would be fun to try with White Chocolate, too. Keep an open mind and if you get a chance to try something different, go for it! We all have different tastes so, embrace it and have fun with it. Don’t let it get in the way of your Valentine Day. Vive la Différence!!