By Rick Riozza

It’s getting close to Valentine’s Day, so it’ll be up close and personal as we walk through the valley of romance with a nice bottle of wine and delicious chocolates for some passionate festivities.

That sounds great, but, one must keep in mind that pairing and matching fine chocolates with wine takes a little thought.  We dry red wine enthusiasts need to step back a bit and allow our sweet tooth to dictate on this one.  It may sound romantic to grab a fancy red Bordeaux with exotic French language on the label to enjoy with your yummy box of chocolates—but that match is an embarrassing wash-out: avoid with all fervor!

Hey—there’s no question one can go savory with the pairing, such as when cocoa powder is one of the main components of a spice rub for ribs and steak.  Or, maybe you’re playing around with a Mexican mole sauce.  All would match wonderfully with a rich Dry Creek Zinfandel or a spicy Barossa Valley Shiraz; really sexy choices for Valentine’s Day!

Okay—while we’re at it, dark chocolate does pair well with a full body California  Cabernet Sauvignon that’s filled with notes of cherry, coffee, and of course chocolate.  But it definitely has to be a fruity Cab.  Same idea—look for a jammy Syrah to enjoy with both rich and creamy chocolates.  Also the bitterness of those complex chocolates pairs perfectly with that full bodied Syrah.

However, more often than not, we’re talking about enjoying a good wine and chocolate as an amuse bouche or probably for dessert, and, for after-dinner play.  So make it a sweet wine, where we’re matching sweetness with sweetness.  We’ll be looking to a sweet rosé sparkler and classic dessert wines.

Keeping with a theme of Valentines, we should well consider a beautifully pink sweet rosé sparkler at only $14 or so: the Martini Sparkling Rosé by Martini & Rossi, who go by the slogan of the “World’s Favorite Italian Sparking Wine”.

This Martini Rosé is what is known as a “demi-sec”.  You’ll remember when it comes to sparklers, brut is dry; extra dry is a bit sweeter; dry even more sweet; demi-sec is definitely sweet; and, doux is absolutely sweet.  So our Martini Rosé is sweet and capable to matching with most chocolates.  (It’s also a fun match with roasted turkey, ham, quiche and cheese tarts, and gourmet cheeses—such as mild cheddar, Gouda, Camembert or Brie.)

This is a real recommendation at only $14 at your local market when you need to pick up something quick that really works with that box of chocolates that you’ve just picked up as well.  It’s a fun and festive wine—cheers to love!

Some other great offbeat Italian pairings like Barolo Chinato [KEEN-ah-toh] for darker chocolate and Brachetto d’Acqui, a bright red sparkling wine of Piedmont, usually with light citrus blossom and stone fruit notes, perfect for a less sweet chocolate or chocolate desserts. The Rosa Regale by Banfi is available everywhere for around $20.  If you can find a Barolo Chinato or the Brachetto d’Acqui by Guilio Cocchi, pick it up—it’s spectacular!

A little Madeira, my dear?  Of course this sweet fortified wine is always one to pair with chocolates.  Madeira is a fortified wine available in a range of dry to sweet styles. You’ll wish to look for a Malmsey or a Bual for some great sweet notes of roasted nuts, stewed fruit, maple syrup, caramel, and toffee.

This wine gets its name from the island of Madeira, a small, beautiful rock island about four hundred miles from Portugal—off in the Atlantic Ocean. Madeira’s unique taste comes from repeatedly heating the wine. It also carries a touch of smoke for some good complexity.

And this note of smoke comes from one of the most romantic stories in wine lore: Once upon a time, a tyrannical Portuguese explorer lost his love to a lucky swarthy lothario.  The rebellious young couple found their way to the Madeira Island (so far away from the madding crowd–and that angry admiral) and frolicked naked in the lush garden island.  Unfortunately, the extremely annoyed navigator finally

found them.  The couple quickly ran into the hills for safety; however, the scorned sailor had his men set fire to the entire island—and it burned for seven years straight.  During that time, people on the mainland of both Portugal and around North Africa, could see giants plumes of black smoke way out in the ocean.  They assumed that was the edge of the world.  Now that’s a fun bedtime story to enjoy your wine and chocolates with.

Lastly, another great red dessert wine comes from the south of France.  Banyuls, indeed, has been referred to as a little French love letter to chocolate.

Banyuls gets its name from the coastal town of Banyuls Sur Mer in the south of France, a sleepy fishing town that attracted artists like Matisse and Picasso. Banyuls is a Grenache-based fortified wine that has been made since the thirteenth century.

Banyuls carries strains of strawberries and spice and works well with milk and darker chocolates. And don’t you think it’s great with a chocolate and peanut butter dessert—think of how well peanut butter and strawberry jelly go together! When munching down on your chocolates, this wine will bring out black plums and cherries, along with orange bark toward the back of your tongue, and, some espresso and raisin somewhere in the middle.

Here’s to love & sweetness!  Cheers!

Rick is your somm-about-town, entertaining at wine events and tastings. Contact