Tasteful choices for chocolate

beverage REPORT
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The Independent Culture
While the children are wondering how many Cadbury's Creme Eggs they can fit in their mouths at one time, I've been pondering a more serious subject: what do you drink with chocolate? There are two schools of thought. School one says wine (still, sparkling or fortified) or even beer. School two says that you shouldn't bother.

Members of the second group believe that chocolate has far too pronounced a taste to complement any drink. Hugo Rose MW, of Lay & Wheeler, though not a strict adherent, sums it up neatly: "There's no partnership; the chocolate always wins." This school - for which I have a good deal of sympathy - would drink water with the mousse and save the booze for afterwards.

School number one shows dissension in the ranks, with German wines and Madeira getting some support, but Muscat-based wines winning the biggest vote. Muscats come from all over - Spain, Australia, California. And even though some are jolly good, I'm still inclined to stay with France's own Muscat- de-Beaumes-de-Venise. What is more, I wouldn't bother spending extra on a superior version, like those from Domaine de Durban or Domaine de Coyeux. You'll find the latter wine for around pounds 11 to pounds 12, mostly from independents such as Lay & Wheeler (01206 764446) and Corney & Barrow (0171 251 4051). But I think the widely available co-operative wines (pounds 8 to pounds 9 for 75cl, and often sold in convenient halves) will do fine.

There is also some support for 10-year-old tawny port, one of the most versatile of port styles: you can drink it as an aperitif, with cheese, or with pudding. Most supermarkets sell an own-label, and those I've tasted are eminently sound. Tesco's 10-Year-Old Tawny sells for pounds 9.99, a good price. But Taylor's 10-Year-Old, available from wine merchants at around pounds 15 a bottle, raises the quality a few notches.

Feeling more adventurous than tawny? Hugo Rose says that a Vin Santo is a perfect partner for chocolate, and the Wine Society (01438 740222) sells Vin Santo Riserva 1971 for pounds 16. I've never tried that one, but I have had a genial time with chocolate ice cream and Pedro Ximenez (PX) sherry. PX is the grape used to add sweetness to sherry, and on its own it is an unforgettably raisiny syrup. You will find Gonzalez Byass Noe PX in Oddbins Fine Wines for a sobering pounds 19.99; ring 0181 944 4400 for branches. Alternatively, Bibendum (0171 916 7706) sells Hidalgo PX for a less frightening pounds 9.

Some people like champagne with a FTSE 100 chocolate dessert, and their ranks include gastronomes and chefs whose opinions I greatly respect. I'm not with them on this one, however. While I can see the point of champagne as a palate- cleanser, especially if it has fresh acidity to cut through the sugar, any seriously distinguished wine will be killed stone dead by a full-frontal attack of chocolate. Keep the mousses separate, please.

Finally, what about beer for chocolate lovers? The redoubtable Michael Jackson says that Thomas Hardy Ale is "better than wine" for chocolate desserts. It isn't to find the stuff to see whether you agree, but Oddbins sometimes sells it for pounds 1.75/33cl, and it is a wonderful (and powerful) drink.

Or you can double your pleasure by drinking another Oddbins oddity: Young's Double Chocolate Stout (pounds 1.59 for 50cl). This fantastically complex brew manages to balance sweetness with Camp-coffee bitter notes, and it has a subtle but pronounced chocolatey finish. I'd drink it as the dessert, and save the chocolate for another time.

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