Is wine and chocolate too much of a good thing? A friend who attended a chocolate and wine tasting recently found each match, to her dismay, worse than the preceding one. The problem is that chocolate, especially milk chocolate, which is both sweet and fatty, tends to strip wine of its natural fruit flavours, making it taste thin, lean and sour. Even a classic sweet wine like Sauternes can suffer under the assault of chocolate's lingering, mouth-coating sweetness. Can two such polar opposites ever attract? The answer is that they can, but only the most dedicated of chocaholics would put red wines and chocolate together.
The darker the chocolate, the more of a fighting chance it has, especially with one that's sufficiently rich and viscous not to curdle the wine. Dark chocolate contains an undertone of bitterness and dryness, and the bitterer the better is no bad rule. Not a hard and fast one, mind, because the flavour profile of the wine and the chocolate also counts. Take a rich Australian liqueur muscat such as Buller's Rutherglen Muscat, £8.99, Majestic. On its own, its rose-petal richness borders on the cloying. Try it with a dark chocolate like Lindt Excellence Chili and it turns into a match made in heaven as the wine tastes of muscat and the chilli sings. Can a golden, sweet wine ever work then? Just about, but to retain the marmaladey sweetness of a Brown Brothers 2007 Orange Muscat and Flora, £4.99, down from £6.49, 37.5cl, Somerfield, or the luscious pineapple and mango richness of a 2006 Feilinger Artinger Beerenauslese, Burgenland, £9.99, 37.5cl, Waitrose, you need the acid foil of raspberries, albeit sprinkled with chocolate flakes.
Why not take your liquid sweetness with a more time-honoured match? Port and Stilton, Roquefort and Sauternes, are statements of the obvious point that a rich, sweet wine loves the savoury, salty and creamy. A sweet botrytis wine such as the 2005 Bimbadgen Estate Botrytis Semillon, £6.99, 37.5cl, Majestic, or Patricia Atkinson's honeyed 2003 Clos d'Yvigne, Saussignac, £21, 50cl, Justerini & Brooks (020-7484 6400), work a treat with a creamy blue like the cow's milk St Agur and firmer Fourme d'Ambert, or our own goaty Harbourne Blue. Classic tawny ports such as the Christmas puddingy Taylor's 20 Year Old Tawny, £26.99, Sainsbury's, Selfridges, Threshers, Waitrose, have a similarly devastating effect. Washed-rind cheeses can be harder to match but a fresh, creamy goat's cheese is a perfect foil for a delicate floral riesling such as Dr Loosen's 2006 Riesling Beerenauslese, £9.99, 18.75cl, Waitrose.
Madeira can range in style from the sophistication of Henriques & Henriques 15 Year Old Verdelho, around £17, 50cl, Waitrose, The Sampler (020-7226 9500), Noel Young (01223 844744), whose burnt-caramel undertones carry Portugal's trademark blade of acidity; to the nutty crème brûlée richness and tang of a 10 Year Old Malmsey, Madeira, Broadbent Selections, £25.95, Berry Bros & Rudd (0870 900 4300). From southern France's Pyrenean corner, a traditional alternative to port such as Maury can act as a great partner for Fourme d'Ambert or Stilton; like the 1928 Maury Solera, £12.95, 50cl, Tanners, Shrewsbury (01743 234500), begun in the earliest days of the Maury co-operative, which combines rich caramel and raisin flavours with the rancio effect (deliberately exposing the wine to air in order to bring on a fortified taste) of an oloroso sherry. Or, since it's Easter, what better way to mark the occasion than with vin santo, Italy's holy wine, and Trentino's luscious Arele Vin Santo, £18.99, 50cl, D Byrne & Co, Clitheroe (01200 423152).