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Taste tests Wine and chocolate, whisky and sushi ... all sheer delights on their own, but how to achieve the right balance? Anthony Rose and Michael Jackson advise
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Chocolate and wine is one of the toughest of food-wine matches. Dark rum yes, Macallan yes, even VSOP Cognac, one of which from Remy Martin will be served with Valrhona chocolate at the International Festival of Chocolate this weekend. But chocolate, with its combination of sweetness, bitterness and fattiness, is liable to overpower most wines.

Chocolate dessert with an expensive sweet wine such as Sauternes, or even a New World botrytis-affected Riesling, is not a match made even close to heaven. Despite the wine's sweetness, the chocolate overpowers the pure lusciousness of the fruit. As the food writer Richard Olney observes: "Chocolate is quarrelsome in the presence of Sauternes."

But if you're adventurous, the range of wines available today is sufficient to offer a number of excellent partnerships. Keep it simple, ensure the pudding is less sweet than the wine and remember that a sweet wine is not automatically compatible with chocolate. Viscously raisined stickies such as Australian Liqueur Muscats may be delicious, but add chocolate and you're overwhelmed by a palate-clogging sickliness.

Harmony is all. Tannin in a wine emphasises bitterness, while a little balancing acidity can act as a cleansing agent. Since chocolate desserts vary in flavour, texture and complexity, much depends on the intensity of the chocolate. A chocolate cream sponge or roulade can handle a surprising number of wines. Successful examples of fortified stickies include the robustly raisiny Big Franks Seriously Sticky, pounds 5.99 (50cl), Victoria Wine, or the bargain-basement, gutsy, fortified Greek red, Mavrodaphne of Patras, pounds 3.95 (1 litre), Morrisons. Another eye-opener is Blandy's Medium Dry Five-Year-Old Verdelho, pounds 11.49, Oddbins, its tangy crispness offering a cleansing counterpart to a chocolate sponge.

Look for affinities. Such a sponge works well with the zestiness of an orange Muscat, for instance Andrew Quady's luscious Essensia Orange Muscat, pounds 5.99, half-bottle, Majestic. The fresh acidity and blackcurrant flavour of Southbrook Farms Cassis, pounds 7.99, half-bottle, Majestic, combines superbly with chocolate cake, while the richer, liquid raspberry Framboise version, pounds 7.99, half-bottle, Waitrose, Majestic, also copes with mousse. Mint chocolate addicts might follow Gerard Basset, top sommelier at Winchester's Hotel du Vin. He counsels chocolate with creme de menthe.

Mousses vary considerably. A milky Cadbury's mousse is less demanding than a rich, dark mousse made with Valrhona chocolate with 70 per cent cocoa solids. With a milk chocolate mousse, try a well-chilled Alasia 1997 Moscato d'Asti, pounds 4.49, Valvona & Crolla, Edinburgh (0131-556 6066), a relatively light-in-alcohol scented sparkling Muscat from north-west Italy. Its bubbly texture dovetails neatly with the mousse's lightness.

For a darker, richer mousse, you'll need a wine with corresponding strength. Try a good, toffeeish 10-year-old tawny port such as Sainsbury's 10 Year Old Tawny, pounds 9.99. For an unusual alternative, the 1979 White Jerepigo, pounds 6.99, Unwins, Waitrose, with its toffee and raisin-like richness. A richer Madeira such as Blandy's Five-Year-Old Rich Malmsey, pounds 11.49, Majestic, Oddbins, has the extra sweetness needed to cope with the faint bitter twist of the mousse.

I'm not a huge fan of red table wine and chocolate, although I know one wine waiter who swears by beaujolais and chocolate. Alastair Little even suggests "a tannic red such as a Chianti to punch it out with the chocolate". I think red table wines work only if you dislike the idea of sweet wines and chocolate altogether or if the chocolate pudding is very light, in which case the wine must be fruity enough to carry it. The spicy fruitiness of Rosemount's 1997 Shiraz Cabernet, pounds 6.49, Safeway, holds its own, as does the smooth, ripe blackcurrant fruit of the 1997 Valdivieso Merlot, pounds 4.99, Sainsbury's, Fuller's, Thresher, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up. I can't see either of these being served with Ferrero Rocher at the ambassador's reception, but then again, I can't see myself being invited

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