If you’re a hedonist, you might think that chocolate and wine make a perfect match. According to wine experts, however, you’d be asking for trouble by serving them together.
Because they are both strongly flavored, chocolate and wine tend to compete for the attention of the taste buds. They can bring out the worst in each other — sour, bitter and dry qualities — instead of getting along nicely as they go down the hatch.
For bittersweet chocolate, you need a wine that’s assertive but not too assertive, and definitely not too dry. Dark chocolate, like wine, contains tannins, organic compounds that lend astringency to the flavor mix. A little dryness is nice. A lot of dryness isn’t. Eating chocolate while drinking a tannic red will make both hard to swallow. If you must have some wine with your dark chocolate, a plush and fruity red, low in tannins — such as Barbera, Sangiovese or Rioja — is your best bet.
Milk chocolate is even more problematic. The fruitiest, juiciest red or white will taste sour in contrast with the sugary chocolate. In general, wine should be as sweet as or sweeter than any chocolate it’s paired with. In the case of milk chocolate, only dessert wines such as Madeira, Sauternes and Muscat will work.
Confusing the issue is white chocolate. Although sweeter than milk chocolate, it defies the sweet-goes-with-sweet rule. Because it contains cocoa butter (but no cocoa solids), it has a buttery, fatty mouth feel. So a fruity but dry chardonnay or sparkling wine works to cut through the richness.
With so many pitfalls, what is a wine-and-chocolate lover to do? There is one risk-free way to combine the two: Use them together in a cake. Mixed with brown sugar, eggs and butter, their flavors mellow. The chocolate becomes smooth and fudgy. The wine contributes a subtle but significant hint of berries. Best of all, there’s no need to stress about the quality of your chocolate or the characteristics of your wine. Unsweetened cocoa powder from the supermarket lends deep chocolate flavor to the cake, and virtually any red wine will provide enough bright acidity for balance.
RED WINE BUNDT CAKE WITH RED WINE GANACHE
For the cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting pan
3⁄4 cup unsweetened natural (not Dutch process) cocoa powder
1 1⁄4 teaspoons baking soda
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 3⁄4 cups dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1⁄4 cups red wine
For the ganache:
1 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
1⁄4 cup heavy cream
1⁄4 cup red wine
1. Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12-cup bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray and dust with flour. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.
2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar on medium-high until light and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until incorporated. Add the vanilla. Alternately mix in the dry ingredients and the wine, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.
3. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.
4. Make the ganache: Place the chocolate chips in a heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan, bring the cream and wine to a simmer. Pour over the chocolate, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand 5 minutes. Whisk until smooth.
5. Transfer the cake, still on the wire rack, to a rimmed baking sheet. Spoon the warm ganache over the cake, and then use a small metal spatula to spread it so it covers the cake. Let stand until the ganache is set, about 1 hour, before slicing and serving. Makes 10 to 12 servings.