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When Pairing Chocolate and Wine, Which Should be Sweeter?

Welcome to Ask a Somm, a new column in which experts from across the country answer questions about wine. Wondering about a bottle? Drop us a line.

Nathan Rawlinson

Thomas Pastuszak oversees the wine programs for two of New York's hottest eating establishments, The NoMad restaurant and the adjacent, newer NoMad Bar in Flatiron. As wine director, he's in charge of sourcing bottles, like Arianna Occhipinti's excellent SP68, to pair with chef Daniel Humm's modern New York plates. Below, Pastuszak talks harmony between chocolate and wine.

Q: I hate to sound cliché, but with Valentine's Day coming up, I can't help but think about wine ... and chocolate. I've heard that the wine should be sweeter than the chocolate, is that true? Any other interesting/unexpected bottles I could pair with chocolate?

Pastuszak: When I recently set out to discover what I think could be some great wines to pair with chocolate, I was so excited by how well one of my favorite Spanish wine projects compared in the lineup. Equipo Navazos, a collaborative project committed to selecting the best and most unique barrels of sherry and bottling them on their own, also works on an amazing dessert wine based on the Pedro Ximénez grape in the Montilla-Moriles area of Spain, where they sun-dry grapes before making wine from them. Their 2011 La Casa del Inca ($25) is a fortified PX that is aged for a fairly brief period of time and results in a sweet, viscous dessert wine that is still high-acid and refreshing with a slight chill. Also, amazingly complex raisin, coffee and caramel character. An awesome complement to chocolate and, in this case, the darker the chocolate, the better!

Another great wine for milk and dark chocolate is a classic in the history of American wine drinking. In fact, our forefathers drank it when signing the Declaration of Independence. I'm talking about Madeira! This is an amazing category of fortified Portuguese wine that is barrel-aged for many years, and some of the best examples are extremely affordable and complex. Take, for instance, Broadbent's Colheita 1996 ($41), a single-vintage wine that, at nearly 20 years of age, is loaded with caramel, toffee and toasted nut flavors. It almost tastes like an amazing filling to a great candy bar, when drinking it with great chocolate alone.

If you're in the mood for white chocolate, your wine pairing options expand to the realm of sweet white wines. I'm a big fan of late harvest riesling that is indeed sweet, but carries a tremendous amount of acidity with it, to help clean up the intense sweetness of both the wine, and the chocolate you're enjoying with it.  Hermann J. Wiemer Late Harvest Riesling 2013 ($24) from New York's Finger Lakes is amazing example of well-balanced sweet Riesling that is extremely fresh and vibrant, and is as great a pairing with a plate of cheese as it is with a delicate, semi-sweet white chocolate.

The NoMad Bar

10 W 28th St, New York, NY 10001 (212) 796-1500 Visit Website

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