Sweets for the Sweet

Follow this Valentine’s Day advice for pairing wine with chocolate.
Cupid’s in the house, and Northeast Ohio restaurants are offering winter fare and chocolate desserts crafted to make you feel the love.

With roses and hearts at every turn, it’s not surprising that many Valentine’s revelers uncork lush red wines to toast the night. The very idea of matching silky chocolate with ruby-red wine is romantically indulgent.

There’s just one hitch: Dry Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel make great partners for wintry main-course dishes, but don’t go well with chocolate. Dry wines become sour when sipped with sweet foods, leaving a metallic, tart aftertaste. For this reason, the wine should be as sweet (or sweeter) than the food on the plate.

While pairing sweet with sweet might sound cloying, think ice cream with cake and you will get the picture. For a memorable match, select a wine that has the same level of sweetness and a similar flavor profile as the dessert.

Orange-scented Muscat from Greece, for example, matches well with bittersweet chocolate garnished with orange peel. Change the garnish to blackberries and the dark berry flavors of Port pair better.

Chocolate and nuts form a classic duo, so experimenting with the nutty aromas of barrel-aged Maderia, Marsala and Oloroso sherry are hard to beat. For lighter desserts such as crème brûlée, fruit desserts and cheesecake, select a glass of sweet Riesling, Vin Santo, Sauternes or Moscato d’Asti. All have enough residual sugar to balance out the sweetness of the dish and make awesome desserts sipped alone.

If you plan to order one bottle of red for the entire meal, consider a California Zinfandel. Dry but packed with juicy fruit, it often gives the perception of being slightly sweet and, partnered with bittersweet chocolate, can often do the job nicely.

Prefer white wine? Try a white German Spätlese.

So indulge in a new dessert wine this month, and you just may find yourself falling in love all over again.

Armonya Moscato d’Asti, Piedmonte, Italy ($15):
Light-bodied sparkler with loads of tropical fruit and grape aromas. Sweet and low in alcohol, this delicate yet aromatic wine is a perfect partner for fruit desserts and cookies.

2005 Covey Run Late Harvest Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington ($11):
Concentrated baked apple, pear and spiced citrus aromas are supported by crisp acidity and a good dose of sugar. Try it with crème brûlée or fruit tarts, or enjoy it on its own as a dessert.

Florio Fine Dolce Ambra Marsala, Sicily, Italy ($14):
Made from native grapes, including Grillo, it is full bodied with dried fruit and apricot aromas balanced by mouth-warming alcohol. Think milk chocolate mousse with orange peel garnish.

2000 Sandeman Late Bottled Vintage Port, Portugal ($24):
Full bodied, ruby red with ripe fruit aromas and spice. Aged in oak barrels, it is concentrated and rich. Great match for blue cheese, nuts and dark chocolate desserts with berry coulis.

Domecq Venerable Pedro Ximenez Oloroso VORS, Spain ($74):
Dessert sherry crafted from the Pedro Ximenez grape and aged for more than 30 years in barrel. Full bodied with dark chocolate and prune aromas with a hint of toast. Simply great.

2006 Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto d’Aqui, Piedmont, Italy ($25):
Pale ruby red with aromas of roses and fresh red berries. This wine, made from the Brachetto grape, is a great sparkling wine for Valentine’s Day. Think dark chocolate with berries.
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