Valentine's Day Sweethearts

Next to pastel-colored candy hearts that read, "Be mine" and "Kiss me," nothing says Valentine's Day like chocolate. Wondering what wine goes best with chocolate? This is where the fun begins. What makes chocolate so lovable — full flavors, rich mouth-feel and delightful sweetness — is exactly what makes it a bittersweet challenge when it comes to selecting wine.

Just like any food-and-wine pairing, the body and intensity of the wine should match that of the food. Chocolate's strong flavor is a big factor in the pairing. Matching flavors such as orange, raspberry and mint included in a confection with similar flavors in the wine is another consideration.

Chocolate comes in a variety of sweetness levels: white, milk, semisweet, dark and bittersweet. When it comes to sweetness, sommeliers have one rule: The wine should always "taste" as sweet or sweeter than the dessert. That removes most dry wines from the mix.

Fortified wines (wines with added alcohol) are great partners for chocolate. The wines are typically full in body and flavor with extra sugar to complement the dessert's sweetness. For dark chocolate, try sipping the berry flavors of a Banyuls from southwest France or a ruby port from the steep granite slopes of Portugal. Mediterranean sweethearts like Italy's Marsala and Mavrodaphne from Greece fare well with the sweeter milk-chocolate desserts while fortified Muscat or bubbly Muscat d'Asti partner famously with sweet white chocolate.

Unfortified reds can be paired with bittersweet chocolate if they're juicy enough. Remember, the wine only has to "taste" as sweet as the dessert, so select a big red from a warm climate that has lots of fruit-forward flavors that give the impression of sweetness. New World Merlots and late-harvest Zinfandels often mirror the berry and mint found in many chocolate desserts.

Whether you treat yourself to a skillfully crafted chocolate dessert or simply nibble on a truffle straight from the box, the day is yours to indulge. So put aside the diet, sip something sweet and get right to the heart of the matter: chocolate.

Marianne Frantz, founder of the Cleveland Wine School, is joined by her valentine and husband, Jerry, in selecting wines for this month's Cellar Notes.

2001 Dry Creek Late Harvest Zinfandel, California (375-milliliter bottle) ($15): Rich and lush with lots of raspberry fruit and a hint of mint, this is perfect with dark or bittersweet chocolate.

Dow's Fine Ruby Port, Portugal ($16): Dark berry and fig flavors with toasty nuttiness. This is a full-bodied fortified wine that seduces chocolate with its rich flavor profile.

Blandy's Malmsey Madeira, Portugal ($23): Amber color, velvety texture and burnt-sugar flavors are supported by just enough acid to stand up to milk chocolate. This is a must-try wine with chocolates.

Yalumba Museum Muscat, Australia (375-milliliter bottle) ($18): Cognac colored with layers of intense flavor, including orange citrus, nut and fig. Its rich, oily texture carries weight with most chocolate desserts.

Boutari Mavrodaphne, Greece ($12): Port-like in taste and texture with intense aroma and velvety mouth feel. An interesting partner for milk chocolate.

"Six Grapes" Ruby Port, Duoro, Portugal ($22): Purple-ruby with lots of fresh red-berry goodness along with a bit of nuttiness and crisp acidity. The silky finish is light and fun.

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