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Red Wine and Dark Chocolate

Most people know that red wines are rich in antioxidants that make red wine in moderation very good for us. Chocoholics know about the antioxidant properties of chocolate, but it's worth reviewing the current research. For instance, researchers at Oxford interviewed subjects about their consumption of chocolate, tea, and wine, and took a number of cognitive tests; those who regularly indulged in chocolate, wine, and tea performed substantially better than those who didn't. All three beverages contain flavonoids, members of a group of chemicals known as pholyphenols, natural compounds known to have positive effects on cardio health, and may have preventive qualities in terms of dementia, since there's a strong correlation between flavonoid consumption and a lower incidence of dementia. Researchers at the University of Scranton ranked kinds of chocolate in terms of the amount of antioxidant in them: Cocoa powder (the pure powder, not a cocoa mix) is highest, followed by dark chocolate, then milk chocolate. Dark chocolate and cocoa powder increased antioxidants in subjects' blood, and prevented "bad" LDL cholesterol from affixing and binding to artery walls while increasing the levels of "good" HDL cholesterol. Other research suggests that milk added to chocolate or consumed with chocolate has an adverse affect in terms of our bodies' ability to process the antioxidants. Experts suggest that the key phrase is to indulge in chocolate "in moderation" (you knew there had to be a catch, right?). One way is to cook with small amounts of high quality cocoa powder (no added sugar or milk fats), using a teaspoon or two in coffee, or chili or stew as a flavor enhancement. Alternatively, one square of high-quality 60% or 70% cacao bittersweet chocolate a day is not unreasonable. Now then—on to the really neat part: Combining red wine and chocolate. After all, they're both good for us, why wouldn't they be good together? And they are very good together, though again, "in moderation," which is generally a glass a day for women, and two for men (in North America, anyway). The secret is to use very good and very dark chocolate; you want 60% or better cacao, and you want to pair it with a good, rich, red that can stand up to the chocolate. Avoid sweet nougats or ganache fillings; do try dark chocolate with chili, coffee, or orange peel, if they appeal to you as chocolate. Typically, you want the wine to be as sweet as, or even a little sweeter, than the chocolate. The more intense the chocolate flavor (and the higher percentage of cacao), the more the red wine needs to be a wine with some backbone, like a Zinfandel, or a Cabernet Sauvignon. Personally, I tend to favor pairing the more "fruitier" reds with dark chocolate. I like the cherry, raspberry sorts of overtones with the slight bitterness of the chocolate. Wine experts rarely favor Shiraz and dark chocolate, but for my tastes, a robust Shiraz with a 70% cacao dark chocolate is lovely. A good Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon with a high cacao dark chocolate with a blend of bitter orange, or chili, is absolutely fabulous. I haven't tried a rich dark chocolate with a Syrah yet, but it's on my list. The traditional wine and chocolate pairingâ?? going back to the eighteenth centuryâ??is bittersweet dark chocolate with Port or Madeiria, and that certainly works, particularly with an adulterated form of chocolate in the form of baked goods, say a dense flourless chocolate cake, or sea-salt chocolate caramels, where the salt and sweet are especially lovely paired with sweet wine. A tawny Port with a very intense chocolate mousse can be incredibleâ??but remember, you want the mousse to be rich with dark chocolate, just on this side of being bitter, so that the comparative sweetness of the wine brings out the full range of flavors in the chocolate. Wine experts look to boutique hard-to-find gourmet chocolates, but with the realization that dark chocolate is high in antioxidents, chocolatiers and stores are both making it very easy to find high quality chocolate in shareable bars and small bite-size portions, even at your local chain grocery store. On a recent chocolate survey at the local Rite Aid, I found:
  • Hershey's 65% Cacao Premium Dark
  • Hershey's 65% Cacao Premium Dark with Nibs (small cocoa bits embedded in the chocolate; intense, slightly bitter taste is lovely with a robust red)
  • Hershey's Extra Dark Chocolate
  • Hershey's Extra Dark Chocolate with Cranberries, Blueberries, & Almonds (60& Cacao, with antioxident rich Cranberries and Blueberries)
  • Hershey's Extra Dark Chocolate with Cranberry and Macadamia nuts
  • Hershey's Special Dark Solid Bars In Both Single Serve And To Share Sizes
  • Hershey's Special Dark Miniatures Assortment (Slightly sweet dark chocolate assortment)
Hershey has been very quick to promote the antioxident qualities of dark chocolate. Lindt hasn't been exactly slow their Excellence line is a premium line of very dark chocolate. The Lindt Excellence Intense Dark 70% Cocoa bar is readily available, as are the Lindt Excellence Intense Dark 70% Cocoa Thins individually wrapped bite-size portions. Lindt's Excellence Intense Orange, with small pieces of slightly bitter orange and almond slivers is available in bars and in individually wrapped single-serving Thins, and works quite well with robuts reds or a sweet Tawny Port. Excellence Chili is dark chocolate, with chili; it's an aquired taste, but those who tend to spicy foods love the sweet/bitter/hot range of flavors. Slightly harder to find, Lindt Excellence Noirissime 99% Cocoa is incredible. Ghiradelli, my personal favorite in terms of readily available quality chocolate for baking, has come up with a line of incredible easy to find Intense Dark chocolate bars:
  • Intense Dark 86% Cacao Midnight Reverie
  • Intense Dark Citrus Sunset 60% Cacao (dark chocolate with bitter-sweet orange bits and caramel crunch).
  • Intense Dark 72% Cacao Twilight Delight
  • Intense Dark 60% Cacao Espresso Escape (with crushed roasted espresso coffee beans)
  • Intense Dark 60% Cacao Evening DreamDeep (Dark chocolate lightly flavored with Madascan vanilla; mellow rather than overly sweet).
Do take a look at Ghiradelli's own chocolate and beverage pairings, too. These are all readily available, and if that's not enough, Trader Joe's, and other local specialty stores, will offer organic dark chocolate like Dagoba organic chocolate, and the enormous variety of premium chocolatier Scharffen Berger, both subsidiaries of the Hershey company.