I was given a wonderful gift -- a package of several bars of chocolate, dark and milk, by various makers from around the world. On the box was a list of suggested wine and chocolate pairings.
That makes sense. What we drink with whatever we're eating can be just as important as the food itself.
It's true that many of us are too caught up with work, family, and chocolate shopping to become experts on exactly what vintage would perfectly complement tonight's dinner; but even the non-drinkers among us know to put red wine with meat and white wine with chicken or fish, and that any wine at all with a peanut butter sandwich is just ridiculous.
So what should we drink with chocolate?
I have fond childhood memories of gulping chocolate bars and milk. Those are right up there with the equally youthful times I spread white bread with butter and sprinkled it with sugar -- a lot of fun while I was doing it, but ultimately no good to me whatsoever.
If you're eating milk chocolate, by all means enjoy a glass of milk with it, if you're so inclined.
But if you prefer dark chocolate, put the milk away, at least if you're hoping to get those touted antioxidant benefits from your chocolate. Research suggests that milk proteins bind with the antioxidants in chocolate, so your system won't absorb them.
My chocolate box didn't mention this, but maybe having some wine with your chocolate is more than just classy. After all, wine has antioxidants, too. Pairing it with chocolate could be elegant and healthy -- a match made in heaven.
In terms of taste benefits, I would have to disagree with the packaging of my gift, which suggested that the sweeter the chocolate, the sweeter the wine to go with it.
Chocolate, like many successful marriages, does much better with contrasting characters. Choose a playful dessert wine for your serious dark chocolate, and a quieter, less ebullient spirit if your preference is milk.
Speaking of spirits, liqueur with chocolate can be lovely at the end of the day. Try a little glass of Kahlua with your chocolate for some mocha enjoyment. Godiva makes a chocolate liqueur, if you want a recurring chocolate theme. And raspberry liqueur plus chocolate equals heaven, so far as I'm concerned.
Liqueurs do tend to favor dark chocolates. The softer, sweeter flavor of milk is overwhelmed by these intense drinks.
As for other spirited beverages, champagne goes with everything, as Judith Martin (a.k.a. Miss Manners) is fond of pointing out. Brandy fights with dark chocolate, but is tamed by the sweetness of a milk chocolate bar. Beer and chocolate just seems wrong -- like pairing peanut butter and caviar.
But what about the non-drinker? Not all of us can, or want to, imbibe alcohol.
Tea and coffee are terrific chocolate partners. Just remember the rule of contrasting rather than matching. Strong, unsugared tea is wonderful with merry milk chocolate. Sweet coffee with a touch of cream cozies up beautifully to a chunk of high-cacao dark.
Maybe the ultimate chocolate-companion drink is, of course, hot chocolate. Have a hot bath and some light reading ready to go with these.
Or what about the other end of the beverage spectrum, so far as richness is concerned? Water with chocolate? Maybe just a sip. Water is so cleansing, and who would want to wash chocolate away?
Which leads, of course, to the logic of having (at least with the very finest and most memorable chocolates) nothing to drink at all. The true chocolate purist may prefer to savor the flavor for as long as possible, with no dilution.