Combining wine and chocolate might take a bit of practice, but if you have the right wine to complement the right chocolate, it can be heaven. As a bonus, researchers have found that antioxidants in both red wine and dark chocolate not only offer benefits in terms of cardiovascular health but also help to prevent cancer. When you host a wine and chocolate tasting, you give your friends a treat that is both delicious and healthy.
Host the party on a cool day. Late fall and winter dates are great for cozy indoor parties, of course, and late spring or early fall is a good time for an outdoor party because the weather is generally warm, but not hot enough to melt the chocolate. Avoid having a chocolate tasting during the hottest hours of a summer day, when chocolate melts quickly and people are too lethargic to enjoy rich desserts, even indoors.
Choose four to six chocolates for your tasting. The variety will encourage your guests to savor and compare the different flavors. Offering too much variety, on the other hand, can overwhelm the taste buds. Select high-quality chocolate candy in the form of bars or small discs and serve them as bite-size pieces. Pay attention to the concentration of cacao in the chocolates; the darkest, most intense flavors have the higher percentages of cacao. Some tastings focus on the dark flavors, but you can balance these with a couple of lighter confections. Make sure most, if not all, the bars are free of extra ingredients, like nuts or fruits, so tasters can focus on the chocolate's flavor and texture.
Select wines to match the intensity of the chocolates. Serve a full-bodied wine with dark and bittersweet chocolates. These wines include red zinfandel, aged pinot noir, syrah, tawny port, and cognac. Pair the lighter, sweeter chocolates with a lighter wine, such as a sparkling dessert wine, ruby port, merlot, muscat, sauvignon blanc, ruby port, and riesling; champagne is a good choice, too. A good rule to follow is that the wine should be at least as sweet, if not a touch sweeter, than the chocolate it accompanies.
Complete the menu with desserts and light fare. Complement the tasting candies with a chocolate dessert, such as dipped strawberries or dark, peppery cookies. Provide baguette slices and pitchers of cool water to cleanse the palate. If you want the tasting to be a light meal, put out some unsalted nuts and fruit that pair well with your wine.
Set up your tasting station. Arrange the wine and chocolate on their own table or at one end of a long buffet. Encourage guests to try the chocolate with the least amount of cacao first; they'll proceed, from light to dark, to the most intensely flavored chocolate, perhaps nibbling some bread between tastes, so they can fully enjoy each bite of the sweets. The ideal room temperature for this party is 65 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit; a warmer room will cause the chocolate to melt. Place the packaging labels near each serving dish or make decorative cards to label each chocolate.
Ask guests to pick their favorites. You can encourage a lively discussion by offering them survey forms to fill out -- a strictly voluntary, casual, and fun activity. Ask guests to rate the aroma, taste, and texture of each chocolate. What did they like or not like? Why? Everyone can share their views near the end of the party. Also, you can use your friends' insights when planning future parties.