Fortified wines are also known as "dessert wines."
If you listened to marketing, you'd believe that red wine and chocolate go together like Romeo and Juliet. In fact, the pairing is more like Seal and Heidi Klum -- should be delicious, but doesn't quite work. The chief reason is that both red wine and chocolate are astringent: If the chocolate is at all sweet, dry red wine will taste vinegary. There are other factors working against the pairing too, like clashing tannins and serving temperatures.
So why the common misperception? Because somewhere along the line, people realized that sweet wines are too sweet with sweet chocolate desserts, so they switched to the prevailing taste of the times, dry reds like Cabernet and Merlot. Voilà!
But this pairing only works if the dessert is semi-sweet, and if there's a bridge element that has acidity. Flourless chocolate cake with a raspberry coulis is a perfect example.
From this, though, the pairing morphed into "all chocolate goes with all red wine." It doesn't hurt that the coupling is a marketing dream, built on notions of romance rather than taste.
So what do you pair with, say, locally made artisan chocolates or a quality bar you pick up at a specialty store?
Far better bets than red table wines are fortified wines, sometimes erroneously called "dessert" wines. Fortified wines often have a slight sweetness, concentrated but subdued fruitiness, nuttiness and some caramel notes. They also have a luxurious texture. Sounds cozy, doesn't it? Ruby Port, with a fruit berry nose, is a good candidate for slightly sweeter chocolates with some milk content. One of the best Rubys on the market is from Quinta do Infantado, which is a steal at $18.
Complex, nutty Madeira may be chocolate’s pairing apotheosis. Madeira was once a popular drink in the U.S. during colonial times, when it skirted taxation by the British. It is made in a few styles, from sweet and caramely to light and dry. The Rare Wine Co. produces a number of Madeiras; the dry Sercial is an ideal companion to any dark truffles with wild fillings ($52).
Maury is a French wine appellation that nearly died out. In 2000, business mogul Olivier Decelle revived a legendary estate, converting it to biodynamic practices and revitalizing this sensational, historic fortified wine. First aged outdoors in glass, and then further aged six to 15 years in oak, Mas Amiel quickly became the toast of Parisian chocolatiers and sommeliers. Luckily, the 10-year is for sale in Madison -- and it is an utter revelation of praline, cocoa and dried cherry ($34).