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Pair your Valentine's gift of chocolate with a complementary wine

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If a box of chocolates is your gift choice for that someone special this Valentine's Day, put some adventure into it and pair it with a bottle of wine. Just be the sure it's the right wine.

"Ideally you should choose a wine that is sweeter than the chocolate," says Natalie MacLean of Ottawa, an accredited sommelier, wine writer, speaker and judge. "Otherwise the wine will taste bitter by comparison."

She says that no matter what kind of chocolate you've got, there is also richness which comes from high alcohol.

MacLean suggests taking a piece of dark chocolate which is high in cacao content (70 to 90 per cent) and pairing it with either tawny or vintage port.

"My favourite is tawny because I love the caramel toffee nutty goodness in it," she adds. "But vintage will also work because it has dark plum, cassis and blackberry notes."

And surprise, even milk chocolate can be paired, although it is a bit more complex task, she notes.

For instance, a wine such as Hungarian Tokaji could work well.

"It has those wonderful buttery aromas of over-ripe apricots and peaches, so think of the fillings that are in milk chocolate or truffles, and the flavours that come through in a Tokaji are lovely," MacLean says.

Asked if fruit wines could be paired with chocolate, she says no, because they are too light.

"A strawberry with a little chocolate on the tip would be lovely with fruit wine or ice wine for that matter. You can't go too heavy with chocolate dessert and a fruit wine because it doesn't have the body or the weight to match."

Mid-range dark chocolate matches well with a purply plummy sweet wine such as Italian Recioto Della Valpolicella.

"It's rich but not quite as hefty as port," says MacLean. "Another one would be a sweet cream sherry which like port is fortified."

This is a process in winemaking in which grape spirits like brandy are added to the fermentation juice, she explains.

In the case of port, the brandy is added while it is fermenting. For sherry, it is fermented to complete dryness and then the brandy is added.

Here are MacLean's top 10 wine and chocolate matches:

-Dark chocolate and Banyuls, France.

-Chocolate-covered biscotti and Recioto Della Valpolicella, Italy.

-Chocolate-Orange cake and Liqueur Muscat, Australia.

-Chocolate with nuts and Tawny Port, Portugal.

-Milk chocolate and Tokaji, Hungary.

-Bittersweet chocolate and Amarone, Italy.

-Chocolate-dipped fruit and Icewine, Canada.

-Chocolate Ganache Truffles and Sauternes, France.

-Chocolate raspberry cheesecake and Framboise, California.

-Chocolate hearts with cream filling and Cream Sherry, Spain.

"Wine is liquid sensuality: Its heady bouquet stimulates the appetite and its velvet caress soothes that desire," MacLean says.

"And when you pair wine with the mouth-coating luxury of chocolate, the combination is impossible to resist."

To learn more about wine and food pairing, log on to her website at www.nataliemaclean.com

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Judy Creighton welcomes letters at 9 Kinnell St., Hamilton, Ont. L8R 2J8, but cannot promise to answer all correspondence personally. She can also be reached by email at jcreighton(at)golden.net

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