For some people, a thick slice of rich chocolate cake with gooey icing should be paired with one beverage and one beverage only.
But drinking a big glass of milk in an elegant restaurant might be a tad declasse. A glass of wine is certainly more sophisticated.
Dennis Kirkwood, certified sommelier and owner of Bon Appetit Caterers in Longwood, Fla., says chocolate poses a special problem when it comes to choosing a wine.
"The main component in chocolate is cocoa butter, which by itself is very bitter," he says. "Even after all the sugar is added, some of that bitterness carries into the chocolate." That bitterness can disturb the balance of the wine.
Mr. Kirkwood recalls a tasting he conducted at which various types of chocolate were tasted along with a variety of wines. His panel of tasters decided the chocolate was best paired with a cabernet sauvignon from Cakebread Cellars.
The Cakebread wine is dry with a ripe berry flavor, fairly soft, slightly oaky and not overly tannic.
But Mr. Kirkwood is quick to point out that this pairing of chocolate and cabernet was based solely on the affinity of the two components.
However, if served as dessert after a full meal, a heavy piece of chocolate cake and a glass of heavy, full-flavored wine might prove a bit too domineering for all but the most sophisticated palates.
Instead, Mr. Kirkwood suggests an extra dry or rose champagne. Extra dry, despite its name, designates a wine that is slightly sweeter than a brut. "You want a little sweetness," Mr. Kirkwood says, "because we're looking for a contrast to the chocolate while trying to avoid a conflict."
He recommends Perrier-Jouet's non-vintage extra dry champagne, which is moderately low in tannins with a fresh fruit flavor and a lot of mouth feel.
Another good sparkler, Mr. Kirkwood says, is Charbaut Freres' rose. "It has a wonderful salmon color, a delicate hint of sweetness and beautiful berry fruits."
The berry fruit flavors go well with the chocolate, just as a layer of raspberry can improve the taste of the cake.