The Days of Wine & Chocolate
By Renee M. Covino

Are they the ultimate pair? At first, many didn’t think so, but now retailers like WineStyles are proving that chocolate and wine is quite the merchandising match for the mainstream.
One’s a liquid, one’s a solid; they both have rich, premium qualities with abundant scientific evidence touting them as deliverers of healthy antioxidants. Separately, the two are getting a lot of prime palate and press attention lately, so why not pair them together?
In fact, that’s what many forward-thinking retailers are doing —merchandising wine and good-quality chocolate side by side, on a shelf, in a basket, at an endcap. They’re also handing them out together at in-store tastings and events, much to the delight of adult shoppers who are quickly catching on to the increasingly more mainstream taste trend.
“Chocolate and wine really can complement each other so well,” says Bob Florio, chief operating officer of WineStyles, a five-year-old franchise concept with more than 175 stores in 20 states, Puerto Rico and Mexico — and more stores slated to open before year’s end. “We do pairings with our own little line of chocolates in our stores, and I often hear customers say how well they go together — it’s definitely a hit in the stores.”
The Margate, Fla.-based business prides itself on helping to “demystify” the wine-buying experience in this country by offering a good percentage of inexpensive, but hand-selected wines, categorized very simply according to taste, rather than by region, the way many upscale, sometimes “snobbish” wine stores do. Contrary to that intimidating tactic, there are only eight taste categories at WineStyles — three for white wines, ranging from Crisp to Silky to Rich; three similarly scaled categories for red wines, ranging from Fruity to Mellow to Bold; a division for Bubbly (champagne and sparkling wines); and one for the Nectar segment, or dessert wines.
The stores are not large, with only about 1,200 square feet of selling space, but there is certainly room for chocolate. Indeed, the concept of offering more premium, indulgent, affordable, consumables in a “shopper-friendly” way is what the stores are all about, so two years ago, Florio and his team worked with The San Francisco Chocolate Factory to come up with a custom-packaged line of tinned chocolates that would perfectly blend with four of the categories of wines sold in the stores.
Whimsical product names
Cleverly labeled, the four 3.5-ounce tins of chocolate drops include: Are you BOLD?, a dark chocolate featuring 72 percent cocoa, to match with bold wines such as Zinfandels and strong Cabernets; Feeling MELLOW?, a dark chocolate featuring 58 percent cocoa to match with mellow wines such as Merlots; Passion for FRUITY?, a milk chocolate with 38 percent cocoa to match with fruitier red wines such as Pinot Noirs, as well as white wines such as Pinot Grigios, Rieslings, and Chardonnays; and Always BUBBLY?, a white chocolate that tastes great with champagne and sparkling wines.
Other types of chocolates are also featured in WineStyle stores. Veritas is the second-most popular line, according to Debbie Hiner, WineStyles’ buyer of “accessories,” which, in the case of the wine franchise company, includes chocolate. “It’s a large line of all different kinds of chocolate — truffles, single-origin chocolates and toffee bars,” she explains. “They are all packaged in a number of different ways, too; the single-origin chocolates come in a little box that can hang over a wine bottle — we show them in the stores that way. Then they also have another fabulous item — a five-piece truffle tube — it consists of five different truffles in a little see-through clear tube. They go perfectly with wine.”
Other, more obscure truffles and chocolate lines are also part of the “approved vendor” list at WineStyles, meaning individual stores can determine what chocolate fit is best for their particular customers. This year, a new gift catalog was created, featuring many of the chocolates. Florio reports that the stores do a good gift basket business all year long, but especially during the fourth quarter.
When the weather turns cooler is also the time of year when WineStyles is particularly fond of including some chocolates in its wine-tasting events, typically held at least once a week in some stores, more than once a week in others, most likely on a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday evening from 5 to 8 p.m.
“We certainly allow customers to taste our wines before they buy it, and now, many of our stores will also include tastes of the chocolate that we sell in the store, paired appropriately with the right wine,” says Florio.
WineStyles was certainly ahead of its time in pairing the two, recognizes Diana Pardini, marketing manager for The San Francisco Chocolate Factory. Indeed, The San Francisco Chocolate Factory went out on a limb even before that, when it unveiled its Wine Lover’s Chocolate Collection, offering six different varieties of tinned chocolate drops — four of which are exactly the same chocolate that they make for WineStyles versions, but with different packaging.
“Our little company was one of the first doing wine and chocolate pairings, much to the resistance of some ‘experts’ who were convinced one would overpower the other, and that the two couldn’t come together on the palate,” Pardini relays. “I think we’ve proven that wrong; our sales just keep growing, every year they were doubling, and they have tripled in the category over the past year.”
Pardini adds that the trend is gaining more mass momentum with every year that goes by. “Every trade show we go to is featuring more chocolate, and a lot of them are gearing towards pairing it with popular beverages, whether it be coffee, tea or wine.”
Will we ever see chocolate paired with wine at everyday supermarkets? You can bet on it, according to Pardini, who says wine and chocolate lovers should keep an eye on mainstream chains in the next several months. Some regional chains such as H-E-B in San Antonio are already doing it.
Make me a Match
It wasn’t always thought of as a match made in heaven. “Wine with chocolate used to be considered a pairing that just didn’t work,” says Natalie MacLean, author of “Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass.” “However, today’s food and wine lovers are discovering combinations that are delicious, using the same pairing principles that they apply to other pairings: complementary weights, textures and flavors.”
So how do consumers (and retailers who want to sample and suggest pairing to consumers) know which wine goes with which chocolate? Basically, “the wine needs to have the same richness and body as the chocolate, and it must be sweeter, or else it’ll taste bitter,” advises MacLean. “Chocolate has a luxurious, mouth-coating texture, so you need wines with high alcohol to cut through those lovely layers of richness. The best are fortified wines, such as portals and banyuls, but other wines work too based on the chocolate.”
MacLean — whose book comes out in paperback this fall with a new chapter on wine’s five toughest matches, one of which is chocolate — has some personal favorite wine/chocolate pairings. The include:
• Dark chocolate with fortified wines, such as the vin doux naturels, banyuls and maury, both from southern France
• Milk chocolate with Hungarian tokaji
• Semi-sweet chocolate with Australian liqueur Muscat and liqueur tokay
• Tawny port and chocolate mixed with caramel, coffee, nuts and dried figs
• Framboise (raspberry) and cassis (black currant) fruit wines with “chocolate combination desserts that have this flavor in them”
MacLean also offers a free, interactive food and wine matching tool at: