Turn your kitchen into a culinary classroom with our Farm-to-Table inspiration! Today, let’s brush up on our pairing skills with Tim Gearhart of Gearharts Fine Chocolates and savor some of life’s most loved pleasures as we learn How to Pair Wine and Chocolate.

“Walking into Gearharts Fine Chocolates, you don’t have to be a chocolate lover to stop and appreciate the heavenly scents drifting from the kitchen or the countless racks filled with over 20 varieties of free-standing chocolates. It’s what you would identify as a true mingling of your senses. You can hear the enjoyment of others biting into their treat nearby while smelling the bittersweet scents as different flavors of ganache are cooked and coated. The anticipation of tasting any one of the mouth-watering selections would lift anyone’s mood.

What chocolate flavors pair best with wine?

Gearharts uses the cream in each chocolate as the base for flavor, adding an array of ingredients before molding into the ganache. The ganache is made a day or two ahead of time, so as to set before it is coated and rolled in extra bittersweet. There are many different ingredients, from macadamia nuts, candied ginger, dried apricots soaked in French cognac, earl grey tea and natural cacao nibs to vanilla bean, dried Michigan cherries, cinnamon, Ancho chili, orange, pistachios, toasted coconut, dark rum, whiskey, wine, and so many others. 

‘I don’t think I could choose one chocolate as my favorite,’ the artisan admits, ‘but the Malted Hazelnut is always a go-to.’ A local staple, the Taj incorporates candied ginger, cardamom and rose into its bittersweet chocolate ganache. ‘Another of my personal favorites is the Mint Julep. The creamy milk chocolate infused with fresh mint and Kentucky bourbon before again being dipped in milk chocolate is one to reckon with he says. One of the different chocolates, the Maya, is started with rich, bittersweet chocolate ganache flavored with cinnamon, Ancho chili, and orange before being dusted with cocoa.

Which Virginia wines pair best with chocolate?

A popular collaboration of Gearharts is the pairing of chocolates with wine. The Pod & Vine assortment includes wine-infused chocolates created with three Charlottesville vineyards. Barboursville Vineyards was the first to partner with this line, pairing their Cabernet Franc with the dark chocolate morsels and plum preserves. Jefferson Vineyards’ Petit Verdot fills another dark chocolate morsel along with raspberry jam and currants. The final local wine is King Family Vineyards’ ‘Seven’ (Port Style) paired with hazelnuts and natural vanilla in delicious dark chocolate. When balancing the sugars in both wines and chocolate, two strong catalysts, it is not always easy. They are alike in aromatics and create a ‘battle on the palate,’ also known as a ‘palate power-play,’ Tim explains. Thus, when integrating a chocolate with wine, it is key to pair robust wines with robust chocolates and sweeter wines with the sweeter chocolate, such as white chocolate.

Pro Tips for How to Pair Wine & Chocolate

When enjoying chocolate, your first tasting should have the lowest percentage of cocoa, allowing you to work your way up from white chocolate to milk chocolate to dark chocolate. In line with his advice, Gearhart recommends three local pairings sure to tempt any wine and chocolate connoisseur. 

The Vanilla Bean Brulee, a white chocolate ganache infused with vanilla bean and ‘torched’ sugar caramel before being dipped in more white chocolate, pairs well with the Reynard Florence Vineyard’s Petit Manseng Monticello. This white wine has an upfront richness with toasted pear and honey—balanced by bright acidity. Gearharts’ Dark Chocolate Caramel—soft caramel infused with rich cocoa, a touch of balsamic vinegar and cracked black pepper, coated in dark chocolate and finished with smoked sea salt—is another delicious match with Michael Shaps Wineworks’ Cabernet Franc, whose aromatics of red/black fruits are framed by spice and pepper. Gearharts’ Michigan Cherry, semi-sweet chocolate ganache with Kirsch and dried Michigan cherries dipped in dark chocolate, pairs perfectly with King Family Vineyards’ Meritage and its layered flavors of cherry and raspberry alongside oak spice and tar.

The most intense experience with chocolate undeniably is taste. Chocolate’s flavor components are initially trapped in the cocoa butter. However, as the chocolate melts, similarly to what it does in your mouth, the aromas are released and thus…heaven.

Falling in love with chocolate isn’t hard to do, and eating the cocoa-infused treats will give anyone a new appreciation for the science and the craft that go into making these delicious morsels.”~

This article appears in Book 3 of Wine & Country Life. Start your subscription here or give a gift subscription here.

Photography by Jen Fariello


Wine & Country celebrates elevated living in Virginia Wine Country. Wine & Country Life, a semi-annual life & style magazine, and Wine & Country Weddings, an annual art book celebrating elegant Virginia weddings, are complemented by the Wine & Country Shop in Ivy, VA—a beautiful lifestyle boutique that brings the pages of the magazines to life. The Shop features over 40 Virginia artisans with everything from tailgating essentials and Dubarry attire to locally made foods and award-winning Virginia wines and craft beverages for your next event. Wine & Country covers the grape-growing foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Lynchburg to Leesburg, including points in between like Charlottesville and Middleburg. Ivy Life & Style Media also creates other projects, including CharlottesvilleFamily.com, a collection of local resources including a popular calendar of events, family services guides and features on education, health and family day trips for parents and teachers in Charlottesville, as well as the CharlottesvilleWelcomeBook.com a guide to resources for Charlottesville tourists and newcomers.