Wine and chocolate visualWine and chocolate visual

Wine and Chocolate

Red meat, mature cheese and spicy pasta are all well-established, but somewhat unoriginal pairings for full-bodied red wine. Let us introduce you to an unexpected companion: Chocolate! And none better than a master chocolatier to explain why the two harmonise so well:

Chocolate is a universally beloved treat which is enjoyed both hot and cold. Powdered or in gelato, in the form of a bar or bunny, spiked with berries, nuts, milk or chilli, white, dark and milk chocolate are ubiquitous in confectionery departments around the world, but still largely ignored on the wine scene. In the chocolate Eldorado that is Switzerland at least, many people still turn up their noses at the exquisite combination of wine and chocolate, but change could be on the horizon. Stefan Bruderer, Maître Chocolatier at Lindt & Sprüngli, notes that «Until now, this pairing has struggled to gain traction in Switzerland, despite several attempts». However, other countries have wasted no time picking up on the bitter sweet scent. A decade ago, the chocolate maestro received an invitation to London to lead the first-ever chocolate and wine masterclass. A total of six sessions were scheduled over the course of one day, all of which were sold out. Stefan Bruderer believes that his fellow countrymen are slowly developing a taste for it too: «I’ve observed a growing openness and curiosity in this regard recently.» In any event, the tasting session hosted by Bruderer in Zurich this June, alongside Bindella sommelier Lucien Gobet, was fully booked, and more are now being planned.

A fateful rendez-vous

Bruderer himself discovered this dream pairing during his apprenticeship as a pastry chef in the 1990s. As an 18-year-old, his preference leaned towards beer. However, his mentor, who was partial to Amarone, introduced him to a 1988 vintage from the vineyards of the esteemed Masi winery. «I still have the bottle on my mantelpiece,» he says «but unfortunately it’s empty now». His passion for oenology was born that very evening. It was only a matter of time before he would integrate it into his profession, not least because cocoa and wine have a great deal in common. The climatic conditions of a region determine which grape varieties thrive. Similarly, cocoa also comes in several varieties, although its cultivation is limited to the equatorial zone. Today, we can differentiate between three basic genotypes: Forastero, which Stefan Bruderer refers to as consumer cocoa. Next, the rare and noble Criollo, which translates to «native» in Spanish. Finally, the Trinitario hybrid, whose name traces back to the Caribbean port of Trinidad. Though its floral and fruity notes resemble those of Criollo, it is more robust. The noblest of seeds unfold aromas of dried fruit, flowers and bitter-spicy notes similar to those of a red wine matured in a toasted wooden barrel. In addition to the similarities in flavour, grapes and the tropical fruit share some of the same components; cocoa, for example, contains up to six percent tannin, of the same kind found in grape skins and stems.

Villa Antinori Riserva

A palette of aromas more captivating than many a TV thriller! Blackberry, mint, leather, chocolate... Full-bodied, full of finesse and wonderfully persistent, with the best recommendations from the Marchesi Antinori family.

Stefan Bruderer, Maître Chocolatier at Lindt & SprüngliStefan Bruderer, Maître Chocolatier at Lindt & Sprüngli

Stefan Bruderer, Maître Chocolatier at Lindt & Sprüngli

The world’s most delicious medicine

In addition, there is the historical aspect, as both cultural treasures look back on a long and eventful history. Even as far back as Mayan and Aztec times, seeds from cocoa trees in the Mexican lowlands were processed into a supposedly stimulating drink reserved for the ruling class. Ek Chuah, the cocoa god, was worshipped with sacrificial feasts, and at times, premium cocoa beans were even used as currency. The first Europeans to reach the New World shipped the protein- and fat-rich discovery across the Atlantic, where it attracted little interest for almost 200 years, as the local populace indulged in beer and spirits, and the nobility in wine from their own cellars.

It wasn’t until the mid-16th century that a thick concoction made from honey, cane sugar and pounded cocoa beans began to conquer the Spanish court. This luxury commodity (colonial goods commanded a high price) then made its way to Central Europe via England and Germany. The first factories to make chocolate in the form we enjoy today began operating around 1800. It was regarded as a miraculous, easily digestible wonder remedy that was sold over the counter in well-stocked pharmacies to strengthen weakened patients or even as an aphrodisiac. At the beginning of the 19th century, a new pressing and grinding method, still in use today for cocoa powder production, began to be employed to separate the cocoa butter. As the sugar industry flourished and Amazonian cocoa beans became cheaper, chocolate finally became available to the less affluent population. François-Louis Cailler made pioneering strides with the opening of the first Swiss chocolate factory in Vevey on Lake Geneva, and in 1845, Rudolf Sprüngli founded his manufacturing facility on Marktgasse in Zurich Swiss chocolate’s global triumph was made possible by Rodolphe Lindt from Bern with the invention of the conche, a mixer that evenly distributes cocoa butter within chocolate, refining its consistency and releasing unwanted volatiles in the process. In 1899, Lindt sold his life’s work to Sprüngli. The iconic factory in Kilchberg, on the shores of Lake Zurich, which remains the headquarters of the prestigious chocolatiers to this day, was built in the same year. The Lindt Home of Chocolate, opened in 2020, offers tours that include a chocolate fountain show and draws (experience-)hungry chocoholics like a giant, delicious-smelling magnet, while Maîtres Chocolatiers from all over the world refine new creations in the laboratory.

Riserva di Costasera

We could spend hours cosied up in front of the fireplace with this one! With this Riserva, Masi demonstrates a masterful touch in the great art of Amarone, capturing the concentrated essence of air-dried grapes. Perfectly ripe fruit, elegant toasted notes, smooth and lush on the palate.

The art of pairing

In addition to a degree in art and design, Stefan Bruderer studied food technology and business innovation. For him, the appeal lies in the joy of experimentation and creativity. Ultimately, the success of the wine-chocolate experiment, that is to say, the hoped-for taste sensation, depends on the «what» as well as the «how». While a concentrated Amarone breathes best at 15 to 18 degrees, allowing the release of aromatic molecules through contact with oxygen, cocoa butter melts most beautifully in the mouth at 36 degrees. In other words, please don’t store gourmet chocolate in the fridge! For Stefan Bruderer, this is akin to tasting an expensive red wine straight from the freezer.


Pinot Nero in all its fruity, delicate purity, almost more of a perfume than a grape variety. The bouquet is characterised by floral notes and a delicate hint of honey, with a medium body and playful acidity on the palate. The name Mimuèt is South Tyrolean dialect and means «to my taste».

The Maître explains that all five senses must be engaged to fully appreciate these flavours. Firstly, to appreciate each element individually. The sensory experience of the flavour combination involves more than just the mouth: on the palate, we may distinguish between sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami, but all the aromas of fruit, berries, spices or toasted notes emerge only during retronasal perception, when they reach the olfactory receptors upon exhalation. This is why Stefan Bruderer places special emphasis on employing the correct breathing technique during his tastings. Last crucial point: the pairing of the products. «Very sweet chocolate and fruit-forward dessert wines can sometimes overshadow each other» says the expert. He strives to abide by the principle that opposites attract or complement each other. As an example, the 45-year-old cites a revelatory experience from his apprenticeship: «Dry, heavy Amarone, for example, pairs well with 70% cocoa bitter dark chocolate to complement its well-rounded flavour profile, emphasising the wine’s spicy and toasted aromas.» Meanwhile, the silky body and notes of cherry and red fruit in delicate Pinot Nero beautifully balance the slight acidity of fleur-de-sel chocolate. A classic, light Chianti creates a unique synergy with the spiciness of Lindt Excellence Dark Chilli chocolate, which enhances it with a subtle sweetness. «Ideally», predicts Stefan Bruderer, «the palate will experience a veritable firework display of flavours.»