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Sweeten your halloween

Pairing wine with chocolates can be a real treat

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"Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands -- and then eat just one of the pieces." -- Judith Viorst

Although I'm supposed to think about ghosts and goblins during Halloween, I always think about the teeth-rotting candy I collected door-to-door until my parents forced me to stop. I pouted fiercely. Granted, I was 15, but I'm short, so I thought I could avoid discovery.

As an adult, I boycott Halloween, opting for swilling wine with friends rather than facilitating the fattening of today's youth. My fun comes in pairing up different kinds of chocolate -- gourmet, of course -- with various wines. This turns Halloween into an adult holiday, and I can wallow in sugar highs like the little ones.

The Aztecs of Central America discovered the chocolate delicacy as we know it by mixing their native cocoa bean with water to create a highly coveted beverage. Today, these intensely bitter beans are fermented, roasted and ground up to produce what we call cocoa. Add some fatty components and sugar, and you have chocolate.

The types of chocolate vary according to the percentage of cocoa solids they contain. White chocolate contains no cocoa solids, so many countries don't consider it chocolate at all. Frankly, I don't either. The waxy taste never seemed worth the calories. Milk chocolate, defined by 10 percent to 20 percent cocoa solids and more than 12 percent milk solids, is the sweetest of them, followed by semisweet, which has 40 percent to 62 percent cocoa. Bittersweet can have anywhere from 60 percent to 90 percent and can really make your mouth dry out at those higher levels. I lean toward the bittersweet end of the spectrum. Whether that's a reflection of my temperament, I don't know, but I love the dark stuff.

But to pair or not to pair chocolate with wine? I've determined, over the years, that red wine matches better with chocolate, but I hadn't figured in whites much. In a recent experiment, we tried Scharffen Berger milk, Scharffen Berger 62 percent semisweet, Ghirardelli citrus-flavored 60 percent dark, Scharffen Berger 70 percent and Scharffen Berger 82 percent bittersweet chocolates with a variety of wines, from riesling to zinfandel.

Surprisingly, the milk and the orange semisweet enhanced the fruitiness of the dry riesling, completely changing the flavor profile of the wine. A lively, ripe yet dry merlot from Paso Robles also drank well with the same chocolates. Oregon pinot noir loved the bittersweet treats, as did the California cabernet sauvignon. But the best wine for all of these chocolates? A white dessert moscato from St. Supery. Bar none. The sugars matched each other perfectly, allowing all the flavors to show their strength.

The wines that didn't fly were disappointing, since they are some of my favorites: syrah, zinfandel, petite sirah and brut sparkling wine. But keep in mind that food and wine pairings often depend on the actual wine itself and not on a varietal. Use this as a guide for your Halloween activities and have fun.

Recommended Wines

•Wild Horse 2004 Merlot Paso Robles (California) SW = 2. $20. Roses on the nose, with a perfumey black cherry, chocolate flavor. Goes down way too easily. ****

•2003 Duo Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Maipo Valley (Chile) SW = 1. $14. Deep, dark roasted cherries, with a musty, muddy smell. Also has a bit of the green pepper essence, which prevents me from loving it. ** 1/2

Sweetness (SW) rating is out of 10, 10 being pure sugar. * (star) rating is out of 5, 5 being wine nirvana.

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