When it comes to pairing wines with anything, I believe there are very few hard and fast rules that must be followed or the experience will be ruined. What I do believe in is learning the basics, or maybe I should call them guidelines, of pairing foods with wines.

Most of us started pairing wines with food by following two simple rules: red wine with steak, white wine with chicken or fish. They're not bad rules. If you have no idea which wine to choose, they can be helpful. But, if you've been drinking wine for a while, you'll know they are the most basic jumping off points for wine pairing.

I asked Jennifer Malme, wine educator and social media manager at Sharrott Winery in Hammonton, New Jersey, to educate me on some of the basic guidelines of pairing chocolate with wine. I told her to keep it simple, and she did so by pairing some of the most popular varietals with not-too-complicated chocolates.

"The basic rule for pairing wine with any food, including chocolate, is to pair similar flavors and strengths," said Jennifer. "Sweet with sweet, full-bodied with full-flavor — you get the idea. Generally red wine pairs better with chocolate than white wine, although I have found white chocolate does well with certain whites. And of course there are exceptions to every rule!"

  1. Pinot grigio with white chocolate-pistachio bark
  2. Moscato with dried mango dipped in white chocolate
  3. Pinot noir and merlot with milk chocolate; fruit-forward, light-bodied reds do well with milk chocolate
  4. Fruit wines (like raspberry or blueberry) with milk chocolate
  5. Cabernet sauvignon and cabernet Franc with dark chocolate; deeper, richer wines do better with darker, bitter chocolates
  6. Ruby port (like Sharrott Winery's Wicked) with chocolate-covered cherries

I think Jennifer's guidelines work really well for anyone just starting to play with wine and chocolate pairings. Like the red wine with steak and white wine with chicken or fish rule, they are basic jumping-off points. Try one of the wine and chocolate pairings, and if you like the results, experiment.

Here's what I suggest:

Pinot grigio is a dry, crisp white wine. If the white chocolate-pistachio bark is a pairing you like, try that type of chocolate with another dry, crisp white wine like a chenin blanc or a sauvignon blanc. Or, switch up the chocolate just a bit by trying White Chocolate Bark with Pistachios and Cranberries. See how the tartness of the cranberries works with the dry, white wine. Try little variations and see how they hold up.

Experimenting like this with any wine and food pairing takes time. As you go through your experiments, keep a notebook of the wines and chocolates and your notes on each pairing. After a while, you'll start to see that while the basics almost always work, you may have found one or two experimental pairings that really wowed you — maybe even a red wine with a white chocolate. Like Jennifer said, "There are exceptions to every rule!"

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.