Vino Veritas Pairing wine with chocolate

February is National Chocolate Month, and chances are around Valentine’s Day you’ll make a good-sized dent in the 11 pounds of chocolate you consume as an average American each year.

Wine and chocolate are similar in many ways. Like grapes, there are hundreds of different types of cocoa trees. The quality and character of the beans they produce are largely based on terroir — the soil and climate in which they are grown. Just as cabernets from Napa and Bordeaux have different qualities, so too do cocoa beans from C�te d’Ivoire and Brazil. There are seemingly infinite varieties of chocolate produced in all corners of the world, and as is the case with wine, price is often an accurate measure of quality. And both products share powerful antioxidants that reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer when consumed in moderation. While 11 pounds a year may sound closer to gluttonous than moderate, consider that the Swiss consume nearly twice as much.

Wine and chocolate each span the full spectrum of taste, from boldly bitter to sickly sweet and every nuance of flavor in between. But there is perhaps no more indulgent gastronomic experience than tasting two well-matched selections together. Each heightens and complements the best attributes of the other. That said, improperly paired wine and chocolate creates the opposite affect — a few M&Ms will make your favorite Merlot taste like a Band-Aid.

When marrying wine and chocolate there are two general guidelines to remember. Most importantly, the wine should be as sweet as or sweeter than the chocolate; otherwise it will taste bitter. Also, try to match lighter chocolates with lighter-bodied wines and heavier, more flavorful chocolates with more expressive wines.

Here are a few gratifying combinations:

Milk chocolate with Pinot Noir. Milk or milk powder softens the bitterness of cocoa as cream does to your coffee or tea. La Crema Sonoma Pinot Noir 2005 ($20) is smooth and velvety and itself offers aromas of cocoa and spice followed by flavors of ripe cherry and pomegranate.

Dark chocolate with Zinfandel. Dark chocolates have no milk to soften the power of the bean, so wines with strong personalities are required. Rosenblum Paso Robles Zinfandel 2005 ($14) boasts rich, mouth-filling flavors of red and black raspberry and anise that linger on the palate.

So whether you’re picking over pawed-over rejects in a box of chocolates or sharing a delicate souffl� with your Valentine, enhance the experience with the right glass of wine.