Life is like a box of chocolates; it's better with a glass of wine.

What? You don't sip wine with chocolate? Whether you're a serious chocoholic addicted to 80 percent cacao single-origin bars, or you prefer to relish each surprise bite from a heart-shaped box, the right wine can greatly enhance the experience of fine chocolate, especially on a holiday that suits the two pleasures so perfectly.

When considering wine to pair with chocolate, the cardinal rule is the same as with all desserts: Choose a wine sweeter than the food.

Kurt Eckert, director of fine wine for Frederick Wildman & Sons, says, “The challenge in serving wine with something sweet, like chocolate, is that the dessert makes the wine taste more bitter.” That's why those tannic Cabernets and Merlots often leave a taste worse than a marriage gone bad.

Ironically, many of these wines exhibit aromas and flavors of chocolate, but that does not mean they are a match for the sweet treat. Lighter reds like Pinot Noir often have high acidity, which make them taste overly tart. So, forget the dry, red wines you normally enjoy and think sweet, supple, sexy.

Only with white chocolate (which is not really considered chocolate by purists) can you can get away with white wines. While chocolate and champagne might sound like a decadent combination, it, too, is best reserved for the more delicate white chocolate.

When it comes to milk chocolate, I like to think like a pastry chef and consider the flavors that traditionally go well with this creamy treat – things like caramel, toffee, nuts and raspberry. Few white wines have these flavors and their acidity gets in the way, so we're looking for rich reds with ample sweetness and bold flavors.

With dark chocolate, which includes more bold, bitter cacao flavor, you might try a sophisticated sparkling red.

The new breed of dark chocolate, like the Cacao Reserve Sao Tome 70 percent Cacao from Hershey's, can be incredibly potent, with spicy, vinous flavors of their own. These call for the most powerful, firmly structured reds like vintage port.

However, the typical bottle of vintage port approaches $100 and easily serves eight people – a crowd on a holiday built for two. Stores do have a number of affordable New World fortified wines, from Australia, the United States and South America, made to mimic port though.

There is one wine that stakes its reputation on chocolate: Banyuls, a fortified Grenache-based wine from the southwest corner of France. Aromatic of cassis, black plum and strawberry pie filling, this potent but fresh wine is incredibly silky and intense on the palate without turning syrupy.

A touch of alcohol heat and spice seals the finish on the dark blackberry fruit and cocoa flavors. The tannins are ripe, fine and well balanced with sweetness. This wine seems to create so many magical chocolate combinations, it will take some restraint not to finish the whole heart-shaped box of chocolate.

© 2007, The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)

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