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MICHAEL MASCHA is Water Editor of THE NIBBLE™ and founder of FineWaters.com. He advises restaurants and hotels on the development of water menus.  Click here to e-mail Michael.



February 2006
Updated February 2007

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Beverages

Like Water for Chocolate

Pairing Chocolates with Artisanal Waters


In Mexico hot chocolate is made with water, not milk.* Water is brought to a boil and chocolate is added to the hot water. A person in a state of sexual excitement is said to be “like water for chocolate” (now you understand the title of the movie).

*Mexicans are not the only people who mix water and chocolate. French-born Maribel Lieberman of New York’s Marie Belle Chocolates, and Michael Recchiuti San Francisco—two of America’s finest chocolatiers—direct customers to mix their costly hot chocolate mixes ($25.00 a tin) with water, not milk.

The Mayans and subsequently the Aztecs were the first to recognize the potency of chocolate. Montezuma reportedly drank 50 cups of chocolate each day to better serve his harem of 500 women. Seventeenth-century church officials deemed it sinful to partake of chocolate. Chocolate contains among other things phenylethylamine, or PEA. This is the very same molecule that courses through the veins of those in love. Combine our internal stores of this natural amphetamine with chocolate, and it can only heighten “those loving feelings.”

Like Water With Chocolate?

As you plan your loving repast for Valentine’s Day, water is usually not the beverage that comes to mind when one thinks of what to have with chocolate but...might water be the right beverage to enjoy with your box of Valentine’s Day chocolate? During this season of love, what is the right water to drink with chocolate and chocolate deserts?

In the annals of food pairing, some people think that big, bold red wines are the perfect match for chocolate and chocolate desserts. According to Chris Meeske, former sommelier and wine director for the Patina Group in Los Angeles, this thinking is “totally wrong.” Meeske points out that “while there are very few rules for matching wine with food, wine should always be sweeter than the food.”

Chris is on a mission to educate consumers and he explains that “the texture of the chocolate coats the mouth and leaves dry red wines tasting metallic.” The main reason people think that red wines match with chocolate come from the conventional progression of wines through dinner. Usually light white wines are served with appetizers, and the wines progress to bigger reds as the courses continue. By the time desert is served, big red wines are called for to match with the chocolate.

At THE NIBBLE™, we don’t generally
pair dry red wines with chocolate, but
we do think there are occasions to pair
fortified red wines like Port with
chocolate. Click to read our article, Pairing Chocolate With Wine. Be sure to see Part II, the pairing chart. Photo of Port by Chris Grossmeier.

So, we decided to apply this thinking to pairing chocolate with fine, bottled water.

Pairing Water With Chocolate

We set up an experimental tasting with dark chocolates, which  have a cacao content of 50% to 85% (chocolates also are made at 99% and 100% cacao, but they lack the sugar to make them palatable to most people. For an explanation of the different percentages of cacao, click here.)  It may help if you click to open up another browser window to the FineWaters Balance™ scale, so you can follow along with the categories of water.

We started with a soft, almost sweet still water and progressed through the FineWaters Balance with Effervescent, Light Classic and Bold-designated waters.

  • First, we concluded that a water in the Still category is not the optimal match for chocolate. These waters include Evian, Fiji, Panna, Vittel, Volvic, Spa, and Trinity, among others.
  • A sparkling water Light or Effervescent category is a much better choice. The light bubbles of the sparking water cut through the chocolate without disturbing the sensation of the chocolate. They are surprisingly delightful with the chocolate, and our choice for matching water with chocolate and chocolate desserts. These waters include Badoit, Borsec, Ferrarelle, Gleneagles, Highland Spring, Sanfaustino, and Voss, among others, in the Effervescent category; and Daggio, Galvanina, Ramlosa and Sole, among others, in the Light category.
  • Waters in the Classic or Bold categories create too much of a distraction to be considered good matches. Nevertheless, we noticed that waters with a FineWaters Balance™ of Classic match very well with chocolate that contains nuts, as the water creates a nice dialogue with the crunchy mouthfeel of the chocolate. These waters include Apollinaris, Fiuggi, Gerolsteiner, Lurisia, and San Pellegrino, among others.

We also sampled white chocolate, which is made with cocoa butter, sugar, milk powder and vanilla, with no cocoa solids. The same rules for matching white chocolate and water do seem to apply.

Chocolate Bars

Treat your Valentine and yourself to a tasting. Make yourself comfortable on the couch (or set up a formal tasting at the dining table, if you prefer), and explore the subtle differences the right water can make in enjoying an ancient aphrodisiac.

We suggest that rather conduct this initial test with the Pierre Marcolini or Richart bonbons, where the subtly infused ganaches should be contemplated on their own merit, you conduct the test with bars of fine chocolate: Chocolove, Dagoba, El Rey, Michel Cluizel, Santander, Scharffen Berger, Valrhona, those made by your local chocolatier, or whatever the experts at your local chocolate boutique suggest.  If you want bars filled with nuts, fruit, cookies, caramel, and excitement, we personally flip for the bars at Coco’s Chocolate Dreams.

You may wish to reserve the expensive box of bonbons for another occasion and conduct your tasting with plain bars. That’s because the creamy centers of the bonbons— raspberry, caramel, mint, praline, spiced ganaches, et al—will get in the way of comparing the match between water and chocolate. Photo by Melody Lan.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

© Copyright 2005

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