Updated: Jul 29, 2020
By Isabel Carson
For the longest time, I was convinced that the chocolate notes found in wines were a result of actual chocolate somehow incorporated into the wine. While there is some truth to that, in most cases, it is a misconception. In reality, the rich and sometimes creamy chocolatey flavors are often resultant of the type of cask or varietal (variety of grapes) used.
Oak casks can impart numerous flavors including vanilla, coffee, cloves, nutmeg, caramel, and chocolate. The level to which the cask is toasted is a large determinant of the character. Additionally, the locality of the oak can impact the taste: American oak has an intense taste profile with flavors described as coconutty, while French oak is often sweeter with a more visible vanilla flavor.
Chocolate aromas can be identified as milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and cocoa powder. Cocoa powder is results from sweet, ripe tannins -- powder is also representative of the texture.
Also, some grapes begin with a chocolate taste profile. Southern French Merlot grapes (dark blue-colored) are often thought of as one of these. It’s usually the Bordeaux and hotter climate, full-bodied reds that taste of chocolate.
Still, there are some wines that are made by physically adding chocolate, but these are more controversial in the wine community. Chocolate, milk, and eggs are incorporated separately, and later, the mix is blended until smooth; heat is often used to melt the chocolate. There are those who believe these chocolate wines are a wonderful dessert while others, like Alison Shoemaker, from The Takeout, call it "a headache in Swiss-Miss form."