Ask Wine Wizard

Chocolate Wine


Jerry —Transfer, Pennsylvania asks,

I have tried several of the new chocolate wines and I love them. I have tried with little success to make chocolate wine with my wine club friends. I have bought several books on winemaking, but cannot find a recipe for chocolate wine. Can you please help?


So you want to put some chocolate flavor, texture and aroma into your wines, eh? My approach would definitely be to use the chocolate grace-notes as an ending treatment to your wine, as opposed to a fermentative one. This is how a “friend of a friend” of mine made something similar; they trialed in additives into finished wine, then gave the concoction a sterile filtration before bottling. Cocoa beans, chocolate syrups, baking chocolate etc all contain quite a bit of fat, which does not do well in a fermentation (yeast can’t use it, it can go rancid, etc.). Cocoa beans, chocolate and even cocoa powder all have a very high pH, of 7–9, which means that you’d be throwing off the acid balance of your fermenter as well, which is not great for a healthy yeast population. Needless to say, I think you should take a good, sound base wine (maybe laced with a little brandy for body and stability) and then trial in your flavoring agents and additives.

And what are those flavoring agents and additives? Well, all “chocolate wines” I’m aware of are sweet, fruity, somewhat creamy and definitely boozy. Almost like a sweet, wine-based cocktail or something like a lesser-octane Bailey’s Irish Cream. What’s cool is that you can actually make an Irish Cream type liqueur at home. You simply stir together whiskey, chocolate syrup, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla, almond extract, ground coffee crystals, seal up in a bottle and store in your refrigerator. Some recipes call for cooking the ingredients, but heat may change the flavor. I imagine that making a chocolate-flavored beverage would be similarly involved.
To get you started experimenting in the kitchen on a small scale, I’ve outlined below some ingredient possibilities. Just like with any good cocktail (or wine for that matter), you want your tipple to be balanced, approachable, flavorful and to have a nice body and mouthfeel. I would start with your base (or combination of base, add some sweetness, then layer in the chocolate and extra “complexing” agents in small doses. I’ve skewed my list towards ingredients that have a decent chance of remaining dissolved in an acidic, alcoholic solution and won’t separate in the bottle. The dairy ingredients might be a different story because of their fat and protein contents. I recommend using them in small amounts only.

Possible base ingredients:
• A big red wine, like a Zinfandel
• A Port-type wine
• Brandy

“Chocolate” flavor ingredients:
• Chocolate-flavored syrup for Italian sodas, like the kind sold by Torani (no dairy ingredients)
• Chocolate extract (an alcohol-based extract much like the vanilla extract used in baking. No dairy to precipitate out)
• Chocolate syrup like Hershey’s

Extra “complexing” ingredients:
• Vanilla extract
• Almond extract
• Raspberry liqueur
• Espresso
• Instant coffee crystals

Sweetening ingredients:
• Table sugar
• Sugar substitute of your choice (stevia, Sucralose, etc)

Creamy Components:
• Half and half
• Sweetened condensed milk

If you find a recipe of proportions that you like, try making up a couple of small sample bottles (I love little glass 187-mL screwcap sample bottles for this) and letting them sit for anywhere from a few days into a few weeks, tasting and evaluating one occasionally. This will give you an idea of shelf stability, aging potential and how those new and wacky flavors get together in the glass and marry (or divorce?) over time. Since you will be in pretty uncharted territory, keeping good notes and making objective (Did the layers separate? Is there a ton of sediment? Did it re-ferment?) and subjective (How does it taste? What are the aromas like?) observations will be a must.

Depending on the cocktail you come up with, you might have a pretty shelf-stable product or you might have something that won’t keep longer than a few days. Don’t forget some wine and food chemistry basics as you think about recipe development. High alcohol, high acid, high tannin all help keep oxidation and microbial activity at bay. One of your biggest dangers will be re-fermentation of the added sugars, so you will want to try and sterile filter your product unless your alcohol is over 17% or so, where it should act as enough of a deterrent.

So what would I do for a recipe? I would start with something like this (to make 1 L), evaluate bench trials and go from there:

• 2 tsp. vanilla extract
• 1⁄4 tsp. almond extract
• 2 Tb. instant espresso granules
• 1 Tb. chocolate extract (alcohol-based baking/candy making extract)
• 200 mL Torani Chocolate Milano Syrup (or similar dark chocolate dairy-free syrup)
• 75 mL sweetened condensed milk
• 150 mL brandy
• Top up to 1 L with a high-alcohol big, rich Zinfandel or other tannic red wine.

Step by Step
Stir all ingredients together until dissolved and decant into small sample bottles to evaluate for refermentation, precipitation, and aroma and flavor development over time. Try adding a pinch or two of tartaric acid powder to see if that helps balance the flavor. Watch for the dairy precipitation and see if you like it without the condensed milk. If it’s not sweet enough, add more syrup or table sugar. Up the alcohol if you get a refermentation. Don’t forget to sterile filter (if it’s not too thick) if you scale it up to cellar-scale and take it beyond a kitchen project.

Response by Alison Crowe.