Chocolates are a Valentine's Day staple and are delicious on their own, but pairing with the right wine can intensify the candy's flavors.

Valentine’s Day is always a time to celebrate the sweeter things in life. For me, pairing wine with a tasty treat is always fun. While it might seem natural to stick with sweet wines to pair with sweet treats, I like to take a slightly different approach.

For starters, I found a special treat for the occasion. While I’ve always known The Mill was a great place for coffee, I’ve learned they also have their very own chocolatier. To pair with chocolate I wanted to stay away from moscato, sweet rieslings and other wines with a lot of residual sugar and try something new. So, I grabbed a sparkling wine, an intense red and a light, sweet red just to be safe.

I started with d’ Arciac Cava Brut Seleccio, NV, Penedes, Spain, $14. Cava is Spain’s contribution to sparkling wine and it seems to always over-deliver. This wine is from the Penedes region, the most prolific Cava producing area. It is a blend of the three indigenous varieties of macabeo, xarel-lo and parellada.

Made in the traditional method with yeast added to the bottle for the secondary fermentation, the wine is pale yellow and has an enticing froth on the pour. It offers aromas of ripe apples, honey and fresh baked bread, and on the palate the wine has delicate but firm bubbles that bring it to life. The wine is mineral-driven and continues with flavors of apple, pears and a hint of citrus. 87 points

Next, I tried Optima Zinfandel, 2015, Sonoma, California, $24. Produced by winemaker Mike Duffy, a brilliant wine maker and one of the most pleasant and down-to-earth people you could meet, this is a prototype for Sonoma zinfandel. It is deep burgundy in the glass and offers powerful scents of rich dark fruit, vanilla and nutmeg. The wine is intense, bold and offers rich mouth-filling flavors of concentrated dark berries and layers of spice and pepper. A burly wine and not for the feeble of palate. 87 points

The last wine I tried was a safety pick. Vinchio Vaglio Serra, La Romantica Brachetto, 2017, Piedmont, Italy, $16. From Piedmont, in Northwest Italy, this wine is light ruby with red flecks in the glass, and it has scents of raspberry, strawberry and cherry. It has soft delicate bubbles that are gentle on the tongue. The wine is sweet and smooth, easy to drink, with flavors of raspberry and strawberries. This is not a sophisticated wine, but it is simple, fun and pleasant. Likely to be a crowd pleaser for those new to wine drinking. 85 points

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Tasting the wines was great, but this was about to turn into a real treat. The Mill chocolates look like works of art. They are meticulously shaped, had eye catching colors, and the assortment of flavors was compelling.

Two of the wine and chocolate pairings blew my mind. First there was a passion fruit caramel that had a crunchy shell and molten caramel that oozed from it. Blended with the flavors from the shell it tasted like a caramel apple pie on steroids. Pairing with the Cava made it even more heavenly. The baked bread nuance of the cava was nothing short of spectacular! Then the dark chocolate raspberry candy was an ideal match for the Optima Zinfandel. The slightly bitter sensation in the dark chocolate became intensely flavorful and seemed to absorb the rich fruit and spice flavors from the Zinfandel. A pleasant surprise.

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Mark McDonald and his wife Kim own The Italian Vine, a Lincoln-based wine distributorship. They recently lived in Italy for several years and studied and developed a passion for wine that inspired them to open their own enterprise.


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