Know Your Ingredients: Chocolate

What do you need to know about chocolate to make wine with it? That’s what I want to focus on in this installment of my Know Your Ingredients series. So I’ll be skipping over most of the history of chocolate and the details of how its made, unless they help illustrate something about how chocolate might be used in winemaking.

Chocolate is available in different forms, like solid chocolate and cocoa, but they all have one thing in common: chocolate liquor. This is what cocoa beans become after modern processing gives them the flavor we’ve come to associate with chocolate. Add cocoa butter (fat from the cocoa bean) and you can make unsweetened solid chocolate. Add sugar to that, and you’ve got dark chocolate. Cut in some milk, or milk solids, and vanilla to get milk chocolate. I think it’s best to stay as close to chocolate liquor as possible and extract what we want from that to make our wine. I’m not saying that you should never add vanilla to you wine, just that we stay on topic. And when was the last time you felt your wine was really good, but it just needed a little milk?

Unsweetened dark chocolate or cocoa powder?

So, we might want to use unsweetened dark chocolate. We should also consider cocoa powder, which is chocolate liquor with much of the cocoa butter removed. The choice between the two probably comes down to how easy they are to work with and what we think of cocoa butter. Let’s take cocoa butter first. It’s the fat of the cocoa bean and it contributes the texture that we all love about chocolate bars. It doesn’t contribute any chocolate flavor though, so I don’t think the extra cocoa butter in solid chocolate does us any good in making wine. What would working with dark chocolate be like and how would that compare to working with cocoa? I find cocoa pretty hard to dissolve, and that’s how I’d want to incorporate it into wine. Dissolving dark chocolate would take some work too, though. It might be enough to break the dark chocolate into small pieces and add them to the fermented or fermenting wine, like oak chips. Done that way, dark chocolate might be easier to work with, but cocoa has less of the cocoa butter that we don’t want and all of the things that give chocolate it’s rich flavor.

Raw unprocessed chocolate sounds perfect, doesn’t it? But unless you’ve got a thing for bland and bitter, it really isn’t. The fermenting, drying, roasting, and grinding that is modern processing gives chocolate it’s rich flavors and aromas.Both are worth a try, but extract might be best
I haven’t mentioned chocolate extract yet, because its the form of chocolate that I know the least about. What I do know is that its got two things going for it: first, it has no cocoa butter at all. Second, it dissolves readily into most liquids. Those are two big advantages that set it apart from unsweetened dark chocolate and cocoa powder, but is there a catch? There might be and it revolves around the question of what exactly chocolate extract is extracted from. Some of my reading indicates that it is derived from dry fermented cocoa beans (which is how growers deliver cocoa to manufacturers) or even raw, unfermented cocoa beans. The label on my bottle of Star Kay White brand of chocolate extract is reassuring and says its made from “fresh roasted cocoa beans.” I take that to mean that the cocoa beans are fully processed, though possibly not yet finely ground into chocolate liquor. What I’m looking for is something as close to chocolate liquor as possible, without the cocoa butter, and while we’re at it, in a form that’s easily dissolved. This just might be it.


Phenols are important components in wine that are responsible for color, bitterness, and astringency. They contribute some flavor and aroma and provide antioxidant activity. Even so, they are a tiny (0.05% – 0.35%) part of a wine’s makeup. Phenolic compounds are a bigger part of chocolate – 6% of chocolate liquor. Cocoa powder, because it is made by expelling much of the cocoa butter from chocolate liquor, has an even higher concentration – about 8%. Solid chocolate would have less than 6% because its made by adding cocoa butter and sugar to chocolate liquor. It’ll be important to keep the phenolic content in mind when deciding how much chocolate to use in the wine.

For some perspective, I’ll do a back of the envelope calculation of the phenolics in hot chocolate. The recipe on my can of Hershey’s Cocoa calls for two tablespoons of cocoa powder (10 g) in one cup (240 ml) of milk. Cocoa powder is 8% phenols by weight, and 8% of 10g is 0.8g. So we have a concentration of 0.8g/240ml, which is 3.33 g/L or 0.333% – what you might get from a tannic red wine. That’s why the recipe also calls for two tablespoons (about 25 g) sugar. That’s more than 10% residual sugar!

Stick around, we’re just getting started!

I’m going to put this information to use and start thinking about how to make a wine with chocolate. That’ll be the subject of my next article on chocolate wine. To make sure you don’t miss it, subscribe to this blog. Its the free and easy way to get each article as it’s published without having to check back all the time.

If you noticed something in the article that didn’t seem quite right, well maybe it wasn’t! Nobody’s perfect, and if I made a mistake in one of my calculations please let me know by leaving a comment. I’m planning to make this wine, and I want it to be a winner.

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6 thoughts on “Know Your Ingredients: Chocolate

  1. Erroll Post author

    Hi Gary,

    I got to the point where I wanted to make Lord Rhys Chocolate Mead Recipe as is, and a similar chocolate mead using extract. Then I could compare the two and decide between extract or cocoa powder.

    I didn’t find good information on how much extract would substitute for a given amount of cocoa, so I planned to taste test extract in milk and compare it to chocolate milk. I would use that to make the chocolate mead from extract to compare against Lord Rhys’.

    Not only would I be able to choose between extract and powder, but the experience of doing it would give me a better idea of how much chocolate to add to a wine.

    But it all came to a screeching halt last year after a personal upheaval. I’ve started making wine again, but it’s mostly emptying the freezer (the 2008 rhubarb harvest still needs to be fermented) and aging wines that I’ve already got.

    I intend to pick up where I left off and make chocolate wine and mead, but I don’t have a time frame yet.


  2. Sean

    Hi Erroll,

    Thanks for the update! I’ve been reading the various articles you had on the chocolate wine, and was very interested as your style is not just intuitive. Your time in exploring (and explaining) the different elements was dilligent to say the least.

    I appreciated Gary’s question, since it was the voice of my innermost thoughts, “So what’s the verdict? Where is he at?”

    I hope the rhubarb this year works out, and that things get back on track. A thought on the chocolate wine that I’ve picked up over the years was also in the serving of it warm as sake and some coffee wines are served vs. chilled.


  3. Erroll Post author

    Hello Sean,

    Thank you for the kind words.

    I did make rhubarb from last year’s harvest. It’s aging in my wine closet right now. I’m as anxious as you are, probably more, to make chocolate wine. It probably won’t be this year though. For now I’ll be tending my rhubarb patch and my bonsai vineyard. When they bear fruit, I’ll make wine from it. I won’t be able to start new meads, buy grapes … or make chocolate wine.

    Sometimes life makes you attend to other things.

    I’ll keep thinking and writing. When things get back to normal, I’ll be starting new winemaking projects – chocolate wine will be at the top of the list! I’ll keep in mind the idea of serving it warm. We all know the old rule: reds at cellar temperature, and whites chilled. We also know the rule doesn’t always work. But how the heck would you apply it to chocolate wine? Someone’s going to have to taste a lot of chocolate wine, to see what the optimal temperature is. That someone might as well be me 🙂


  4. Randall

    Good information. I’m just a beginner at wine making and am really interested in some wines using chocolate. Any info you could share would be gretly appreciated. Just made a kit of Chocolate Raspberry port and loved it.

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