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Narrowing the Valentine's Options
By Robert Whitley
Jan 29, 2008
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I can sympathize with the folks who are put off by many of the rituals of wine. I, too, know a ritual or two I could do without. Take the Valentine's Day ritual. Please.

Lest you fear, however, that the curmudgeon in me has finally gone too far, be advised I am not talking about Valentine's Day itself. Nor do I wish to uncouple the strong tradition of the gift of wine for the person who may be the object of your affection.

I'm talking about the gratuitous linkage of any old wine that just happens to be red with the traditions of Valentine's Day. Every year at about this time I am inundated with 'suggestions' from wine PR folk for just the right wine to gift on Valentine's Day. Australian Shiraz anyone? How about a nice Malbec from Argentina? A Chianti maybe? Because, for gosh sakes, it's from Italy and Italy is the land of romance!

The hook for the first two, obviously, is merely that those wines are red. And hearts are red. Get it? A Chianti from Italy is less of a stretch, but give me a break, they're all goofy come-ons that bear no connection to the traditions and customs of Valentine's Day.

So here's the deal. If you intend to give wine to a loved one this Valentine's Day, it better have bubbles or it had better be decadently sweet and delicious. Otherwise, don't show up. That cheap Chilean Cabernet just isn't going to get the job done. You would be better off sending a nice card!

So now that you know, here's what you do.

My top pick for a Valentine's Day wine is the Rosa Regale Brachetto d'Aqui ($22). This is a triple no-brainer Valentine's Day wine that is absolutely bullet proof. First of all, it has bubbles. Second, it's sweet, but with a clean, refreshing finish. And it's red! For good measure, you could throw in the fact that it's also from Italy.

If all of this doesn't give she/he goosebumps, she/he has a heart of stone and has no business celebrating V-Day in the first place.

An added benefit is the fact that Rosa Regale is one of the few bubblies that actually works with a box of chocolates. It's sweet enough that a chocolate wouldn't kill the taste, and the aromas and flavors of fresh raspberry and strawberry are a beautiful match for dark chocolate.

Try a chocolate truffle with a sip of Dom Perignon and you'll be lucky if you don't gag!

That said, Champagne and domestic sparkling wine rank high on my list of Valentine's Day wines, though I don't recommend serving a good brut with anything sweet because the sweet will alter the taste of the wine and make it too tart to enjoy. If you feel the need to pair something with the bubbly you are giving, pair it with roses.

Think of the benefits there - no calories and you'll score big points, too!

Rose Champagne and domestic brut rose make excellent Valentine's Day gifts. Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose will set you back about ($90) but it's absolutely one of the top non-vintage rose Champagnes on the market. My other top rose Champagne pick is the Laurent-Perrier Brut Rose ($60), which is a bit more forward and fruitier than the Billecart-Salmon and perhaps more in tune with New World taste sensibilities. The Piper-Heidsieck Brut Rose Sauvage ($50) is a good bet, too.

On the domestic front I am fond of both the J Wine Company Brut Rose ($35) and the Schramsberg 2004 Brut Rose ($40). Comparing those two to my French picks, the J would be more along the lines of the fruit-driven Laurent-Perrier, while the Schramsberg is more subdued and shows earthier complexities of a type you would taste in the Billecart-Salmon.

Should you be inclined to go sweet with the wine for your sweetheart, you must resist the urge to buy the 'best' and most expensive dessert wine you can find. This would almost always lead you to a fabulous Sauternes or Vintage Port, but there is a flaw in that way of thinking. Great Sauternes and Vintage Port require significant aging to be at their best.

I presume you want to give the wine and open it on the same night. For immediate gratification, something more modest would be in order. Two Napa Valley dessert wines come to mind and either would make a lovely gift. Both - the 2004 Dolce ($60, 375ml) and the 2004 Beringer Nightingale ($40, 375ml) - are blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (same as Sauternes) that have botrytis, a mold that grows in the outside skin of the grape and intensifies flavor and aroma.

These wines are characterized by aromas and flavors of honey, spice and tropical fruit. Though I wouldn't hesitate to cellar either one for an extended period, as you might a top Sauternes, they are quite approachable and delicious in their youth.

Finally, there are the ready-to-drink Port wines to consider. These would be aged Tawny Port such as a Taylor 10-year-old ($55) or a Graham's 20-year-old ($100), or some of the ready-now vintage character Ports such as Fonseca Bin 27 ($19) or the superb Graham's Six Grapes ($22).

If your theme is wine with chocolate, this is the ticket.
And with that, I wish all a happy and thirst-quenching Valentine's Day!

Email Robert at whitleyonwine@yahoo.com.