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February 13, 2016

Three Picks for Valentine's Day

There are three things you need to know this Valentine's Day: Domaine Carneros Cuvee de la Pompadour Brut Rose, Smith Woodhouse 20-Year-Old Tawny Port and The Dalmore 12-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky.

If you remember just those three things as you shop for that special someone, you are sure to make someone's day come February 14.

First, the Domaine Carneros Cuvee de la Pompadour. This Napa Valley bubbly is perhaps America's finest sparkling rose. If it's not the best, it at least lives in the same neighborhood with the best. Winemaker Eileen Crane crafts this brut rose in an elegant style. It delivers bright fruit aromas and a creamy texture without sacrificing the tension that is so essential to finer bubblies.

It is one of the few domestic sparkling rose bruts that could pass for Champagne in a blind tasting, and it's considerably less expensive, although still not cheap, at about $35 from Wine.com.

I would be the last person to recommend a pairing of sparkling wine or Champagne with Valentine's chocolates — the sweetness of the candy renders the bubbly too tart for my taste — but if there's a sparkling wine that could make that match work, it would be Cuvee de la Pompadour with its succulent red-berry fruit aromas. My personal preferred match would be smoked or grilled salmon or caviar.

Should the Cuvee de la Pompadour not be available or you absolutely must have Champagne, Laurent-Perrier Brut Rose ($60) or the Billecart Salmon Brut Rose ($90) would make excellent substitutions.

A wine that does fit the occasion in terms of sweetness is the Smith Woodhouse 20-year-old Tawny Port. Smith Woodhouse is a small producer with high standards in Portugal's Douro Valley, and its tawny Port is exquisite.

The caramel, mocha, spice nuances of the tawny make for tasting sipping alongside those Valentine's truffles, and a bottle will keep for several weeks once opened, although it is best when consumed fresh.

Tawny Port also marries nicely with soft savory cheeses and aged gouda. One of my favorite pairings with tawny is seared foie gras. A foie gras torchon or even a country pate also works with tawny.

Because Smith Woodhouse is somewhat of a boutique Port house, it may prove difficult to source. In that case, Fonseca and Taylor Fladgate are perfectly acceptable stand-ins. All will run about $50 a bottle for the 20-Year-Old. If budget is a consideration, the 10-Year-Old tawnies from any of these three houses can be substituted, though the additional age offers greater complexity and is a more sensual experience.

Finally, The Dalmore. One of the best-kept secrets in the world of adult beverages is the compatibility between Scotch and chocolate.

That's not to say all Scotch works with chocolate, but many do and The Dalmore 12-year-old ($60) is one of the most dynamic of these matches.

First of all, it's a single-malt whisky with some age, so it has had time to develop mature aromas in cask. One of those aromas is chocolate, or mocha. The chocolate profile is imparted by the barrels that are used to age the whisky.

The char on the inside of the barrel is one factor that contributes to this, and another, perhaps more important factor, is the prior use of the wooden casks involved in the process. The Dalmore uses a mix of barrels that previously aged Port, Sherry or Madeira. Flavors and aromas from those wines can be detected in The Dalmore 12, and are even more inviting in older Dalmore, such as the 15-year-old and the 18. Of course, the older the Scotch the more expensive it is.

The combination of an aged Scotch with good chocolate is pure magic, though I would caution that Speyside, the Lowlands and the West Highlands offer the most solid pairings.

Scotch made with a strong aroma of smoked peat isn't quite the same match because of the pungency. The smoky, peaty Scotches are largely confined to Islay.

Should The Dalmore not be available, Macallan 12-year-old, aged in used Sherry casks, is a good substitute. Others I like include Glenmorangie, Oban and Auchentoshan.

Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators COPYRIGHT 2016 CREATORS.COM
Posted by Robert Whitley at 11:51 AM