OK, Valentine’s Day is still a couple of weeks away. Take a deep breath – you still have time to avoid a potentially disastrous wine mistake.
Let’s face it, choosing the right bottle (along with the card, the gift, the meal, etc.) is a little more important on Feb. 14 than on, say, any other day of the year.
To put this holiday in perspective, it’s helpful to know that it was preceded in Roman times by the Feast of Lupercalia. This was a fertility-related event that involved young men dressed as goats, roaming the busy streets of Rome and whacking innocent bystanders with strips of goat skin. (There’s more, but it’s not suitable for a family newspaper.)
However you choose to celebrate, it’s a day that brings many challenges. A shmoopy card and a dozen roses doesn’t cut it anymore. These days, the celebration should include fine food and wine, presented creatively.
A few years ago, a survey by the online research firm Cyberpulse concluded that 59 percent of women ages 21 to 39 want their sweethearts to give them wine, not chocolates, on Valentine’s Day.
“More adult and romantic than chocolates” was the consensus among the 500 women surveyed.
Well, then, how about wine and chocolate – the best of both worlds?
Many wineries have jumped on this bandwagon.
The Olympic Peninsula Red Wine and Chocolate Tour gets rolling on Feb. 7 and 8 and continues Feb. 14 through 16, as area wineries pair specialty chocolates with their red wines.
Tickets are $25 for all seven wineries, or $5 each if you want to visit them individually. For more information visit www.olympicpeninsulawineries.org/ redwinechocolate.php.
Red Wine and Chocolate is also the theme of Wine Yakima Valley on Feb. 14 through 16. Choose from among 52 wineries pairing chocolate desserts and specially chosen red wines.
A Premiere Pass ($20 in advance) gets you special access. See www.wineyakimavalley.org for details.
Also on Valentine’s weekend, the Columbia Gorge Winegrowers host open houses featuring new releases, barrel tastings and special wine and chocolate pairings (www.columbiagorgewine. com).
The Whidbey Island Vintners Association has a Red Wine and Chocolate Wine Tour as well. Tickets are $20; more information at www.whidbeyisland winery.com/events.htm.
The Spokane Winery Association Web site lists no special V-day events, but you can make one for yourself. Once you have the chocolate lined up, look for the matching wine using one or more of the following strategies:
1. The romantic label strategy. Pick a wine with a label that speaks the language of love.
There are many choices, and your local wineseller will certainly have suggestions. Labels with pictures of hearts, flowers, etc. are always good.
A quick search turned up these online options:
•Il Cuore Wine Cellars ( www.ilcuorewines.com). “Il cuore” is Italian for “the heart.” What could be better?
•Romance Wines ( www.romancewines.com). Although the winery is in Iowa, the wines come from Argentina, and the dancing couple on the label screams romance.
•DeRose Vineyards ( www.derosewine.com). Roses you can drink!
2. The Champagne strategy. Real good bubbly almost always scores big points.
The best, of course, is Champagne, from Champagne, in France. The best of the best? Rosé Champagne – pink, pretty, bone dry and delicious with almost anything.
Some price-is-no-object favorites ($60 and up – waaay up) are Billecart-Salmon, Bollinger, Bruno Paillard, Charles Heidsieck, Deutz, Dom Perignon, Dom Ruinart, Gosset, Henriot, Jean Dumangin, Krug, Laurent Perrier, Louis Roederer (especially the Cristal), Paul Bara, Pol Roger, Perrier Jouët and Taittinger.
Not rosé, but in every other way très romantique, is the 1999 Amour de Deutz.
Nicolas Feuillatte makes a Brut Rosé for around $35 – cheap for Champagne. At $14, Lucien Albrecht’s Crémant Brut Rosé is France’s best budget bubbly.
Still more affordable pink bubbly comes from Spain; try the Brut Rosada from Cavas Hill (about $12), or the Cristalino Rosé (about $10).
Regionally, Domaine Ste. Michelle’s Blanc de Noir is the best of their sparkling lineup (about $10).
3. The Wine as Dessert strategy. When pairing wine with chocolate, the worst thing you can do is match a sweet chocolate with a bone-dry, tannic red, such as cabernet sauvignon. The better match is to go with a very dark, not sweet chocolate, and set it against a wine that is as ripe and sweet as possible.
Super-ripe zinfandels are a good choice (Rosenblum makes many), as are big, ripe syrahs. Or try a lush, chocolaty merlot – Kirkland Signature (the Costco brand) has an excellent, and, yes, very chocolaty 2006 Columbia Valley Merlot for $9 that would be perfect.
Of course, the most sure-fire way to match any chocolate dessert is with a Port or Port-style wine.
Many fine Washington versions are out there. Among my favorites are offerings from Thurston Wolfe, Barnard Griffin, Bonair and Michael Florentino Cellars.
Happy Valentine’s Day.