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Romancing With Wine
by Jonathon Alsop
February 2000


Henry Kissinger once said that power was the greatest aphrodisiac. When I first heard that, I thought to myself that he was a man who had obviously never cooked for women. Of course, he was Secretary of State and a famous ladies' man in an era before sex and politics were inextricably linked. Romance and food and wine, however, have been a great match for millennia now.

To commemorate Valentine's Day with wine, let's begin with the obvious: wines with the word love in the name. St. Amour, a typical and tasty Beaujolais, is available practically everywhere at about $10, maybe less. Serve with bread and cheese and roasted garlic, a true sign of love, so long as you both partake. Hugel Cuvee Les Amours (about $12) is a friendly French pinot blanc with loads of pear flavors, and it's perfect with smoked fish or smoked cheese. Both of these are good wines that do say I love you, albeit cheaply.

Chateau Calon-Segur features a big fat valentine heart right on the label, and it's one of Bordeaux's best wines as well, with a price tag of $90 and up. Only problem is that I suspect my wife knows when I spend $90 on a bottle of wine, I'm actually saying I love me. Buy the 1995 now, and open it when one of the grandkids graduates college.

Flowers are traditional on Valentine's Day, and Sanford Vineyards in California has been labeling its wines with paintings of American wildflowers ever since the first vintage. Sanford Sauvignon Blanc (about $17) features a beautiful wild onion. The wine is tropical and citrusy with that freshly-mowed grass aroma that's common to American sauvignon blanc. It calls for a big plate of raw oysters or a bowl of steamed mussels with lemon. Barnard Griffin Chardonnay (about $15) is a big creamy specimen from Washington state labeled with a pretty photo of fresh tulips. Try it with poached salmon topped with salmon roe.

If you're looking for wines that have some sort of aphrodisiacal component, there's really no such thing, unless you confuse intoxication with romance. Ridge Pagani Ranch Zinfandel (about $35) is a tremendous late-harvest monster-zin with 14.6% alcohol. Turley Zinfandel (about $150, if you can find it) comes in at 16% alcohol. Although this doesn't sound like any tremendous difference in alcohol, a normal white wine has only 12% alcohol. So a glass of the Ridge gets you 20% more disinhibited than white wine, and the glass of Turley delivers 33% more active ingredient. That's significant enough to start thinking about a designated driver.

The wisest person will select a Valentine's Day wine the easiest way, however. Just buy your loved one's favorite wine of all and say something romantic like, "Whenever I taste this wine, I always think of you." That's the whole point, anyway.

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