Ever sit down in an unfamiliar restaurant and order a dish you don't know and feel somewhat comforted when the server mutters "perfect," as he/she moves on to the next guest? You are feeling good about your selection until the person beside you orders something entirely different and the same he/she server mutters "perfect" again.
You suddenly have the sinking feeling that if everything is special, then nothing is. It is that way this week, as I field suggestions from overly enthusiast publicists on the merits of an endless variety of wines for Valentine's Day.
Did you know that carmenere from Chile is the "perfect" pairing with a box of Valentine's Day chocolates? Neither did I, but so I am told. And here all along I was thinking it was zinfandel from Amador. Or was it pinot noir from Carneros?
The head is spinning, about to explode as I consider the myriad possibilities. Of course, it's mostly nonsense, these silly "perfect" suggestions that will make you someone's hero on this day of romance.
Cupid I'm not, but I can tell you unequivocally that chocolate does not do much to flatter any dry red wine I can think of. Yes, you might pick up a hint of mocha in a rich Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. That doesn't mean it will taste good with a truffle from Godiva. Quite the opposite is likely to occur, as the sweetness of the confection makes the wine taste tart and sour.
Ah, you say, but how about Champagne? Isn't that supposed to be a natural with chocolate? Only if you pop the cork on a demi-sec — but even that's a stretch. Most demi-sec methode champenoise, while somewhat sweet, isn't quite sweet enough to stand up to a rich chocolate confection. The rule of thumb for this sort of match is to serve a wine that is sweeter than the confection.
So in a perfect world, here's what I would consider optimal Valentine's wines for Valentine's treats:
Rosa Regale 2011 Brachetto d'Aqui ($25) is my go-to wine for Valentine's Day. This sweet, frothy red wine from northern Italy smells and tastes like fresh raspberries and strawberries, flavors that sing when paired with chocolate. Though it is sweet, Rosa Regale finishes clean, with a bit of palate-cleansing tannin. It was a favorite at the 2013 Winemaker Challenge wine competition, where it claimed a silver medal. There are other Brachetto bubblies out there, and you should be adventuresome and try them, but Rosa Regale is among the best — beautifully balanced and sure to please.
Eberle 2011 Muscat Canelli, Paso Robles ($15) is a luscious white wine that exhibits exotic floral aromas, with tropical notes and dried fruits on the palate, balancing acidity and a clean, persistent finish. This wine, much like the Rosa Regale, can be sipped as an aperitif or with dessert after a meal, or even with pungent cheeses. Winery owner Gary Eberle likes to serve it with cakes and fruit. Slightly frizzante moscato from northen Italy's Piedmont region is a reasonable substitute.
Inniskillin 2008 Riesling Icewine, Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($80) was the Best of Show dessert wine at the 2012 Sommelier Challenge wine competition. The sommeliers went bonkers over this wine and more than likely would have voted it Wine of the Year had it not been up against one of the greatest Champagnes ever made (Charles Heidsieck 1995 Blanc des Millenaires) in the championship round. This is one of the most intensely delicious wines you could ever taste, with mind-bending tropical aromas, and notes of honey and spice. It will hold its own against any sweet confection Cupid might deliver.
Quady 2010 'Essensia' Orange Muscat, California ($25) is a lightly fortified (15 percent alcohol by volume) dessert wine that never disappoints. With aromas of orange blossom and stone fruits, it is "perfect" with chocolate, as he/she might say. This grape variety is grown in central California but is little known around the world, with a few small plantings in France and Australia. It was the Best of Show dessert wine at the 2012 San Diego International wine competition.
Rancho de Philo Triple Cream Sherry, Rancho Cucamonga ($35) is one of the few sherries produced in the United States that is on par with the finest sherry from Jerez, Spain. It is made using the traditional solera technique, with mission grapes grown in the warm, dry climate of Rancho Cucamonga, east of Los Angeles near the San Bernadino Mountains. It exhibits rich notes of toffee, nuts, raisins and spice. This wine won a gold medal at the 2012 San Diego International.
Perfect with chocolate.
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 Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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