February 07, 2007

Valentine Wines

What's a perfect Valentine's wine?

It all depends on context. The presence of a heart-shaped label or a sultry, come-hither flavor isn't going to make it romantic if you're drinking it alone on a late work night; then it's just a drink.

And if you've worked yourself into a frenzy over the feast you've planned for a Valentine's dinner and the money you've spent on wines to accompany, it's not going to feel very romantic to you, either.

So what to do? Relax. Plan a dinner around things that need no cooking, or can be prepared ahead and bake while you're entertaining.

Share the preparation, whether that means taking turns massaging each other's whisking arms when making aioli or stuffing figs for dessert at the table.

Revel in the textures and smells of the food; do away with silverware and eat with your fingers.

Splurge on a special bottle of wine if it has a particular meaning to you, but otherwise, just aim for complementary flavors. After all, finding great matches is what this holiday is all about.

Oysters topped with crème fraîche and caviar: This offers vitamins, minerals, creamy sauce and the chance to eat with your fingers. Try them with Muscadet, a light white from France's Loire that wins points for flavor (crisp and bright), price (a nonstressful $10 to $15) and alcohol (low, so you can keep alert all evening long). Great options: Luneau-Papin, Marquis de Goulaine, Savion.

D'Artagnan French Kisses: Those who don't do seafood or want something heartier than oysters can try these incredibly decadent Armagnac-soaked prunes stuffed with foie gras. Another low-stress winner: you can eat them right out of the box. They become only more decadent with sparkling wine (try Vilmart's rose-hued Cuvée Rubis Champagne, about $60, or Roederer's rosé from California at $24.)

Paella: Spiced with saffron and studded with sweet, tender seafood and spicy chorizo, this rice dish makes great date dining, especially if you make it in a two-serving paella pan so you can both eat straight from the skillet.

It's particularly delicious against the satiny lushness of a white garnacha (Scala Dei Les Brugueres from Spain, about $33, or Château du Campuget blanc, about $11) or the trufflelike scent of an older Rioja (Lopez de Heredia 1981 Gran Reserva Viña Bosconia is a deal at $81, considering the age; Marqués de Cáceres Rioja Reserva 1998 is delicious at $22.)

Aioli: This thick, satiny garlic-scented mayonnaise can be applied to anything. Start with vegetables (carrots and celery are two vegetables with purported powers), and then add chunks of bread, hard-boiled eggs, pieces of fish or chicken ... you name it.

It can be a side dish or the main event, depending on your appetites. Just know that aioli and rosé wines have a particular affinity and tend to urge each other on ... Fife's Redhead, Iron Horse's Rosé de Pinot Noir and Sanford's Vin Gris all weigh in at a comfortable $16 or less.

Torrid curry: Some people swear by spicy foods to get them going, and entire treatises have been written on the power of spices such as garlic, ginger, cumin, chile and others to stoke a fire. Combine them all in creamy coconut milk with the protein of your choice for a spicy, sultry dinner that will bring a blush to your cheeks; keep a check on the fire on your tongue with the gentle sweetness of a German riesling, like Friedrich-Wilhelm-Gymnasium's 2005 Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett ($15) or Wente's lush, tropical version from Monterey, Calif. ($10).

Dessert: Melt some chocolate and gather some figs, walnuts, crumbled amaretti and mascarpone. Pull the fig open and stuff with a bit of the cheese and crunchy bits, and then swirl through the chocolate. Eat, sipping on small glasses of Commandaria, a golden sweet wine from the sunny isle of Cyprus redolent of honey and baking spices that rarely runs more than $12.

This story first appeared at the Denver Post.

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