February 07, 2015

Article at Washington Post

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Valentines and wines, a happy coupling

If you’re planning a special Valentine’s Day dinner at home, wine should be the least of your worries. Yet wine can help set the mood: at the beginning of the evening, throughout the meal, and for dessert and beyond. Here are some tips to keep in mind, and to keep things simple. Choose according to your budget and your appetite.

Sparkling wine is the ultimate mood-setter. Whether they’re rising through high-end champagne or budget-minded cava or prosecco, bubbles define good times and cheer. If you have a bottle left over from the winter holidays, this will be a good time to open it. If you’re shopping for a new one, consider rosé, because — well, it’s Valentine’s Day, with roses and hearts and all that fluffy romantic stuff. Sparkling rosé just seems right.

As does pinot noir, which has an ineffable character that makes people relax and savor the good things in life. Cabernet and related grapes such as merlot, malbec and petit verdot are more intellectual. They can be hedonistic, but usually in a macho sort of way. Syrah, nebbiolo, sangiovese are earthy, suggesting a good sweaty day’s work. Or at least Old World wines do. New World expressions of those grapes may conjure toast with really good jam at a nice bed-and-breakfast inn.

Dessert might be the most important course to pair with, because it sets the mood for the rest of the evening. You can always skip wine for dessert, but I think special occasions merit a splurge. (Remember: Bottles do not need to be finished the night they are opened.)

Late-bottled vintage port is always a good, value-priced wine ($20 to $30) that pairs excellently with chocolate desserts. If you’re a port lover, now is a good time to splurge on a vintage port, the top-of-the-line offering from the various wineries. The Douro Valley, where port is grown, experienced a fantastic vintage in 2011, and some of those wines are available now. Vintage port is big and intense, with strong tannins to help it age for decades. When it is young, however, vintage port offers explosive fruit. Ports tend to go into hibernation five or six years after the vintage, to awaken a decade or so later with a new character that evolves for several years more. So this is a good time to find a 2011 vintage port you like and buy one or more bottles to forget about until you’re celebrating a milestone.

If your Valentine’s Day plans are less ambitious, just go with bubbles. For fruit desserts, an ideal partner is moscato d’Asti, which is not your average moscato but the original version from northern Italy that the popular sweet wine is modeled after. A moscato d’Asti does not cost much — $15 to $25 — yet it offers a great balance of sweetness and acidity, plus that palate-cleansing effervescence. It’s typically about 6 percent alcohol, so it won’t weigh you down. Don’t rule it out with chocolate, as it picks up the fruity notes inherent in the good, dark kind.

My favorite Valentine’s Day wine, though, is brachetto d’acqui, the red version of moscato d’Asti. Brachetto has an alluring aroma of orange blossoms and raspberries, followed by a sweetness and acidity that can match a chocolate dessert perfectly.

Leftovers will be delicious with pancakes for brunch. Valentine’s Day falls on a weekend this year, after all. And if it’s just you and a box of bonbons, brachetto will do just fine.