Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Valentine's Wine, Car Talk, and What Your Sweetheart Really Wants

Some years ago the father of a newly minted teenage driver called in to Car Talk asking Click and Clack to settle a debate.  The parents wanted to get something practical, safe, and reliable for their son to drive.  The son wanted a BMW coupe.  The opposing sides had their reasons: safety and affordability vs. "Chicks dig BMWs".  In classic Tappet Brothers style, they recommended an old Subaru wagon and doled out some advice for the son: "Girls don't care about cars, least of all BMWs.  What they do care about is that you have a little money left over after paying for your car (and repairs) to take them out on a date.  They also care that whatever you're driving doesn't break down on the way to the movies.  Go with the Subaru."

I'm reminded if this wisdom every time a Hallmark holiday like Valentine's Day comes around.  Sure, who doesn't like flowers or chocolates or over-priced frilly cards?  But unless you're in a young relationship, you've already figured out that the significance of these tokens is most diluted on Feb. 14.  Contrived by commerce into an obligatory sequence of motions, Valentine's Day is a BMW in need of a good dose of Subaru.

What does your sweetheart really want?  Something meaningful.  Save yourself $50+ on forgettable trinkets, take a few moments to write a letter to your significant other, spend the saved money a kick ass bottle of romantic wine.

Romantic wine?  What's that?

Romance means different things to different people, but here's an easy way to think about it:  Flowers, chocolates, and over-priced pink frilly cards all have something in common - they all trigger sensation responses.  Roses' fragrance, chocolate's dopamine/polyphenolic release, and the texture of embossed cards all elicit involuntary reactions.  Can wine do the same?

Absolutely.

One reason why sparkling wine is so popular as a romantic/celebratory beverage is because those bubbles are simply inescapable - they tickle your tongue and crackle in your mouth - undeniable sensations.  But shoe-horning Champagne into Valentine's Day is a missed opportunity unless your mate really goes bonkers for it (and lucky you if they do).  Following are some ideas for wines that offer an obviousness of sensations, are sure to command attention and - hopefully - trigger the desired response.

Happy Valentine's Day! And don't forget the letter!

Pinot Noir 
Often referred to as the most sensual of wines, there's nothing quite as exhilarating as a great Pinot.  For minimum risk and maximum reward, stay away from Burgundy and Oregon as their leaner flavor profiles offer subtler appeal.  Instead, look to Sonoma Coast, Santa Barbara County, and Carneros.  Avoid 2011s and don't grab anything older than 2009 as their oomph is likely to have faded.   Bullet-proof names include La Follette ($35), Foley ($35), Banshee ($25), Talley ($35), Crossbarn ($35), Flowers ($40+), Merry Edwards ($50+), Calera ($28+), and David Bruce ($30+).  The single vineyard bottlings of all these producers are more expensive, but notably fantastic. 

Cabernet
Winemakers in some circles are returning to a style they refer to as more authentic. They can call it what they want, but what they're striving for is less alcohol, less heft, and greener characteristics.  We want the opposite - lush, full, expressive - for V Day.  Look to Northern California, but as with Pinots, avoid 2011s and look for 2007/8/9s.  Gallo Signature Series Napa Valley ($40), Robert Mondavi (especially the Oakville) ($50), almost anything from the Stags Leap District in Napa (>$45), and Merryvale Starmont ($25) are good.  J Lohr's Cab ($18) from Paso is a value for those who like it rich.  There are also some values to be had in Washington: Chateau St Michelle's Cold Creek and Canoe Ridge, and Columbia Crest's Reserve bottlings are terrific.

Blends
There is a universe of swoon-inducing blends out there, from Bordeaux to Paso Robles to Washington.  A handful that come to mind: 2010 Chateau Haut-Brisson ($40), 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel ($55), Ridge Geyserville ($33), Hedges Family Estate Red Mountain ($27), and, of course, Bogle Phantom ($20).  Also, from Columbia Valley, Pendulum Red ($25) is a treat that doesn't betray the term "Bordeaux blend".

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