On Valentine's Day when glasses clink, thoughts float to romance. A thick, sexy liquid whispers sweet somethings to lovers gazing over brimming goblets, priming them for whatever might arise. Assuming these aphrodisiac niceties cultivate cravings for sensual pleasures, it's no wonder wine flies off the shelves during February.
And sweet wine only amplifies the emotions. It makes us sugar-highed with youthful energy; causes us to say sappy things and (sometimes) mean them; magnifies amorous feelings and makes everything taste that much better. It's pretty amazing how a thoughtfully chosen bottle of dessert wine can top off the pleasure of a simple Valentine's meal, be it $10 or $10,000. Remember that on holidays ordained for romantic expression, it really is the thought that counts.
For many people, sweet Champagne is the quintessential Valentine's Day offering, enticing because of its tiny stars floating to the top, soft color and rarity. Look for labels listing "Extra Dry," a wine that is, ironically enough, sweeter than the drier Brut. "Demi Sec" (translation: half dry) is the sparkler that drinks like dessert. If the "thought" is what you're going for, plenty of sweet white and rosé sparklers are available at reasonable prices, especially those from outside of France's Champagne region. Look for Italian Banfi Rosa Regale ($20) or a fizzy Moscato d'Asti.
In the still wine category, sweet wine doesn't have to be white zinfandel. Muscat (Moscato) and Riesling grapes, as well as fortified wines, exist for your dessert dining bliss. Substitute them for dessert, pour them over fruit or ice cream, or simply on any body part.
Wine's romantic reputation was crafted by society. Its descriptors are rife with tactile romantic adjectives like silky, smooth and velvety, and winemakers are revered as artists who pour their heart and soul into each bottle. No other edible item reflects its producer's personality as much as a bottle of wine. So whether you're creating a meal for that special someone or treating that special someone to a night on the town, remember it's not the price that counts, it's the love in the bottle or in the couple.
Alice White 2006 White Lexia SE Australia Sugar, spice and everything nice, including Grandma's lilac perfume. Smell the ripe peaches and apricots, then taste the pineapple. Not cloyingly sweet, but try this with any peach dessert, and you're primed for anything. Sw=5. $9. ****
Blandy's Alvada 5-Year Madeira (Portugal) Madeira, produced in a similar fashion to Port wine on a Portuguese-owned island in the Atlantic Ocean, used to be the rage about 200 years ago. It's trying to make a comeback, and this is a fine example of a delicious effort. Rich, raisin-y with luscious dried plums and roasted nuts. You can also taste cream and burnt sugar like a crème brulée. Sw=8. $15 for 375-ml. **** 1/2
Alice White 2006 Red Lexia SE Australia The sweeter red brother of the White Lexia, complete with the lovely lilac smell. More red fruit ... think strawberry sangria with watermelon Jolly Ranchers floating in it. Fun to trick red wine fans into drinking a sweet wine. Sw=6. $9. *** 1/2
Columbia Winery 2005 Cellarmaster's Riesling Columbia Valley (Washington) Thick and syrupy like peaches and pears soaked in sugar water, but it also has a crisp, acidic, citrusy zing at the end. Sw=6. $10. *** 1/2
Michele Chiarlo Nivole 2004 Moscato d'Asti (Italy) Like the wine coolers you drank in high school and college, this is a fizzy sipper loaded with sweet pear, apricot and peaches. Delicious, but you can't drink a lot of it. That's why it only comes in half bottles. Sw=7. $14 for 375-ml. *** 1/2