Drink Away That Valentine's Day: Wine for Lovers

As a child, Valentine's Day held little appeal for me. I remember the annual drudgery of hunting through piles of candy hearts and fold-and-seal Valentines, deciding who will receive which cheesy message. Who gets the whimsical and unambiguous "Pooh knows lots of ways to say, 'Have a happy Valentine's Day!'"? And which desirable soul receives something as charming and flirtatious as Wile E. Coyote's "Be mine or I'll be crushed, Valentine"?

But now, Valentine's Day, while still Hallmark-and-Russell-Stover-driven, holds much more appeal. The reason, I think, is that the occasion combines good food, loving company, and, of course, tasty wines.

Just as wine has symbolized fertility through Dionysian agrarian festivals and the springtime rebirth of the vine, Valentine's Day may also have early ties to fertility. Valentine's Day is by many accounts connected to the pagan fertility festival of Lupercalia, celebrated in ancient Rome every February 15. On Lupercalia, women gathered in the streets to be lashed with the skins of sacrificial goats as something of a blessing to their womb. And as a possible precursor to the modern-day valentine, mature girls placed their names (and maybe a note) in a love urn, from which men blindly chose a date for the festival.

Today, wine is not so much about fertility as romance. Showing up at your love muffin's apartment, wine bottle in hand, suggests a different type of evening than a sixer or a bottle of jack. The mood is set by the elegance of the bottle, the alluring colors of the wine, and, most of, all the aromas. According to Helen Keller, "Smell is a potent wizard that transports us across thousands of miles and all the years we have lived." As we sip and smell, wine stimulates our desire to share intimate memories and become closer to one another.

To celebrate this modern love festival with wine, you and your sugar bugger have plenty of choices, and they're not all centered around dinner reservations necessary weeks in advance. Becker Vineyards, just east of Fredericksburg, is having a Merlot and Chocolate event this Saturday and Sunday, February 13 and 14, with lively music, country sittin', and chocolate and Merlot for all. You can even make a day of it and take your hot tamale on a trip through the Texas Wine Country; maps and information on Texas wineries can be found online at http://www.texaswinetrails.com.

For an elegant occasion, visit the Four Seasons Hotel lounge and share an afternoon snack of Almond Baked Brie Cheese Triangles with Peach Tomato Chutney. Pair it with a glass of buttery, toasty Estancia Pinnacles Chardonnayor earthy, cranberry-and-cherry-scented Cambria Julia's Vineyard Pinot Noir. The combination of river viewand simple daylight buzz make for a memorable, sensual, oh-so-aphrodisiacal afternoon.

You and your honey britches may also choose to share a bottle of wine at home. Champagne and other sparkling wines are a popular choice for Valentine's Day. But to me, a light, refreshing sparkler just won't fulfill my visceral Valentine's Day desires. If it's cold outside, look toward the heartier reds to pair with flavorful meat dishes. A spicy red Zinfandel or Syrah would match well with a charcoaled steak or lamb chop. Or go for a rustic evening and serve peppery, homespun chicken and dumplings with the Spanish Rioja of your choosing.

On the sweet side, try a Muscat with its oftenfloral, peachy aromas, or enjoy the flower powerof a German Riesling. Share a bottle of rose-and-lychee-scented California Gerwurztraminer, or relax with the silky, dried fruit flavors of an aged tawny port. Whichever you choose, and whatever you do, eat well and enjoy the company of your sweetie cakes and his or her chocolate kisses. -- Anthony King

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