February 16, 2006


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Love and the vine
Repair V-Day gaffes with the right bottle
By Tim Protzman  tprotzman@hotmail.com 

Valentine’s Day snuck up on me this year.

Chalk it up to mid-winter malaise or that there’s no special someone — not even some unrequited love-from-afar-type secret crush waiting in the wings. So this year, I treated the most important person in my life (me) to fine chocolates, a glass of wine and a nice dinner. Then, like the Love Scrooge that I am, I fell asleep early and was visited by the Spirit of Valentine’s Day Past.

Here’s a doozy of a Valentine’s Day from the true-life files. This man (not my father) was engaged to be married to his second wife (not my stepmother). She got roses and a little trinket of jewelry. Because they had combined their finances, she noticed that on the end-of-the-month credit card statement flowers had been purchased from a store in California, in the same city where his ex-girlfriend had moved. He called me up and begged me to suggest a wine that would soothe the rift and mend the heart. I choose a Krug Clos du Mesnil, a single-vineyard Champagne that comes from a plot of land that was within the walls of an old Benedictine Monastery. The Krug family spent 10 years planting new chardonnay vines and today the 35-year-old vines are at their peak. He balked at the $135 price tag until we did a cost/benefit analysis where we added the cost of her gifts to the price of the illicit bouquet and found that the reproach-atory bottle was less than half of what he had already spent.

They drank it at home on a Friday night with a takeout white clam pizza and fudge cake and all was forgiven. I’ve told this story several times, and the one constant I hear is:

“Do I have to spend $135 on Champagne to have it be good?”

The answer is yes and no. Yes, you’ll be able to tell the difference between a $50 and a $150 bottle, but there are sparkling bargains that you’ll find yummy. It just won’t be this great big bubbly awakening.
For those not in the doghouse and on a budget I like Moet & Chandon Nectar Imperial, $33.99. It’s nicely made and sweeter than most champagnes, but not syrupy. If you want a drier champers then try Mionetto Sergio Prosecco Extra Brut, $17.99. It’s extra crisp and made the same way they make Champagne, but they can’t call it Champagne. That designation goes only for wines grown and made in the Champagne region of France.

Instead they call it sparkling wine, methode champenoise or, in Spain, cava and Prosecco or Asti Spumante in Italy.

If you like chocolates, many red wine varietals pair well with the dense bittersweet candy.

The prime candidate is cabernet sauvignon, with a three-way tie for second from the big meaty zinfandels, the petite and demur pinot noirs and the sexy, earthy syrahs.

Burgess Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa is a great wine that tastes of the valley’s soil and presents an un-manipulated, low-chemical taste. It’s $29.99 and worth every penny. Just avoid any minted candies with this one.

For zinfandels, I’m taking the advice of Scot Kinney of UnWined, the popular Manchester restaurant located at 865 Second St. I called him to ask him what he’d order if he were a guest at his own restaurant. Scot suggested the Venison Tart, ground venison in a puff pastry with baby carrots and a fig and cherry in red wine demi glace. This mouth-watering entrée is part of his new menu, ready just in time for Valentine’s Day.

He’d pair the Venison Tart with a Ravenswood Icon Syrah ($36) an 88 percent Syrah, 6 percent Mourvèdre, 6 percent Grenache blend from Sonoma.

As for Zinfandels, he’s partial to Rosenblum single vineyards like Carla’s Vineyard, $17.49. This zin would go well with a Cadbury Fruit and Nut Candy Bar. The wine is dense and black and spicy.

Pinot Noir is a romantic wine. It’s subtle with hints of the vineyard’s soil and sun. It’s long been held to be a feminine wine to the masculine wines of Bordeaux. And in France they call it Burgundy, after the region, unless it’s not from Burgundy and then it’s Pinot Noir.

The great thing about Pinot is there’s so much good stuff from California, New Zealand and even New York State that for around $15 a bottle you can taste some great juice.

My favorite producers are: Truchard, Steele, Saintsbury, Lincourt, Jekel, Eyrie, Elk Cove Edna Valley, Echelon and Domaine Drouhin. The Drouhin is expensive at $34.49, but delicious. Pinot pairs with succulent roasts, lamb, duck, chicken and veal. It’s good with strawberries and chocolate, but avoid cream and cream sauces.
Wine Tip of the Week: 2000 Chateau le Sartre from Pessac-Leognan in Bordeaux, $14.99. A shy little wine that tastes so genuine and demure that it seems to fly in the face of everything Robert Parker likes. The wine rookies liked le Sartre’s understated elegance over a $39.99 bottle of Les Forts de Latour, the second label of the famed Chateau Latour, which seemed “Californian?”

E-mail your comments and wine stories to tprotzman@hotmail.com.

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