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In the Mood

[whitespace] Wines
Michael Amsler

Valentine's Day tips on wine, women, and whatever

By Bob Johnson

IT'S TOO BAD Beavis and Butt-head were always ditching English class. Had they shown up once in a while, they may have come in contact with the poetry of William Butler Yeats, and Mr. Yeats' rhythmical compositions could have helped them achieve their primary objective in life. His poetry could have helped them score.

To wit (or, since we're dealing with Beavis and Butt-head, half-wit): "Wine comes in at the mouth/ And love comes in at the eye;/ That's all we shall know for truth/ Before we grow old and die./ I lift the glass to my lips;/ I look at you and sigh."

What woman wouldn't swoon at such romantic words? We bring up the subject of romance because, husbands and boyfriends, Valentine's Day is just a few sunsets away. By law, you are required to take your wife or girlfriend out for a romantic dinner to commemorate the occasion. (OK, it may not be a law, but it certainly is stridently enforced.)

Now, I do not profess to have the insights on personal relationships that Dr. Laura possesses, nor do I have access to a crystal ball. But it seems fairly obvious there are certain components that go a long way toward assuring a romantic repast:

  • Quiet. It's hard to pitch woo in a place where one must yell the words, "YOU LOOK REALLY LOVELY TONIGHT!"

  • Low lights. Supermodels excepted, virtually everyone looks better in subdued lighting.

  • Romantic food. Entrées that are pretty on the plate. This is not the night for heavy, greasy dishes. It's also best to stay away from hot and spicy preparations; taking a bite of food infused with hot chili pepper and breaking into a sweat does not leave a positive impression.

  • Quality service. You want to avoid the place where your next-door neighbor's barely-old-enough-to-drive daughter is the star server: "Hi! My name is Tiffany and, like, I'll be your waitress!" For this occasion, select a restaurant where the service is known to be professional and, most important, unobtrusive.

  • Wine. This is a no-brainer (especially considering this is a story about wine). Some say champagne is the ultimate romantic wine. I disagree. Valentine's Day is the holiday of the heart, the heart is red, and so, too, should be the wine.

So skip the sparkling and white wines on the restaurant's wine list and proceed immediately to the red section. Do not pass go; do not collect $200. Don't worry; you don't have to spend $200, either. A fine bottle of red wine can be secured at any number of local restaurants without paying an arm and a leg; one limb, perhaps, but not two. Even though most fine restaurants mark up the wines they offer two to three times over their suggested retail price, if you read the list from right to left you'll stay within your budget and have enough moola left over for one dessert and two forks.

How does one go about selecting the right red wine for the Valentine's evening culinary rendezvous? By sticking with the known--selecting bottlings that have a track record for quality.

If cabernet sauvignon is your preferred cup of vino, look for cabernets or cab blends from Silver Oak (be prepared to spend two limbs for this one), Simi, Arrowood, Alexander Valley, B.R. Cohn, Sonoma Creek, or Kunde. Shooting for a mellow mood? Opt for a bottle of merlot from St. Francis, Matanzas Creek, J. Fritz, Armida, Ferrari-Carano, or Benziger. Outstanding zinfandels--red, not white!--are made by Quivira, Ravenswood, Ridge, De Loach, Cline, Hartford Court, and Seghesio.

If your tastebuds have hopped on the syrah/shiraz bandwagon, seek out the renditions by Preston, Geyser Peak, Benziger, or Clos du Bois.

If you're a pinot-phile (it's not what you're thinking; it simply means "one who likes pinot noir"), Schug, Roche, Sebastopol, Mueller, and Optima make all-star bottlings, the last finally coming into its own with the 1997 vintage. Cabernet, merlot, zinfandel, syrah/shiraz, and pinot noir compose the "big five" of Sonoma County reds, but you also can find some wonderful bottlings of less familiar varietals. Truly wine-savvy restaurateurs may offer cabernet franc by Gundlach-Bundschu or Ravenswood, or sangiovese by Rabbit Ridge or Seghesio.

All the aforementioned wines match well with a wide array of dishes, making them integral ingredients of a romantic dinner.

OK, gentlemen, you've been warned and informed. Pick up the phone and make that Feb. 14 reservation now. And when you get to the restaurant, order your bottle of red wine with confidence.

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From the February 4-10, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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