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Friday — February 13, 2004

Weekend Living

All about wine

Men—be selfish on Valentine’s Day


Valentine’s Day! February 14 sneaks up on people. We’ve made it through the "Big Holidays," starting to get back into some kind of comfortable routine, but no! The candy makers, florists, restaurants and card makers of the world lift Valentine’s Day into a "must do day."

Additional pressure seems to befall the male half of the population who still must bear an unbalanced responsibility to their significant others. My unscientific data comes from the fact that at my restaurant 90 percent of the reservations made for this special evening are made by men.

My selfish solution to this dilemma is Champagne. It has always been associated with celebration and special events. What says "I love you" more than a wonderful bottle of bubbly waiting in a nicely chilled wine bucket, the maitre’d gently easing that cork out and pouring the sparkling nectar into your glass. Not only does your partner feel special but "you get to enjoy it too!"

Most of the world wrongly includes all sparkling wines under the term Champagne. Champagne officially—the French would say by law—can only come from a defined area of France east of Paris. It may surprise you to know that in this very northern wine growing region, 75 percent of the grapes grown in Champagne are red, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, with the remaining 25 percent Chardonnay.

Learning to enjoy these wines starts with understanding the wines of the great champagne houses in France, Krug, Salon, Pol Roget, Bollinger etc., and tasting their nonvintage blends: Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label, Moët & Chandon Brut Imperial, Taittinger La Français are all examples. The reputation of each house depends on how skillfully they blend different batches of wines from different years. The final blend should represent the consistent style that each house espouses.

Additionally most houses also offer both vintage wines in superior wine growing years, and their prestige cuvées like Moët & Chandon Dom Pérignon, Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame, Perrier-Jouët Fleur de Belle Epoque, Roederer Cristal. These prestige cuvées come from specially selected vineyards in superior growing years.

While normal nonvintage prices can be quite dear, $35 to $75 retail, prestige cuvées are often double or triple those prices. The great thing about these prestige cuvées is that they are memorable, often unforgettable, and can demonstrably enhance great celebrations.

Sparkling wines can be had for considerably more reasonable prices. They’re made all over the world, increasing in quality all the time. Italy, Spain and California do a wonderful job. My favorite maker in California is Schramsberg, where the Davies’ family has been making sparkling wine by the traditional French method for nearly 40 years.

Whatever your final plans for Valentine’s Day, start it off with bubbly—for the two of you.

Kevin Quinn is a wine writer, enthusiast, instructor and managing partner and wine director of Apricots Restaurant in Farmington, Conn. He was consultant for Ketchum’s Evergreen Restaurant in the 1980s.


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