Try a sweet treat for your sweetheart on Valentine's Day
“He that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast, the Old Testament says. Perhaps that is what all the saints named Valentine taught, too. But it is certain that no matter how continual a feast the merry heart may enjoy, a little extra celebration will do nothing to sadden it!”
— M.F.K. Fisher, from the essay “Hearts and Flowers” in “M.F.K. Fisher: Musings on Wine and Other Libations” (Sterling Epicure; $18.95)
The late Fisher's advice for Valentine's Day rings as true today as it did in 1945. Winter's dreary, lingering chill in mid-February makes Valentine's Day the perfect pretext for “Puttin' on the Ritz” with a little extra celebration.
Gong out for a special dinner presents a popular choice. But truth be told, the press of the crowd on Valentine's Day can be daunting — especially if you've chosen an overbooked restaurant.
So, don't fret if you're without plans to dine out. Instead, celebrate at home with your sweetie for the fun of it. Just pick up some chocolates or other sweet morsels and try one — or maybe two — of the following special bottles:
Since 1811, the Blandy family has made fortified, sweet wines on the subtropical isle of Madeira. Today, the sixth and seventh generations of the same family continue the business, allied with Portugal's Symington family, producers of outstanding Port wines.
The NV Blandy's Madeira Bual, Aged Five Years, Portugal (Luxury 11229; $22.99) provides a delicious introduction to the house style. The wine relies on hand-picked bual grapes grown at low altitudes on the island's southern end for consistent ripeness.
The fruit first ferments in stainless-steel, temperature-controlled tanks. Before arriving at complete dryness, the addition of grape brandy arrests fermentation and allows the wine to retain sweetness.
During maturation, the young wine enters American oak barrels and begins the slow, magical aging journey that defines Madeira's trademark personality. The barrels rest in heated lofts to oxidize the wine gradually without forfeiting essential fruitiness. Eventually, the barrels reach the aging lodge's ground floor where cooler temperatures prevail.
Before bottling, the blending of wines from several vintages ensures a consistent, distinctive style. The wine's light-brown color offers marvelous nutty, toffee and caramel aromas that linger pleasantly.
The medium body unfolds sweet marzipan, toffee and fig flavors balanced with a zesty acidity and a tangy, slightly salty note. The wine finishes slightly sweet, yet well balanced with lingering zest. In addition to chocolate, the wine complements dried fruit beautifully. Notice the 19-percent alcohol by volume. Highly recommended.
From southwestern France, legend has it that the deliciously sweet Pineau des Charentes evolved serendipitously in 1589. A winemaker mistakenly put fresh grape juice into a barrel holding a small amount of Cognac. When he returned a year or two later to taste the barrel, he discovered a liqueur blending fruity freshness with Cognac's subtle, yet potent depth.
Today, the tradition continues with excellent examples such as the Gaston Rivière Pineau François 1er, Pineau des Charentes, France (Luxury 31043; $25.99). Rivière uses colombard grapes grown on limestone soils to render fruit with superb, fresh acidity.
After harvest, he blends 75 percent fresh grape juice with 25 percent young Cognac. The concoction ages in French oak barrels for three years before being bottled unfiltered.
The light amber color offers peach, apricot and honey aromas. Ripe apricot and honey flavors balance with fresh acidity while lingering pleasantly. Highly recommended.
In Greek mythology, heroic and righteous mortals earned a ticket to an afterlife in Elysium or the Elysian Fields. There they spent a happy eternity life engaged in the same pursuits that occupied their lives on earth.
Enjoying the irresistible 2010 Quady Winery Elysium, Black Muscat, Calif. (Luxury 46019; $24.99) may just give a glimpse of what our Grecian forbears had in mind. The ruby color offers irresistible orange and black-cherry aromas.
Intense, sweet black-cherry flavors balance with zesty acidity to enliven the soft, fruity finish. The wine makes a perfect partner with dark chocolate. Highly recommended.
Dave DeSimone writes about wine for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.