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February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day, Don't Drink That

I know I can't convince you otherwise. Whatever happens today, you're probably going to eat chocolate. Either in the warm embrace of your loved one, lit by an embering fire and 9 1/2 Weeks muted on an old TV across the room, or alone on a pillow against the wall listening to Aimee Mann while figuring out how to play Clue by yourself. It's not going to stop. So you'll open a little bubbly to celebrate, maybe lighten the mood. But, odds are, it's not going to taste very good. It was one of my first major letdowns when I got into wine. Everyone said Champagne goes with everything. And Champagne with chocolate is just plain... sexy. Unless you eat only the darkest chocolates, though, there are a few things you have to contend with when it comes to Champagne: sugar and milk. I assume you wouldn't put sparkling wine in a glass of Nestle Quik, no matter how cute the bunny. And so you shouldn't blindly buy sparkling wine with chocolate. As savory as it may seem, most chocolate is anywhere from 15-30% pure sugar. And when you put a dry wine next to sweet food, the wine will often taste sour or bitter. With sparkling wine, this common mismatch also accentuates the bubbles, leaving you with a mouthful of lemony foam. That puckering may help you kiss, but the gagging that follows could be a little embarrassing. How hot. So err on the side of a wine that's sweet, even if you don't typically drink sweet wines. The easy way out is something like Moscato d'Asti, a wine that is--by my standards--a dessert wine itself, or something to spend a lazy afternoon in a field somewhere getting drunk on. But then, so are wine coolers. Fortunately, there is a middle ground. Sparkling wines made (quite traditionally in fact) with just a touch of sugar that'll be enough to round out the edges with the chocolate and let you quickly move on to the real business of this night. If you like particularly sweet wines, seek out those labeled Demi-Sec. In terms of the easier-to-find wines, the ubiquitous Moet & Chandon "White Star" actually works very well. But for a step up in taste (and a step down in price), I'd seek out the wines of Cerdons in Eastern France, whose beautiful roses are full of sultry strawberry and muddled blackberry tastes. What's more, these wines are typically under 10% alcohol, which means you men can drink a few glasses and not suffer the... consequences... later (see: Whisky). Several wineries in and around Champagne are also releasing bottles labeled Methode Ancestral, which tend to have not only a bit of residual sugar, but also some residual yeast, lending a creaminess that goes well with the milk component of chocolate. If pouring some sugar on it just isn't how you roll, though, there are plenty of drier Champagnes that will work with chocolate. The key is to find the richest, and these wines are often based on the pinot noir grape, which can have slight chocolate notes unto itself. My default for such wines is anything labeled Bouzy, perhaps my favorite region of Champagne for everyday drinking, and in particular the roses of Andre Clouet and Jean Vesselle. For a similar, more widely available option, the Gruet Blanc de Noirs is also a safe bet. For those of you not interested in the nuances of wine and food pairing, I have a much simpler answer: Open Cristal. Have sex.


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