Working Ahead and Loving It

Last week’s column sagely counseled you on the importance of planning –– as in planning for the upcoming Super Bowl and how to make the most of this most precious experience. We were a little ahead of the moment, but our city is currently enjoying a plethora of event riches, and when the city is in that state and you receive the foghorn and the pulpit only once a week, you have to shout loud and shout early to make an impact.

Today, we will be making incredibly insightful (at least in my eyes) Valentine’s Day comments, and next week will be devoted to Mardi Gras notes and suggestions.

Who knew that a blog about wine and spirits, which is the stated purpose of Happy Hour, would turn out to offer prudent advice on the fine art of getting the most out of a celebratory moment, simultaneously providing said advice way out in front of the time when you have to snap into action?

And who knew such words of wisdom would come from me? The line of doubters forms to the left, and I’ll be the first one in it.

Anyway, just because you accepted last week’s wise Super Bowl counsel from one who has lived long and seen much –– although in the interest of full disclosure, I have never had a dog in the Super Bowl hunt (oh yeah, that’s a bit obvious, isn’t it?) –– you are not yet relieved of your Big Fun planning duties because roaring in after the grand celebration of our Saints comes Valentine’s Day.

And you guys out there may be tempted to ignore the Holiday of Hearts and Flowers because “honey, there is just so much going on; we can’t celebrate all of it.” Take that attitude, and this is guy-to-guy, at your great peril.

Hallmark cards and Walgreen’s have done a masterful job of making Valentine’s Day a must-do affair, marketing the 14th day of February in the Catholic Liturgical Calendar as a boon to greeting card writers, manufacturers of small Mylar heart-shaped blow-up balloons and flower sales everywhere.

But this year, with all the good vibes rattling around our area, you are going to have to do something so excellent as to make an historic mark on your current love relationship.

Let’s consider a pairing. After all, this is the Holiday of Being a Pair. May I direct your attention to what’s behind Curtain No. 2, tawny port and chocolate?

This is trickier than it seems at first glance. Tawny port is port developed in a barrel, rather than in a bottle like ruby ports. Tawnies provide deeper, more intense flavors, brought about by long contact with the barrel. Tawnies are usually designated with aging notations, usually in 10-year increments up to and exceeding 40 years.

The wines in the bottles noted with long aging time are really not composed completely of wines from that bygone era because, as the wines age in a barrel, the liquid evaporates. The winemaker, in order to have any juice to sell at all, adds similar wine to the barrel from a more recent harvest. Before tawny port is bottled, a reviewing organization must rule on whether the original integrity of the earliest vintage has been compromised. Only after passing muster is the wine allowed to be bottled and released, labeled with the appropriate aging.

Obviously, the longer the aging designation, the more expensive the wine. The older wines are more fleshed out, with different colors, different palate-feels and richer flavors left behind in the mouth. Needless to say, they are also more expensive.

Tawnies that are 10 years old are the youth of the group worthy of your consideration. Their colors are burnt-orange to brick-red, and they provide up-front flavors of strawberries and cinnamon, with distinctive alcohol notes on the nose and the backside of your palate.

Quite good, and typical, are the Fonseca, Taylor and Croft, with the Sandeman’s being of a lighter style. The wines are in the $25 to $35 category. They will match nicely with fruit jelly-filled milk chocolates and chocolate-covered strawberries. Also, premium milk chocolate squares do quite well with 10-year-old tawnies.

One more step up are the 20-year-old tawnies, recommended from the same port houses, which head off into a more copper-colored direction and begin to show higher nuttiness qualities, therefore sending you off into a different confectionary direction. These wines pair best with chocolate truffles and even white chocolates. The price point for 20-year-old tawnies is not bad, but maybe experimentation with wines costing in the $55 range is not comfortable.

Fine. If port is not a known value to you, better to start in the lower price range. Also keep in mind that port is not a guzzling beverage. Sipping on the wine is, first of all, the proper way to enjoy. There’s lots of alcohol in port, 20 percent, so go easy. And because the wine is fortified, you can leave a bottle open for quite a while, even a few weeks. No need to rush. That helps take the sting out of the price.

The higher levels of tawny port, 30- and 40-year-old, continue to head into the bouquet and mouth-feel range of the 20-year-olds. Almonds, honey and caramel flavors are more pronounced. These wines range in cost from $100 to $250. You will want to pair truly bold, high-quality, big flavor chocolate here, the darker the better, surrounding heavy nuts, such as hazelnuts, and dried fruit, such as apricots or pears.

OK, so maybe tawny port is not going to make your Special Someone think you are Special, too. Let’s share the color of the season, rosé –– more specifically, sparkling rosé. And because the season is all about pink, you will be in the right place. 

To begin, dispel the notion that all pink wines are sickeningly sweet. Yes, some are, but many are not. They have structure, reasonable sugar levels and good acidic finishes and are clean.

If you still are concerned, head off into safer ground with a few lower-end wines that will, in fact, have a bit more sugar than the most expensive ones. Yes, I know, a wine with more sugar costing less is a bit like charging you more so your phone number is not listed in the phone directory. It seems like that ought to be the cheaper way to go, but …
Barefoot Cellars makes a terrific sparkling rosé that is festive and still leaves you plenty of jingle in your pocket for the other gifts –– it’s only about $9. Let’s face it: You are going to spend what you have to spend, and going short on one gift does not let you skate through the holiday on less expense. 

American sparkling rosé has come a very long way, as have the prices, and it’s thanks to quality production techniques borrowed from European counterparts. J, Domaine Carneros, Domaine Chandon and Schramsberg all make beautiful rosés. Each is elegant and beautiful in the flute.

Sparkling rosés are also made in Spain at excellent price points, such as Freixenet; in Italy, such as Mionetto; and, of course, the grandest sparkling rosés in all the world can be found in Champagne, where Moet et Chandon, Taittinger, Roederer and the great Krug reign.

There’s the advice. You have plenty of time. Don’t mess it up. You only have one chance to do it right. Besides, these pairing suggestions are meant to share between the pair of you both. And that’s the best news of all. 

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