Wine or Roses for Valentine's Day

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Valentine's Day. While flowers are never a bad option, wine and wine-related gifts can be even more romantic and put a real exclamation point on your affection.

The challenge is finding the right bottle of wine for that special person in your life. With that in mind, here is my list of romantic favorites that should please your Valentine. (And, just because it's "pink" doesn't mean white Zinfandel is the answer!)

White Can Be Right

To choose the right wine for a romantic gift you need to know something about the tastes of your mate. For those who favor white wine, consider a nice Chardonnay or even Sauvignon Blanc.

The Chardonnay is a more complex wine with hints of butter and oak. Great Chardonnays are very drinkable but also seem a bit heavy for more social wine drinkers. That said, Chardonnays are a great pick for the more seasoned white wine lover.

My tastes take me right to the top of the list and the Far Niente Chardonnay. Probably $45 to $60 at your local wine store, Napa's Far Niente crafts a very smooth yet complex Chardonnay. From the initial taste to the finish on the palate, the buttery nature of this exceptional Chardonnay is very noticeable but not overwhelming.

The great characteristic of the Far Niente Chardonnay is its subtleties. While the buttery overtones are clear, they are not intrusive. And, the hint of oak is distinct but not overwhelming like so many of today's less complex Chardonnays.

In addition, you get a great label and bottle that tells a story. One of the hallmarks of my wine gifting is including a brief description of the vineyard from which it came. Now, I'm not suggesting touting the Wine Spectator or Parker score of a particular wine (that's a bit snobbish for me) but, rather, a bit of history of the winery or the winemaking process of the gift. Most of the time, it's as easy as finding a winery's web site.

For those who think a Chardonnay is too complex, consider a nice Sauvignon Blanc. A lighter wine, typically finished in stainless barrels to give it slightly more acidic tendencies, the Sauvignon Blanc (sometimes marketed as Fume Blanc) is usually full of lemongrass-like flavors. Many Sauvignon Blancs will have a somewhat fruity bouquet but will drink relatively dry.

Duckhorn Vineyards provides a solid and safe entry in the Sauvignon Blanc category, as does the traditional Mondavi label. In addition, Mantazas Creek, a Sonoma vineyard, which has been reviewed in this column before, is also a nice option here. All of these wines are affordable -- between $20 to $40 a bottle at your local wine merchant.

Red Is the Color of the Day

While white wines make nice gifts, red is a great choice for Valentine's Day. And a traditional Cabernet Sauvignon or meritage -- a unique blend of red varietals -- will do the trick just about every time.

I have written extensively on many of my favorite Cabernets so I will be brief here. I absolutely love receiving a bottle of Silver Oak Cabernet, either the Napa Valley or Alexander Valley offerings. The Napa offering is the bolder and "bigger" of the two, with nice tannins and bold flavor both as it is introduced to the palate and as it finishes. There aren't many things more appealing for Valentine's Day than a bottle of Silver Oak and an offering of fine chocolates. For those looking for a slightly softer, less complex Cabernet, the Alexander Valley offering is perfect. Expect to spend $50 to $90 on a bottle of Silver Oak; the Napa offerings from 1997-99 are at the top end of that range.

A name I haven't mentioned before that would make a very nice treat is one of the offerings from Heitz Cellars. Another Napa winery, Heitz makes a handful of different Cabernets that fit in the "big and complex" categories. Tannic and full of fruit, these wines, especially the Martha's Vineyard offerings from the late 1990s, are great drinking wines today. Heitz wines will run anywhere from $35 to $100, depending on vintage and vineyard.

And, before you ask, here's my take on bubbly as a gift: It's nice, it's meaningful and it is sure to make your mate smile, but it is also overdone. While I am a champagne lover, unique and special wines just make more sense to me as a gift. But, again, it's all about preference.

Other Heartfelt Wine Gifts

Wine is a great gift but some might argue it's too routine. And with the importance of romance on Valentine's Day, it's time to step it up and be, well, romantic. So here are my more exotic wine-related gift ideas.

Call your favorite upscale restaurant and ask them to put together a private wine dinner for you. Most restaurants, with the appropriate notice, will put together a special menu for eight or more people that can turn an ordinary culinary outing into a great wine adventure.

Pick a restaurant with a good wine list and a proprietor with a solid working knowledge of the wines, tell them what you want to do and, presto, you have a dinner party fit for you, your spouse and six of your closest friends. You set the price parameters and food and drink preferences and let the restaurant do the rest. (A tip, literally: Make sure you compensate your hosts and servers at the restaurant appropriately for their efforts. If you do that the first time, you will have made friends for life and assure you will always be welcome!)

A step beyond is to plan a trip to wine country. While for most people that would mean California, it could also mean the Pacific Northwest, New York, or even Virginia, a very underappreciated state for wines. An ideal trip is to make reservations at a place like Bernardus, a winery and lodge/spa near Carmel, Calif., that can provide the complete package: a great winery and vineyard tour, a pampering trip to the spa and a dining experience among the best you will find anywhere.

However, a trip to the Napa or Sonoma regions provides a bevy of quaint yet sophisticated lodging opportunities from small bed and breakfasts to full-service resorts. Take a long weekend, set up two to three private vineyard trips per day and enjoy the countryside.

Whatever your choice, have a Happy Valentine's Day. Let us begin the tradition of making this holiday a time for wine and roses!

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