Wine is perfect way to toast your sweetie

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V alentine's Day is approaching, and I know some people still haven't decided how to express their love for their sweetheart. You can't go wrong with flowers or those great chocolates from La Bonbonniere.

But I've never known a bottle of wine to fail, especially if you combine it with the chocolate and flowers.

My first suggestion is to visit one of the local wine shops. They can help you put together a package that's sure to win someone's heart. Besides wine, they have baskets, accessories, chocolates and cheeses.

It's important to make the gift personal, so make sure you know what your sweetheart likes. I think it's important to show your love every day, not just once a year, but you can always gain extra points on Valentine's Day.

One nice way to do that is to take your special someone to dinner at a nice restaurant such as Calvert's, La Maison or Cadwallader's. My wife always said the most romantic thing I could do for her was to take her out for a nice dinner. Ask your waiter to help you with the wine selection.

If you want to buy your sweetheart a bottle of wine, there are lots of good possibilities, starting with sparkling wine.

Champagne or sparkling wine is great. As soon as you pop the cork it sets a festive mood, and it tells your love that the night is special.

You could go overboard and get one of the big-name Champagnes, but there are sparklers that taste just as good for a fraction of the cost.

Here are some of my favorites:

- Champagne Aubrey. A beautiful light gold in the glass, with floral aromas. Full body, nice acidity. A dry, flinty wine, with a smooth finish. It's good with food. $35-40.

- Frank Family Champagne Rouge, Blanc de Blanc and Blanc de Noir , at about $35 each, are outstanding examples of American sparkling wine. These are handcrafted wines made in small batches by a top-notch winery. They are difficult to find but worth the hunt. The Blanc de Blanc is bone dry, made from 100 percent Napa Valley Chardonnay. The other two have more fruit flavors.

- Biltmore Estate Blanc de Noir Methode Champenoise and Pas de Deux . They make several sparklers, but these two are my favorites. The Blanc de Noir is a pale pink with a dry, flinty flavor. It's about $25.

The Pas de Deux, about $19, is a new wine, made in the style of an Italian Prosecco. It's yellow/green in color, with a fruity aroma, a fruit-forward taste and a slightly sweet, crisp finish. Pas de Deux is a ballet term for "step of two," so it's appropriate at Valentine's Day and it goes well with chocolate.

- Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Brut. Citrus aromas are followed by creamy lemon and apple flavors. Around $10.

- Mumm Napa Blanc de Noir is made with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. It's a soft pink-coral color with a fruity bouquet and a crispy, creamy flavor. About $20.

There are some other nice wines that you can get without breaking the bank.

The Liberty School label from Austin Hope Wines has a beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chardonnay and Cuvee, a blend of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Viognier. They all sell for less than $15 and feature lush, soft fruit flavors balanced by natural acidity.

Robert Mondavi Private Selection wines also offer great bargains at about $11. They offer 10 varietals or blends, but I particularly like their Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Meritage, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.

For desserts, try a late harvest wine, an ice wine or a port. You can find them in all price ranges.

Finally, my friends at Toast Wine and Beverage offer these suggestions for pairing wines with chocolate:

- Pair like with like. For example, a creamy white chocolate makes an excellent pairing with a light Riesling, while a heady, intense dark chocolate with 80 percent cacao pairs well with a cabernet or malbec.

- Dessert wines like port and muscat are the typical choice for wine and chocolate pairings because the sugar content of the wine is usually at the same level or higher than that of the chocolate.

- Experiment by buying a few bottles of wine ranging from sweet to full-bodied, less tannins to more, and a range of chocolate from white to dark.

The key is to remember that the wine and chocolate should complement one another, not cancel each other out.

WINE EVENTS

THURSDAY

Wine and tapas tasting, 5 p.m., Veritas at La Maison on Telfair, 404 Telfair St.; taste four wines and three tapas, $19.99

FRIDAY

Tasting, 4:30-6:30 p.m., Vineyard Wine Market, 4414 Evans to Locks Road

Beer tasting, 5-8 p.m., Wine World, featuring 13 beers and several cheeses, $4 with rebate on the purchase of six bottles of the featured beers

SATURDAY

Tasting, 1-6 p.m., Vineyard Wine Market, 4414 Evans to Locks Road

Tasting, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Casa Blanca Cafe, 936 Broad St., Augusta, $15, featuring five Champagnes and sparkling wines paired with cheeses and Raspberry Chocolate wine with Casa Truffles; (706) 504-3431 for reservations

FEB. 17

Tasting, 6 p.m., Malibu Jack's Surf Grill, 231 Furys Ferry Road in Furys Ferry Station; $15; (706) 724-1442 for reservations

Tasting, 5-8 p.m., Wine World, three white and three red wines with several cheeses, $4 with rebate on purchase of one bottle of the featured wines

FEB. 18

Tasting, 7:30 p.m., Wine World, featuring wines of Argentina presented by the Tasters Guild, $29 members, $35 nonmembers; (803) 279-9522 for reservations


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