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Romance Defined? 

Great wines for a Valentine's Day encounter

What defines romance? You certainly can't avoid pondering this question with Valentine's Day nuzzling your neck. Is it a fluffy stuffed animal that squeals "I Love You," or Godiva chocolate that plugs pounds onto your saddlebags? And, hey, if you're cajoling with calories, certainly wine fits in there somewhere, if only to loosen up your date for after-hour activities.

Wine already has a romantic side. Its descriptors are rife with sexy adjectives like silky, smooth and velvety, and winemaker artisans pour their soul into each bottle. But with the myriad choices out there, what wine defines romance? I asked my fabulously forthcoming crew of wine geeks to offer their opinion. The responses came fast and furious, telling me that romance still lives.

Sparkling wine, or Champagne, immediately took the lead in the informal straw poll. It's rather synonymous with romance, with the flirty bubbles and tall, slender glasses. An addition of fresh sliced strawberries -- á la Pretty Woman -- will lend class to a headache-inducing Cook's sparkling wine. Or pop some pink Champagne, rare and soft. Or an impressively expensive bottle, like Dom Perignon: "Works for a guaranteed lay," as one enthusiastic man declared. Hmmm.

But red wine came in a surprisingly close second. Perhaps a little less flashy, and more intimate than sparkling, red is something you sip slowly over sensual moments. It aids in the seduction process, allowing two expectant people to linger, with the wine breathing and improving over time, rather than growing flat like sparkling wine.

Cabernets, Pinot Noirs and Syrahs can star in this romantic leading role, depending on how you want it performed. Cabernet is bold, mysterious and gutsy, whereas Pinot Noir tastes sexier and more feminine. Syrah, a spicy and friendly wine, might also set the mood you're looking for. But any red you both like will do, or take the advice of one young buck: "A red that is succulent, savory, with a syncretism of rich flavors. It's just the liquid to make two lustful lovers pounce."

Cold shower, anyone?

Then we can talk sweet. Although many don't admit it, people love sweet wine. Not the cloying, diabetic-coma-inducing slop, but slightly sweet, toe-curling dessert wines. Riesling represents the ultimate aphrodisiac, and one man agreed with me, declaring, "Riesling always works wonders for me. Especially when [my date] drinks the whole bottle."

Then there's the "100 percenter": Port. It can be the difference between a night alone and a night of fun. One exuberant wine geek declared that port gets him the romance he needs 100 percent of the time. You might try it this Valentine's Day.

Recommended Wines

Cougar Crest 2003 Syrah Walla Walla Valley (Washington) This wine has an aroma you want to live in -- floral, juicy and full of raspberry, cherry and blackberry. But it's also gutsy, with enough acidity and tannin to make the flavor last forever. Sweetness = 3. $32. Rating: **** 1/2

Hogue Cellars 2005 Late Harvest White Riesling Columbia Valley (Washington) Bright sunshine-y peach, apricot and some tangerine on the finish. Definitely for the sweet at heart, but also for those on the cheap -- great value in this bottle, as well as the 2004 vintage. Sw = 7. $10. Rating: ****

Besserat de Bellefon Cuvee des Moines Champagne True French Champagne, and really impressive. Classy and sophisticated, like something Katherine Hepburn would drink. Lively citrus and a clean, steely finish. The winery produces a fantastic rosé Champagne as well. Sw = 1. $35. Rating: ****

Bonny Doon Framboise, Infusion of Raspberry (California) For something sweet and fun for your sweetie, try this whimsical wine from the wacky folks at Bonny Doon. Rich, chock full of raspberry essence, this luscious lover is even kind to your wallet. Sw = 7. $12. Rating: *** 1/2

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