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St. Valentine's Day Reflections (February 4, 2004)

So my editor called me the other day to remind me that February's column was due. She suggested that since February 14th is coming up and 2004 is a leap year – when it is permissible for women to proposition men – why don't I write about alcoholic libations suitable for Valentine's Day. "Write about French wines," she urged, "the French are so romantic."

Well, a nod is as good as a wink. Let me see how I can equate France with l'amour in vinous terms. They did name one of the regions of Beaujolais St. Amour and the label of that magnificent Bordeaux château Calon-Ségur in St. Estephe wears a large red heart on its label.

Yes, I suppose the French have cornered the market on romance. French, the French keep reminding us in their current advertising campaign, is the language of love as well as the language of food and wine. So French wines it is for the day when, according to ancient tradition, the birds choose their mates for the year while the bees are still sleeping.

To business. If you are trying to impress a partner with a love potion you can pick up at your neighbourhood LCBO store, think of something that you can both enjoy together. Now, I am no expert in matchmaking, so for inspiration on the theme of love and liquor I turned to the wit of writers past and I've borrowed shamelessly from the best.

Samuel Johnson, he of dictionary fame, was quoted by Boswell as saying, "The feeling of friendship is like that of being comfortably filled with roast beef; love like being enlivened with champagne."

If you're at the friendship stage of a relationship, try an inexpensive red from Bordeaux to match your rare roast beef – Château du Cartillon 2000 from the Haut Médoc commune ($22.95). But if romance is budding and your temperature's rising, look no further than a bottle of champagne – even if the French believe that it is the only beverage a young man should drink on the morning after his first mistake. Be that as it may, Madame de Pompadour, who was no slouch in the looks department back in the days of Louis XV, used to remark, that "champagne is the only wine that leaves a woman beautiful after drinking it." (When attributing this aphorism in his book Champagne, author Patrick Forbes writes, "Any lady who pays a visit to the Champagne district has Mme de Pompadour's remark quoted to her by a Champenois within five minutes of her arrival; and the recital is enlivened by a graphic description of the dreadful things that happen if she is unwise enough to drink red wines, particularly heavy Burgundy: she goes puce in the face, she gets all hot and bothered. This annoys the Burgundians.")

The LCBO carries a goodly selection of champagne: the bubbles in Piper Heidsieck Brut ($43), Pol Roger Brut ($45.95) or Nicolas Feuillatte Brut ($41.95) will all rise to the occasion. But if you want to bring back a smile back to the face of a Burgundian, pick up a bottle of Bouchard Père et Fils La Vignée Bourgogne Pinot Noir ($15.95), ideal with wild salmon. M. Joseph Henriot, a Champenois with a very famous name, is also the owner of the house of Bouchard P & F. So M. Henriot's heart is divided between the effervescent delights of sparkling wine and the demanding mistress that is Burgundy.

John Barrymore, the American actor who died in 1942, described love as "the delightful interval between meeting a beautiful girl and discovering she looks more like a haddock."

To match haddock you need a crisp, dry white wine such as Château de Sancerre from the Loire Valley, a grassy, gooseberry flavoured gem ($23.55).

Bernard Shaw once said: "There is no love sincerer than the love of food." But affection need not necessarily mean the need to invest in confection. After all, you can only eat so many chocolate truffles on Valentine's Day. Better for you is a glass of sweet wine. Now, the LCBO general list is sadly lacking in such delightful French dessert wines as Sauternes, Barsac and Monbazillac, let alone Beaumes-de-Venise. Take yourself off to a major Vintages outlet and look for Château de Beaulon Pineau des Charentes "Or" Vieille Réserve ($23.95). This is a sweet aperitif that's made in the Cognac region by blending freshly pressed grape juice with brandy. You can serve it, lightly chilled, with blue cheese (Roquefort to keep within the French idiom) or with pâté de foie gras.

Finally, a word from Ninon de Lenclos, a French lady of fashion, who quipped in the late seventeenth century, "Love never dies of starvation, but often of indigestion." So if you are feeling dyspeptic from a surfeit of something, settle your stomach with Fernet Franca ($24.45), an evil-tasting bitters from Italy that does wonders in terms of restoring the appetite.




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