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How to Woo St. Valentine (February 2, 2006)

If there is one day of the year you should not need an aphrodisiac, it's February 14th. But for the reluctant, the indifferent, the shy or the satiated, here are some recommendations to further the transaction.

Red roses and chocolates have the Hallmark seal of approval on this day, but let's get real here. Roses and chocolates may send a message but they are not in themselves an aphrodisiac. It's like kissing the postman. (Incidentally, the last time I had an aphro was in the 1970s when I had more hair. But I digress.)

The true aphrodisiac is something that breaks down inhibitions and excites sexual desire; and that, my friends, means one thing – beverage alcohol. Should the notion be so ingrained in your psyche that it is de rigeur to present your beloved/besotted with chocolates on St. Valentine's Day, then offer it in liquid form – as in Grappa.

Grappa! I can see you clutching your throat and saying, "Has he lost his marbles?" But wait, this is not your basic grappa that could propel a 747. This is Gianduia Crema Cioccolato e Grappa (LCBO #600379, $29.95 for 500 mL), made by my Venetian friend Sandro Bottega, a lady's man if ever there was one. It's a cream liqueur based on an old Piemontese recipe that uses chocolate, milk, cream, hazelnuts and an alcohol base. It tastes rather like a Brandy Alexander. Sandro says you can serve it hot, pour it over ice cream and on cakes or merely drink it from someone else's navel.

There is also a white version of this liqueur grappa called Gianduia Fior di Latte (LCBO #604181, $29.95) that involves vanilla and cream. You can add it to your coffee. These products are not grappa strength but are only 15 per cent alcohol, not much stronger than many wines.

And when it comes to February 14th, the wine industry is now behaving rather like the greeting card companies in creating products for specific quasi-celebrations. The Mosel producer Weingut Reinhold Haart plays on his name with a 2002 Riesling released at Vintages on February 4th, called "Haart to Heart"; and lest the name is too subtle there is a small heart on the neck of the bottle. The wine has a honeyed lime flavour that dries on the palate (Vintages #672683, $16.95).

Miguel Torres, the great Spanish producer, gets a berth on the Love Boat this year with a pair of wines he labels "San Valentin" – both 2004 vintage, a Parellada, a fresh, lively white (Vintages #673988, $12.95), and a red, Garnacha, fruity, blackberry flavour (Vintages #673541, $13.95).

The French, who, by the way, invented sex, have a long established tradition of embellishing their wines with notions of love. The third-growth Saint-Estèphe claret, Château Calon-Ségur, has had a large heart on its label for years. At the end of the seventeenth century, the property passed into the hands of Nicolas de Ségur, who also happened to own both Château Lafite and Château Latour, two of the finest red wines in the world. The heart on Calon-Ségur's label speaks to the motto of the house. Nicolas de Ségur purportedly remarked: "I make wine at Lafite and Latour, but my heart is at Calon." His heart may have been at Calon but his palate must have been somewhere else – Calon-Ségur just isn't in the same league as Lafite and Latour.

Moving from Bordeaux to Burgundy, one of the best of the single-village Beaujolais, in fact the most northerly of that region's village-named wines, is called St. Amour. This wine is an absolute delight served either lightly chilled or at room temperature.

But, of course, the ultimate aphrodisiac is champagne. No other beverage conjures up the effervescent moment, the sense of celebration, the sharing of confidences and body fluids. And no other beverage has the mood-altering sound of a popping cork, unless they could make Cognac sparkle. The term aphrodisiac comes from Aphrodite, the goddess of love, whose name in Greek means "foam born" – and what better a way to describe those miraculous bubbles!

"Champagne," according to Madame Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV, "is the only wine that leaves a woman beautiful after drinking it." Her name was Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, by the way, which just goes to prove that champagne is a great match for fish. The French have another expression – "Champagne is the beverage a young man drinks on the morning after his first mistake." Which, I suppose, could well apply to February 15th.

When it comes to Champagne, you can reinforce its aphrodisiac magic by pairing it with oysters, but make sure the champagne in question is very dry (Brut).

If, on the other hand, you want to wave the flag, select something from the vineyards of Ontario to salute your partner. If ever a day was made for Icewine, it is St. Valentine's Day. Icewine is costly, but several of the companies offer it in the 200 mL format as well as the customary 375 mL size. Icewine goes well with chocolate, so think of chocolate-dipped strawberries or a chocolate and orange soufflé as an accompaniment.

After all these recommendations to imbibe alcohol, however, it would be irresponsible of me not to caution you with the warning about over-indulgence: too much of a good thing could lead to an aphrodisiache.




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