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Saturday, February 9, 2013 - Page updated at 11:00 a.m.

Wine Adviser
Here's a bubbly toast to Valentine's Day

By Paul Gregutt
Special to The Seattle Times

FOR SOME REASON, Valentine's Day and wine have been locked into a red wine-and-chocolate pas de deux for as long as I can remember. And more often than not, one of the dancers steps on the other's toe and it turns into a game of All Fall Down.

If you are bound and determined to have your red wine and chocolate fix this year, go out and get the darkest, most unsweetened chocolate you can find. A bar with 70 percent cacao is a minimum, but 80 or 85 percent is better. Some are mixed with nibs, crunchy and slightly bitter. That works well, even with dry reds. So go ahead and drink whatever you want — cabernet, merlot, sangiovese, syrah, zinfandel — you name it. It might not be a match worthy of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks (though too much chocolate could certainly leave you sleepless in Seattle), but it will probably ensure a curtain call for all the different flavors.

If you are feeling more adventurous, keep the chocolate dark and swap out the red wine for bubbly. Champagne is the traditional choice, but drinkers these days are more likely to turn to French crémants or sparkling wines from Italy. Proseccos are great, especially because they often have some sweetness, and sparkling moscatos, with their juicy orange flavor and extremely low alcohol, are another good choice.

Drink them straight up, blend them into mimosas or jump on the latest bandwagon, which is using them as mixers for a broad range of cocktails. Where once upon a time bartenders were content to use club soda or sweet soft drinks in their cocktails, the best mixologists now choose to elevate the base mixer up to the same quality level as the liquor. Why dumb down your top-shelf liquor with cheap soda pop?

Your local wine shop will have a fine assortment of bubblies, and you need not spend more than $15 for a bottle that will be good for a dozen or more cocktails. For help on that (I'm no mixologist!) I turned to my good friend Jim German, whose jimgermanbar is a fixture here in Waitsburg.

Jim's traditional Valentine's Day offering, which he says is "super easy," features blood oranges. "Blood oranges come into season just before Valentine's Day," German explains, which is why this drink is always on the menu at this time of year.

La Valentina

1/2 blood orange, muddled

1 ounce vodka

1/2 ounce grappa (optional) "for a little doughy flavor"

Dash of orange bitters or Pechaud bitters ("easy to find in any grocery store")

Ice for mixing

Prosecco or sparkling moscato

2 rose petals for garnish

Combine in a glass the muddled (crushed) blood orange with the vodka, grappa and bitters. Add ice, shake vigorously, strain into a coupe or martini glass. Then add a splash of Prosecco and garnish with the rose petals.

Paul Gregutt's blog is www.paulgregutt.com. Email: paulgwine@me.com.

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