Heartening news for you unquenchable romantics who intend to use wine
as a seduction vehicle on Valentine's Day: This year's options might
be more wickedly efficient than usual.

For those who are normally tongue-tied by love, consider watching the
Oscar-contending flick Sideways by yourself this weekend and then
composing your own version of that soulful soliloquy Virginia Madsen
delivers about " . . . the life of a wine, how it's a living thing .
. . how every time I open a bottle it's going to taste different than
if I had opened it any other day." If purring those words over a
bottle of pinot noir doesn't do the trick, it may be time to rethink
your relationship.

Another offbeat strategy is to sample something that is both trendy
and harks back to ancient aphrodisiacs. Pomegranates have re-emerged
as a sensual element in contemporary cuisine, and now Proshyan Wine
Factory of Armenia is making a wine from them and exporting it to
major markets in America. Their non-vintage version is semisweet,
enticingly aromatic and costs about $9 (armenianwines.com).

If over-the-top luxury is more your style, then invest in one of the
upper-tier rose champagnes, which have come back into vogue. Among
the best is the rich, decadent 1995 Dom Perignon Rose, which sells
for about $325 a bottle -- and could be worth every penny.

Finally, for those who tend to fall for underdogs and/or wine geeks,
why not embrace an oddly named but potentially rewarding grape that
has been working its way back into the hearts of California
winemakers recently? Petite sirah fits the Valentine's theme with its
heart-throbbing muscularity, provocative spiciness and supple texture
(when made carefully). Its under-the-radar coolness even comes with
its own advocacy group of growers and producers known as P.S. I Love
You (psiloveyou.org).

"It offers something to zinfandel lovers who are looking for a wine
with a little more guts, and it usually has less alcohol," says
spokeswoman Jo Diaz. The flavors, which can include blackberries,
blueberries, coffee, chocolate, tobacco and pepper, and the firm
structure "offer an alternative to always having cabernet sauvignon
with beef."

The grape has been grown in California since the 1880s and has been
used mainly to add color and heft to blended wines. But petite sirah
has always suffered from an identity crisis. Historically, several
grapes have carried the name, and their botanical relationship to the
better-known syrah grape and several obscure French grapes are
tangled. However, a handful of faithful vintners always have believed
that petite sirah can stand on its own as a varietal wine, and that
has enabled the grape not only to survive but also to thrive. P.S. I
Love You counted 65 petite sirah producers in 2001; today there are
more than 190.

"It has withstood the test of time, and people who like it are very
passionate about it," Diaz says.

True Valentine's virtues, in other words.

To get a sense of the wine's potential, check out some of these
versions that stood out in a recent tasting of 24 bottles. Available
vintages will vary from market to market; in this case older is
usually better, because this high-tannin wine benefits from a few
years' aging. Expect to pay $10 to $18 for entry-level versions and
$25-$40 for reserve wines.

Send a valentine from the vine: Uncork these love potions
by Jerry Shriver

February 11, 2005

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