Romantic Winter Reds

For centuries, red wine has been associated with romantic evenings. However, not all reds are Cupid-worthy. So just what makes a red wine romantic? Typically, Old World wineries (France, Italy and Spain) are attributed with crafting sexy wines through the use of age-old techniques that add richness and overall "romantic appeal." Take, for example, the passito method in Italy, in which grapes are partially dried on straw mats for four months to concentrate the sugars and flavors. If the winemaker stops the fermentation of the dried grapes early, the wine will have a bit of residual sugar and is labeled a Recioto. If fermentation continues, the wine will be dry and labeled an Amarone. Either way, wines made in the passito method will develop luscious ripeness with lots of lip-smacking cherry and plum flavors.

A similar process, called Ripasso, is sometimes used to add body and richness to the Italian red wine Valpolicella. In this case, the wine is added to a vat that contains lees from a lot of Amarone. The Valpolicella is essentially allowed to "re-pass" through the leftover skins of the Amarone, giving the wine added color, tannins and passion.

Whether from Portugal's medieval city of Porto, Spain's prestigious town of Rioja or France's Rhône Valley, sometimes it's simply the romance of the region that makes the wine a seductive sipper. Rioja reds made from the native Tempranillo grape are concentrated and fruity with a cherry-spiced character that pairs famously with winter comfort foods. Rhône Valley reds aged in large wood casks reveal earthy spiciness with complex flavors and an inherent warmth.

If you're looking for something a little sweet, try turning to Portugal's Duoro region for a sip of port. Blended from five indigenous grapes, port gets its hallmark flavors when winemakers add brandy to the fermenting wine to stop the yeast from consuming sugar. The result is a high-alcohol wine with lots of sexy sweetness that makes it a perfect partner for chocolate desserts.

Although glowing candlelight, a crackling fire and the savory flavors of winter comfort foods all come into play, in the end it's the red in the glass that melts hearts and puts the "R" in romance.

Marianne Frantz, founder of the Cleveland Wine School, is joined by John Poggemeyer from Hyde Park Grille and Gary Twining, certified wine educator from The Hammer Co., in selecting wines for this month's Cellar Notes.

2000 Perrin Reserve Côtes du Rhône, Orange, France ($11): Black cherry, cassis jam with earthy, black-pepper spice. Old World charm and complexity of flavor makes this a perfect partner for a romantic dinner.

2001 Secco-Bertani Valpolicella Valpantena Ripasso, Vernoa, Italy ($16): Ripe, rich flavors of cherry fruit made in the Ripasso style. Good acidity, warmth and elegance make it a perfect date wine.

2002 ChÃ.teau de la Chaize, Brouilly, France ($15): Ripe, supple fruit and crisp acidity. Soft tannins make this a delight to sip. The uniquely shaped bottle is a romantic throwback to the past.

2000 Marqués de Caceres, Rioja, Spain ($13): Cherry, raspberry fruit with oak-driven vanilla and spice. Supple tannins you do not have to fight to drink — now that's romantic!

2000 Capitel De' Roari Amarone della Valpolicella, Marano, Italy ($28): Full-bodied, ripe and rich. Hints of sweet tobacco, silky cherry flavors and lots of alcohol. This wine screams passion.

Warre's Otima 10-Year-Old Tawny Porto, Duoro, Portugal ($25): Tawny rose color with a nutty, toasted caramel aroma and smooth, velvety mouth feel. The alluring flavors are extremely romantic with chocolates.

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