No one thinks about them much except around Valentine’s Day. They bring out a naughty pleasure that we’re almost embarrassed to admit. And yet they’re fun, almost irresistible when the time is right. We’re talking here about the forbidden fruit of the wine world, the wine equivalent of sexy lingerie. We’re talking about sweet pink and red sparkling wines.
They are wines to indulge in, not analyze. Just take the candy and don’t worry. No one needs to know except us. They do, of course, need a partner in crime, something to share the sinful experience. And that, you may have guessed, would be chocolate.
The thing that makes these wines such a good match for chocolate is, in fact, their sweetness; that quality complements the chocolate and keeps the wines from being overpowered, whereas most drier sparkling wines, including Champagne — white or pink — will be overwhelmed by chocolate’s sweetness and density.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to look far for the chocolate with which to taste some of these wines. For my birthday recently my family presented me with a truly over-the-top chocolate mousse cake from a boutique bakery in our neighborhood in New York. It was almost bittersweet on the inside while the frosting was semi-sweet. And it provided the perfect vehicle for a test run of sweet pink and red sparkling wines. Here are three that I especially liked — two from Italy and one from France.
From Italy, I was impressed by Zonin’s nonvintage Baccorosa Spumante Dolce, $13, from the well-known Asti area of Piedmont, which produces tons of light sparkling wines. Like all the sweet wines I tasted, this one is low in alcohol (seven percent), and I found myself not so much sipping it, as I would a Champagne, but drinking it a bit more assertively to wash down the chocolate cake. Brick-copper in color, the wine, made from the white moscato and the red brachetto grapes, is a delicate mix of cherry and a subtle herbal note — spearmint comes to mind — that gives it a bit of complexity. Although the overall impression is one of sweetness, the wine finishes slightly drier, which makes it refreshing. Imported by Zonin USA, Charlottesville, Va.
The sweetest of the wines I tasted was Elio Perrone’s 2006 Bigaro, $15, which is also from Piedmont and has just five percent alcohol (the lower the alcohol, the sweeter the wine). Deep salmon in color, it’s also a blend of moscato and brachetto and is like biting into a spoonful of ripe raspberries with a touch of spice. While sweet, the wine is not cloying and is light and refreshing. Imported by Vieux Vins, Vineburg, Calif.
From France, the semi-sweet Bugey-Cerdon from Domaine Renardat-Fache, about $15 or so, shows notes of peach, strawberry and minerals. Made in the town of Cerdon in the tiny region of Bugey in eastern France, between Lyon and Geneva, this pink wine is a blend of the gamay and poulsard grapes and is marked by its crisp acidity, which makes it simply delightful. Alcohol is 7.5 percent. Imported by Louis/Dressner Selections, N.Y.
Each of these wines is only lightly effervescent. That, combined with their sweetness, makes them a seamless match and a perfect counterpoint to a rich chocolate treat on Valentine’s Day. So go ahead. Take the plunge.
Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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