Even beyond Valentine’s Day, chocolate is a big deal in our house. There’s always something to munch on, from my wife’s dark chocolate cake to the packages of chocolate chips and cookies that the boys like to raid, to a variety of chocolate odds and ends. These recently included a small pile of Hershey’s “Special Dark” miniature chocolate bars and a fine specimen that came my way from California — a semi-sweet hunk of dark chocolate in the shape of a cluster of grapes.
It was with that last example in mind, tempting me every time I looked at it, that I started to carry out my assignment to find a Valentine’s Day wine, one that I knew would not be particularly hard.
Anyone who has finished off a bottle of wine at dinner with a little chocolate knows that it doesn’t take a lot of trial and error to find a wine that works. Many reds will do the trick; from the drier bottles you would normally have with a meal, to fortified sweet wines, including Port, to red and pink sparkling wines, especially if they have some sweetness.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to look far to find the right wine at the right price for this recession-era Valentine’s Day or even for better times. It was a winning, $8 bottle of American bubbly that should be available just about everywhere and that I found as satisfying as similar wines from more exotic locales at twice or three times the price.
Ballatore’s “Rosso” Red Spumante from California is a big-production brand (75,000 cases made each year) with a smaller-production taste. It’s light ruby in color, made primarily from Central Valley white malvasia bianca grapes with some red-fleshed alicante for color, and has fine bubbles (spumante means sparkling in Italian). On its own, before you marry it with chocolate, it is fruity and sweet but not cloying, low in alcohol (8 percent) but high in acidity and actually finishes slightly drier than its first impression. In terms of taste, think red cherry, raspberry and a touch of citrus.
Now enter that grape-shaped piece of dark chocolate. It was just how I like it — ever so slightly bitter and altogether addictive. As I broke off little pieces I began my taste test with Ballatore’s Rosso. The wine provided a refreshing counterpoint, giving the richer and sweeter chocolate a lift in the mouth and making me want more — of each.
For me, this is a classic chocolate-wine combination — a great piece of dark chocolate with a well-chilled glass of sweet bubbly. And as Ballatore’s Rosso shows, you can more than get away with it on the cheap. This year, your Valentine might be surprised, if not relieved, that you spent no more than $8 on the wine.
By the way, there is a useful little reminder on the wrapper of the bottle, with the heading “Be Careful!” that describes how to open a sparkling wine safely, just in case you had any doubts.
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