BY RICK RIOZZA

Wine columnists pretty much have one column to tout their line-up of wine recommendations for the celebrated Day of Love.  Actually most of us lovers and Lotharios lovingly stretch this Valentines interlude to well over a week, making sure that we—well, spread the love!

Champagnes, sparklers and bubblies are de rigueur for this amorous week.  And since we’re throwing out some le français, let’s cut to the chase; allow me to recommend some of my favorite elixirs of love. 

And of course it’s pretty much a French line-up—you know me, no surprise here.  And the French thing reminds me of that humorous quip (and please, I’m just having fun, nothing serious—no complaining emails—okay?) where the speaker says, “you speak French to your lover, German to your soldiers, Italian to your mama, and Spanish when crying out to God.  It’s an old-school funny line, have a glass of European wine and smile.

So getting back to our French bubbly, it’s no other than our favorite Moët & Chandon Rosé Impérial.  This wine simply imbues the ardor, passion, and sentiment of St. Valentine’s Day (or week, if you will). Touting and flaunting that Champagne about town, which is dressed and robed in the latest chic pink design, definitely situates you in the captivating circle of love.  Boy—am I laying it thick or what!  It must be this pink Impérial I’m enjoying while writing! (Not to worry—I’ll be opening up the Moët on Valentine’s.  I picked up extra to get me through the week!).

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So why is this Rosé Impérial so good?  First off, it sells for under $60 (Total Wine has it for $57–and don’t let them talk you out of it!).  A French rosé Champagne of this quality costs over a $100 easy.  Second, this is an elegant and complex devotee’s drink: “Pink in color with amber highlights, the bouquet is lively and intense exuding wild strawberry, raspberry, pomegranate and cherry notes. The palate continues with lively red fruit plus orange zest, ground ginger and a touch of mint.  Racy but well balanced, seamless with a long finish.

All right—if for some reason you’re not into bubbles, but wish to stay with “the Pink” for the celebration, what better than the 2013 Côtes du Rhône Rosé.  Our lovely French wine line-up continues towards the south of France—down the Rhône River, if you will, and who doesn’t relish that.  The E. Guigal brand sets the bar when it comes to quality.  We’ve written about Guigal before, and now there are some new vintages to taste.

The 2016 Côtes du Rhône Rosé, $14, has a wonderful fresh nose of red fruits and citrus. The palate is plump and ripe, with lovely Bing cherry, strawberry, tart raspberry and cranberry flavors with a slight tobacco shading for complexity. The fruit persists on the palate, in a wonderfully fine and round structure. It’s refined and balanced giving the wine an overall sense of elegance.  This is a rosé that can match any Valentine’s dinner.

Côte du Rhônes are probably the most popular wines for the California palate: juicy dark fruits, complexity, easy tannins, and down-right tasty.  The 2013 Guigal’s Côte du Rhône, under $14—a great buy! is a select blend of over 40 top growers, of which only1% of all the wines tasted are chosen for ultimate mix.

For you vino nerds and those so interested, realize that most CdRs are drenched with Grenache.  Guigal’s Côte du Rhône’s have greater aromatic intensity & structure, and are more costly to produce due to half of the mix coming from the noble Syrah grape.

Deep and inky-colored, find fresh fruits with red berries and spices on the nose along with black olives, smoked earth, pepper and plenty of ripe Syrah characteristics.  The palate is full, round and racy with rounded and smooth tannins. What a great reasonably priced wine for a lovely dinner.

This brings us to a heavier-hitter red for those who lust after the full-body bang for the buck: 2013 E. Guigal Crozes-Hermitage, under $25!!

When an experienced wine lover sees only the term “Hermitage” on the label, they know it’s from the famous “hill” off the Rhône, 100% Syrah, it’s delicious, and goes for around $500 on a good day.  The Crozes-Hermitage is produced nearby down the road, contains similar attributes, 100% Syrah—but it’s considered more the “baby brother”, and, it sells for 90% less!  It’s often the bargain of the cherished season.

The 2013 E. Guigal Crozes-Hermitage is a delight for those who are enchanted with a powerful spicy bouquet of clove, sandal wood, nutmeg, vanilla, and smoke—very sexy aromas!  But the flavors are different: there is fresh dark cherry, blackberry, and a complex strawberry compote profile.

As mentioned, this is a 100% Syrah wine, grown on moderately old vines (averaging 35 years of age) on limestone, clay and silt, and sandy gravels. This brings the typical Syrah pepper and mint notes to the mix. The wine was aged for 18 months in French oak barrels—which provides the mysterious intense and deep toasty nose, on the savory side of things.  

Typically out-of-the ordinary, this wine is noted for its smooth and velvety tannins.  Of course it’s full-bodied, but doesn’t feel heavy yet powerfully flavored and concentrated.  Good acidity as well, great for that full course dinner. This will appreciably age well for the next 10 to 15 years should you wish to grab a case for a decade of Valentine’s devotion.

If you find yourself in a rush and can’t find the above wines, we can “save” your Valentine’s celebration recommending the California red blend SAVED, $22.  It’s a robust blend of Merlot, Malbec, Syrah, Zinfandel, and small amounts of other red varietals curated to add more dimension to the aromatics and rich fruit flavors. It opens with aromas of ripe figs and vanilla followed by jammy flavors of blackberries and spice. Its finish is long and generous. And of course you delight with the label design by famed tattoo artist, Scott Campbell. 

Here’s to Love—Cheers!