A sweet Greek Valentine
It's almost Valentine's Day, and have you noticed the prices of fine chocolates and long-stemmed roses?
Happily, if you and your sweetie are both into wine, there's nothing like a special bottle to mark the occasion - and all it needs to make it a gift is a red ribbon and a bow.
But what to buy? Champagne, of course, is always in good taste. Two of my favorite larger producers are Bollinger and Pol Roger, but don't overlook artisanal offerings from tiny farmhouse wineries - ask at your better local wine shops. Or if you like your sparkling wine on the sweet side, don't let wine snobs turn you away from the Italian Asti Spumante, redolent of ripe peaches and sweet as fruit nectar.
On the other hand, what better Valentine than a bottle of wine labeled with a name that evokes romance and love? Try a Beaujolais from St. Amour, the Alsatian Pinot Blanc "Cuvee Les Amours" from Hugel, or the California Sauvignon Blanc from Robert Pepi called "Two Hearts Canopy." Got cash to burn? Check out the fine Burgundies "Les Amoureuses" ("the Lovers") from Chambolle-Musigny or Domaine Comte Lafon's Meursault "Desiree."
But here's an idea: Today's tasting, an unusual red dessert wine from Greece, is rich, strong and sweet ... costs a bit under $10 a bottle ... and goes very well indeed with chocolate!
Since Greek wines aren't widely familiar, let's take just a second to dissect the label: Mavrodaphne ("black laurel," pronounced "Mah'v-ro-dahf-nee") is the grape variety, and Patras ("Pah-trass") is the region, a coastal strip along the northern edge of the Peloponnese, the peninsula that makes up the southern half of Greece. Achaia Clauss ("Ah-kye-ah Clowss") is the producer, founded by a German immigrant to Greece nearly 150 years ago.
The wine is made in somewhat the same way as Port, in that its fermentation is arrested by adding a dose of brandy before all the sugars in the grape juice have been converted to alcohol. It's also reminiscent of Madeira in that the wine is exposed to heat while it ages in barrels, by the simple expedient of lining up the barrels outdoors under the Mediterranean sun.
Achaia Clauss non-vintage "Imperial" Mavrodaphne of Patras ($8.79)
Clear cherry red with an amber glow, the wine's rather light color is at odds with its fortified (15 percent) alcoholic strength. Simple but fresh red-fruit aromas add nutlike and herbal scents reminiscent of straw and hay. Sweet and soft flavors carry over a touch of that haylike herbaceous quality on the palate. It's no Vintage Port, but its rustic and herbal flavors add interest to an unusual red dessert wine of good value. U.S. importer: Stellar Importing Co., Astoria, N.Y. (Feb. 6, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Best served after dinner as dessert, but like the somewhat similar French Banyuls, it makes an unusually interesting match with dark, not-too-sweet chocolate.
VALUE: Exceptional value in a fortified dessert wine for less than $10.
WHEN TO DRINK: Ready to drink upon release, but its strength, sweetness and naturally oxidized flavor will protect it for many years in the cellar. (Note, however, that as a non-vintage wine, it can be difficult to determine the age of a bottle. If you decide to keep it, you might want to jot the date of purchase on the back label or cellar log book as a reference.)
WEB LINK: There's an intriguing profile of Achaia Clauss on the Greek Winemakers page at
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Friday, Feb. 7, 2003