John JuergensThe Good, the Bad, the Ugly - Valentine's Day Wines

Wine Cupid Let's face it: As much as we all would like to buy into the fantasy of St. Valentine's Day, it just doesn't happen for everyone. This schizoid day can put a person in a very awkward position, and it causes all manner of anxiety and disappointment for millions of people. I'm sorry for being such a cynic, but I have never been able to reconcile the relationship between a red-cloaked man of the cloth and a buck-naked cherub with a bow and arrow. Think about it.

In reality, St. Valentine's Day is another perfect example of efforts of the early Catholic Church to transform residual pagan rituals, in particular, those rituals associated with fertility, sexuality, and pleasure, into something spiritually wholesome. The whole story is too long and complicated to recount here, but the Cliff Note's version is worth telling.

The holiday started out back in the fourth century, B.C.E, as an annual celebration of young men's rite of passage to the Roman fertility god, Lupercus. This amounted to a lottery in which adolescent guys won a teenage female playmate for the year. (Sort of sounds like our fraternity-sorority swaps, doesn't it).

After about eight hundred years of this very popular, but unseemly, social event, the Church fathers desperately wanted to end it and dump Lupercus, but they needed to replace him with an appropriate saint to refocus the holiday on more virtuous pursuits. They came up with the martyr, Bishop Valentine, who had been clubbed, stoned, and beheaded by the mad emperor Claudius II for standing up for Christian family values and the sanctity of marriage. What a radical concept.

The bottom line is that certain vestiges of the pagan ritual remained attached to the recast holiday, the same as with Christmas. What we are left with is a central theme of a lovers' holiday, but with a fairly wide confidence interval that embraces everything from deep abiding love and long-term commitment to full-blown, short-term lust.

So what in the world does all of this have to do with wine? Well, if we look back through at least 8,000 years of history, all manner of deities, religions, rituals, and empires have come and gone; but, the constant element that has blessed them all is wine. Hence, my unbiased, ecumenical interpretation: There is a wine for every occasion.

Last year I gave suggestions on how both men and women can give different kinds of wine with flowers of various colors to signal the level of their affection to significant others on Valentine's Day. I still consider that a highly viable strategy; however, this year I want to add a few options.

In the last few months several new wines have come on to the market with some dazzling label concepts that might be appropriate for wine gifts on this passionate holiday. Luna di Luna has a pleasant red blend of Cabernet and Merlot that comes in a stunning bottle painted in Ferrari Red, which is a keeper long after the wine is gone. It makes a perfect candle holder or vase.

Another eye-catching bottle is a French wine from Georges Duboeuf called "Milenage." The bottle is made such that it appears to be molded into a base of a bouquet of bright Spring flowers. The red wine inside is a pleasant and soft blend of Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon. It's a bit on the leaner side, so it would go best with a meal.

If you want to go for the blunt approach and send an unmistakable message, there is a white wine called "Obsession" by Ironstone Vineyards. The wine is made from a grape called Symphony and has the sweetness of White Zinfandel with a slight effervescence that causes a gentle prickly sensation on the palate.

A unique characteristic of this wine is that it has a distinct lemon-citronella aroma and flavor. My advice would be to save this wine for a romantic secluded picnic with the object of your affections when the weather warms up. By applying it liberally to each other's body, this all-purpose wine will protect any exposed sensitive body parts from mosquito attacks, act as "friction lotion" due to its prickly acidity, and provide a mildly sweet accompaniment to any indiscreet nibbling you might have in mind.

There are all sorts of new wines in town with great theme labels that are perfect for Valentine's gifts and dinners. However, there is one final wine I feel I should mention for those of you for whom the river of love has, unfortunately, gone muddy. Yes, there is a wine even for those of you in throes of love lost on a day that merely grinds salt into your wounded heart. You can use this wine to drown your sorrows, to send a spiteful dart to the one who jilted you, and to flip ol' Cupid the bird all at the same time. It comes from those wonderfully imaginative soul mates at Bonny Doon Winery and is called "Heart of Darkness."

The front label has appropriately macabre dark colors and appears to have been written partially with blood. The back label is blood splattered and provides a map with the wine's origin indicated by a bleeding heart. The blood from the heat flows into the major rivers on the map and eventually puddles at the base of the label. A very satisfying image if you are in that sort of mood.

The wine itself is a dark, blood-red blend of Rhone varieties that has good fruit flavors with a light steely, knife-edge crispness to complement any dark mood. I highly recommend it for those of you who find yourselves on the dark side of St. Valentines Day.

No matter how you approach St. Valentine's Day this year, there is a wine for every occasion and mood, so there is no need to be left out. Cheers!

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