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A Winning Recipe for Romance

Experts say that adding the right wine or champagne to the menu can help set the right mood for a Valentine's Day dinner on the town.


Dusty Pelow, an assistant to the owners of Suzanne's Cuisine in Ojai, has her idea of the perfect Valentine's Day dinner with that special someone.

It would consist of oysters on the half shell, a serving of garlic soup, rack of lamb and a warm chocolate tart. There would be a glass of champagne with the oysters, a rich full-bodied Cabernet with the main course, and pink champagne with dessert.

That wine, and particularly champagne, would play such a prominent role in this love-soaked scenario is by design. "Champagne is romantic," said Pelow. "It's used to toast the day, an event, perhaps love."

Whether it be red, white or pink; is served with dinner or accompanied by cheese and a roaring fireplace; comes in the form of a Chardonnay, a Zinfandel, a Merlot, or one of the many other varieties, wine no doubt will be a prominent ingredient in intimate celebrations throughout Ventura County this Valentine's Day.

"Wine puts you in the mood. If you have a glass of wine, maybe it makes you feel more comfortable, more witty, more open, more receptive," said Jean-Claude Guerin, food and beverage director at Capistrano's in Oxnard's Mandalay Beach Resort.

"A glass of wine between a young lady and a young man always brings them closer."

Fellow restaurateur Giovanni Tromba has a similarly strong passion for wine and romance.

"If a man and a woman sit near a fireplace and listen to nice music, a nice wine could make all the difference," said Tromba, owner of Giovanni's Restaurant in Camarillo and the Pastabilities Restaurant in Ventura. "It's been that way in Europe for hundreds of years."

Restaurants across the county will celebrate Valentine's Day on Wednesday with special dinner menus and discounted or complimentary wine or champagne. And for those who can't wait until midweek for wining, dining and romance, the Four Seasons Biltmore in Santa Barbara will dedicate this weekend to the discussion and consumption of champagnes and sparkling wines at the International Festival of Methode Champenoise.

"Champagne is exceedingly romantic," said wine expert Archie McLaren, festival chairman. "Cinema in the early '40s and '50s romanticized champagne, and I think that has something to do with it. Once that concept was set loose, the champagne houses took it to its logical conclusion and added romance to their marketing program."

For Bruce Boring, it's the image of a man and woman sitting at a table, staring intently into each other's eyes, each holding a glass of wine, that is so striking. "The image is so romantic," he said.

Boring and his wife Pam are the owners of The California Wine Club, a national wine-of-the-month organization based in Ventura. Valentine's Day, Boring said, ranks behind only Christmas and the Mother's Day-Father's Day period in the amount of wine bought as gifts.

"We have a lot of people who like to pair romance and wine," he said. "They like to send chocolate and wine as gifts, or mix dinner with wine or champagne."


If your Valentine's Day features the dinner-wine combo, local palate pleasers say it's important to look for a wine that suits your tastes and those of your Valentine, while at the same time complements the food on your plate. Or in your bucket.

"If you like Kentucky Fried Chicken and you like sweet wine, then maybe you want a blush wine," said Chuck Brigham, owner of Leeward Winery in Ventura. "If it's hamburger with Hamburger Helper, a nice Zinfandel might work. If you like popcorn, anything might go well."

If you're new to the food-wine experience, there's no need to be intimidated, said Brigham, despite the seeming complexities.

"Wine, to a lot of people, is mysterious, but it's really user friendly," he said. "What do you like? That's what you should have. Most of the wine on the market today is a pretty good product. The public is blessed with the quality of wine. There are a lot of different choices and its nice to experiment with it a little."

Within the realms of experimenting, however, matching food and wine can make or break a meal, say the local experts.

"I could make you a dish and let you try that dish with three different wines," said Tromba, "and that same dish could be exceptional with one wine, OK with another wine, and not very good with the third wine."

McLaren said that in the perfect wine and food match, one will enhance the other.

"When you have fine food prepared by a fine chef, you have layer upon layer of texture. The same is true of fine wine," he said. "When you put wine and food together and those layers unfold for both, you have a good wine-food combination."


There are some rules of thumb that may lead the novice wine drinker in the right direction when planning that special Valentine's dinner for two.

"A white wine doesn't have as much body as a red wine. It's more delicate in flavor, so you want to match it with delicate food--chicken, seafood, shellfish," said Guerin, who grew up on his family's vineyard in the French town of Courson, in the province of Burgundy.

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