Swirl Girl: Drink dessert wines on Valentine's Day

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Valentine's Day. The holiday perhaps most feared in the hearts of...well, everyone. How can one silly, Hallmark greeting-dominated day be so over-hyped, yet so continuously underwhelming, at least in terms of delivering that rapturous, romantic haze we all want to be caught up in?

One sure-fire way to make sure that your Valentine's Day doesn't disappoint is to reject the typical approach and redefine your expectations for romance. Invite a group of your dearest friends into your home and get ready to fall in love with someone (or should I say, something) who truly deserves it - dessert wines.

Dessert wines are the red-headed stepchildren of the wine world. Deeply misunderstood, they're also usually relegated to the back of the wine list, or worse, exiled to their own special menu that you probably won't even see if your server doesn't identify you as the adventurous, pleasure-seeking wine drinker that you obviously are. So why can't these wines get any love?

It's true that these sweeter, richer counterparts of their table wine brethren need a little 'splaining in order for you to fully appreciate their charms. They're generally better enjoyed with food (usually a dessert) because of their higher residual sugar levels and alcohol content. That late-harvest riesling? Should have served that with a slice of apple pie, maybe with a little caramel sauce drizzled on top to pick up the sweet, fruity notes of the wine.The ruby port? It was practically invented to be enjoyed with a slice of black-forest cake, covered in bittersweet chocolate shavings.

Even if you're not giddy about the idea of baking up a batch of desserts, you can always pair dessert wines with cheese. If you've ever tasted a piece of triple-cream Brie topped with fig jam and thought you'd died and gone to heaven, all you need to do is replace the fig jam with a glass of figgy, jammy tawny port and you'll be good to go.

Hosting your very own Valentine's Day in-home dessert wine tasting is a fabulous idea for several reasons: You can avoid the inevitable crowds and rushed service you'd likely experience in a restaurant; you're bound to spend WAY less money; and your friends will worship you for rescuing them from having to figure out how to poach a lobster.

Here are some amazing dessert wines and suggestions for the desserts they'd pair best with:

Michele Chiarlo 'Nivola' Moscato d'Asti, $15: This slightly frizzante (aka sparkling) moscato from the Piedmont region of Italy is like a glass full of honeyed sunshine, ripe with orange, peach and apricot flavors. Recommended dessert pairing: pineapple upside-down cake or lemon bars.

Elderton Botrytis Semillon, $18: Botrytis, also known as the "noble rot," turns the lush, fleshy semillon grape into a powerhouse of a dessert wine, with lots of honey, citrus and pear notes. Recommended dessert pairing: freshly-baked gingerbread or peach cobbler.

Taylor Fladgate 10 Year Tawny Port, $15: Toasted almond, caramel and brown butter flavors make this wine ideal for equally nutty, creamy desserts. Recommended dessert pairing: Vanilla bean crème brulée or butterscotch pudding.

Warre's Ruby Port, $14: Tastes like a mouthful of homemade cherry pie, only better. Recommended dessert pairing: Anything chocolate, or try it with a rich blue cheese.

Yalumba Museum Reserve Muscat, $15: You'll think of pancakes topped with warm maple syrup chased by a handful of raisins. Recommended Dessert Pairing: Pecan bars or fruitcake (yes, fruitcake).

A few more tips to make your dessert wine tasting party a success:

Serve the white dessert wines chilled (around 40 degrees) and the ports at "cellar" temperature (about 50 degrees).

Plan to buy or rent cordial glasses, which are sized perfectly for the two-ounce pours you should offer your guests. Remember, these wines are pretty boozy, with alcohol content usually hovering somewhere around 15%.

Have plenty of water on hand, along with an empty ice bucket or pitcher for people to dump out whatever they aren't fond of.

Here's hoping you find your next true love in a bottle of something sweet.


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