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PERFECT ROMANTIC PARTNERS: RED WINE AND CHOCOLATE

Red is for hearts on Valentine's Day; red is for roses. But most of all, red is for wine.

One good reason is that many experts feel that red wines and that quintessential Valentine symbol, chocolate, are a match made in heaven.

"Chocolate desserts have their multi-faceted sensory appeal - sweet, bitter, earthy and fruity - yet when paired with (red wines) the flavor expands," says Flo Baker, a nationally known dessert creator and cookbook author.

Terry Barrett of the Keuka Overlook Winery in the Finger Lakes, where they hold a standing-room-only chocolate and wine tasting every September, is happy to tell you why.

"There is tannin in red wine," she says, "and there is tannin in cocoa so the two are naturally interrelated. (Tannin is an astringent substance found in the seeds and stems of grapes as well as other plants. It's an especially desirable component of wine because it makes for long life.)

"The higher the tannin level in the wine, the more intense the chocolate should be," Barrett explains.

Merlot is a smooth wine, Barrett points out, so you don't want to pair it with an intense dark chocolate dessert. Instead, she suggests using a milder milk chocolate - like dark red seedless grapes covered in milk chocolate. Those are great colors for Valentine's Day.

On the other hand, Cabernet Franc, made from a grape that's becoming more and more popular in New York State because it is so hardy, matches with darker chocolate, Barrett says. Last year the winery paired it with dark chocolate brownies and Kahlua truffles.

And what about Cabernet Sauvignon? It's practically been created to go with chocolate. "In fact, when they approach a glass of Cab, many people actually smell or taste chocolate," says Terry Barrett.

She recommends matching with chocolate cheesecake or rich chocolate mousse.

The other favored wine to accompany chocolate? Port. It's usually red, but it's also fortified with brandy. And because Port has brandy added to it, it's sweet and high enough in alcohol content to stand up to the sweetness of chocolate.

In fact, if push came to shove, Port would be many wine lovers' first choice to partner with chocolate every day of the year.

Mark Turgeon of the Riverside Inn in Lewiston, where they hold a New York State/Canadian wine/chocolate tasting every May, agrees that red wine is an excellent chocolate partner, but he'd also opt for Port, he says. (Either bright red Ruby Port or Tawny Port.)

And wine lover and attorney Sharon Osgoode, while admitting that a Cabernet or Bordeaux would work with chocolate ("chocolate and fruit are such a nice flavor combination, so get a fruity wine," she advises) waxes poetic when describing Vintage Port with chocolate.

"A 1963 Croft is nice and spicy to complement chocolate in a very nice way."

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