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Affordable Sparkling Wine for Valentine's Day

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[Photograph: Maggie Hoffman]

Sparkling wine has long been considered an aphrodisiac. According to food historian Francine Segan, physicians in the age of Hippocrates prescribed a little bubbly "instead of the modern little blue pill." In the 1700s, Casanova seduced hundreds of lovers with the help of sparkling wine and fresh fruit. At the very least, sparkling wine is the perfect accompaniment to another famous libido-booster; the crisp, honeyed flavor of sparkling wine "matches beautifully with the oyster's salty sweetness," says Segan.

Valentine's Day will soon be upon us, and once you've shelled out for long-stemmed roses and handmade chocolates (or a big hunk of nice grass-fed steak), your wallet may be feeling a little light. While we're not immune to the charm of pricey bubbly in our household, we tried several affordable sparklers recently and were quite impressed.

Dry and Delicious

Two of our favorite inexpensive sparkling wines were from Astoria Vini. Don't be afraid; they're not made in Queens. This Italian producer has a number of tasty proseccos that sell for around $12.99. The Astoria Lounge Cuvée is made from 90% Prosecco and 10% Chardonnay grapes. It's well integrated, refreshing, and light, with delicate mineral notes. We found it quite drinkable and especially nice with cheese. We enjoyed Astoria's lively and crisp Lounge Rosé even more. It pours a coral color and is a little tart, with a clean finish that can be hard to find in inexpensive sparklers. It has delicate bubbles and gentle peach and lime flavors; it's perfect for a romantic aperitif for Valentine's Day or for stocking up for summer evenings on the balcony.

20100210-sparkingwines.jpgAnother favorite of our tasting trials was a domestic sparkler from Washington State. I picked up the Domaine Ste Michelle's Luxe (2000) for $8.99 from my local discounter, and it may have been the best value of the wines we tasted. This decadent, refined wine has a bit of buttery oak flavor, but we didn't find it overpowering. It has notes of hay, and is especially recommended for chardonnay-lovers. For those looking for a little less oak, we recommend the Segura Viudas Extra Dry, which has just the slightest bit of sweetness alongside notes of cream and lemon. It has softer mineral flavors than other wines from this producer, and would definitely be nice with pre-dinner snacks or a Valentine's Day brunch. For eight bucks, you could certainly do worse.

While it didn't score as highly as the Astoria offerings or the Luxe, several of our tasters also enjoyed the tart and lively Freixenet Cordon Rosado Brut cava, which has black currant and mineral flavors and a dry finish that reminded us of thyme. It's especially nice with sharp, aged cheese. The honeysuckle notes of Lunetta Prosecco also garnered some appreciation: This wine has smooth pineapple flavors and a bit of tartness, though some tasters found the finish a little bitter.

Sweet Wines for Your Sweetheart

Off-dry sparklers such as Schloss Biebrich Sekt can work well with rich goat cheese, toasted walnuts, or even spicy food. This wine is delicately sweet and soft, with hints of confectioner's sugar and peach candy. You can buy it at Trader Joe's for under five bucks.

Fans of muscat will enjoy the Pearly Bay Celebration from South Africa. Rich and honeyed, it has papaya and pear notes. While it's not terribly complex, a few sips of this make a luscious partner for gooey, creamy cheeses. If you want to go even farther on the nectar scale, the barely-sparkling Villa Rosa Moscato D'Asti has a full body and deep flavors of plum and apricot.

Now all you need is a slow jam and a hot Jacuzzi.

Disclosure: All wines except the Luxe and the Sekt were review samples.

About the Author: You may recognize Maggie Hoffman from her weekly column, Serious Beer. When she's not scouting out great craft beers and affordable wines, she's cooking and writing for Pithy and Cleaver.

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