Tasting Wine: Novel ways to say ‘be my valentine’

Here is my obligatory Valentine’s Day column. I’ll be the first to admit that while I pooh-pooh the commercialism involved, I would feel a twinge of guilt if I did not do a little something for, or with, my mate.

This year though, we’ve decided that since we need stuff for the house, we’re getting things both of us can enjoy like lamps, bathroom shelving and maybe even the ultimate expression of love:a flat-screen TV.

As a wine columnist, I’m not going to suggest that you head to Home Depot to find your loved one a Valentine’s Day present (though I won’t deter you), but given that sometimes we have to be practical, here are some tips on how to combine romance, utilitarianism and wine.

First, how’s your wine opener? Good wine openers range in price; you can spend as little as $15 for a well-made waiter’s wine key.

You don’t need to get a $100 instrument, but if you so choose, a Screwpull really does work well. If you’re not using it constantly (opening 20 to 30 bottles a day, like I do at my restaurant) then it’s quite durable. Additionally, it works reasonably well on long corks.

There are other fancy wine openers, such as Laguiole corkscrews, made by one of France’s premier knife companies. The handles are constructed in several finishes and they are easy to engrave.

A lot of wines — both whites and reds — benefit from a little decanting. Decanting helps younger wines open up quicker. For older wines that have a lot of sediment, decanting is a means to get rid of the solid matter. But you don’t have to get a super fancy decanter shaped like an animal. In truth, a glass vase works just as well. Still, decanters are good to have on hand for certain bottles, especially during dinner parties.

Glassware really is important. I once heard a wine importer say that he felt some of the really cheap, thick-lipped wine glasses were as good as anything else. I completely, totally and utterly disagree. I also disagree almost as staunchly that you need to get a different type of wine glass for each and every grape varietal or type of wine that exists.

Good, everyday solid glassware works well for most wines and just about all whites. By “good everyday glassware” I mean a glass that has a thin lip and 8 to 10 ounces of capacity.

However, pinot noir is better in balloon shaped glasses and certain red wines like Bordeaux, Barolos and syrahs benefit from a larger shaped glass.

Sparkling wines are better in long flutes and dessert wines of all sorts, port included, are better in smaller glasses. Numerous companies make good renditions; if I had to pick a line to go with, it would be the Riedel Vinum series.

In addition to openers, decanters and glasses, there are wine funnels, bottle coasters, ice buckets and gadgets such as the new Wine Rack, a contraption that allows women to stick a bottle of wine in their bra and consume it with a drinking tube.

Many wine stores have traditional accouterments. If you go online, you probably can find more innovative yet useful gadgets.

Have fun shopping; I’ll be at Costco.

Pamela S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.

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