IN celebration of the Qixi Festival, also known as Chinese Lovers Day, I'd like to introduce you to the happy yet also sad, sweet but sometimes bitter, and always romantic moods of wines. Romance and wines have been mutually embellishing pleasures for mankind for over seven millenniums, so how better than to celebrate Qixi Festival than to drink romantic wines.
The seventh night of the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar celebrates the ancient tale of two Chinese lovers. According to folklore dating back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) Zhinu, the seventh daughter of a goddess, descended from the heavens to look for fun and adventure and happened to meet a young cow herder aptly named Niulang, which in Chinese literally means cowherd.
The two fell in love, married and had two children. Unfortunately the Goddess of Heaven who is also sometimes mentioned as the mother of Zhinu, found out and used her hairpin to scratch a wide river in the sky thereby separating the lovers. This somewhat nasty response also formed the Milky Way between Altair and Vega. But once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month all the magpies in the world take pity on the desolate lovers and fly to heaven forming a bridge that allow Niulang and Zhinu to walk on their wings and be together for one night.
Mild inebriation has long been known to lessen inhibitions, but can wine really enhance romance? There is growing proof that it can. Throughout the animal kingdom certain aromas are known to stimulate desire and arousal. In his ground-breaking publication "Scents and Sensuality," Dr Max Lake explained how wine aromas replicate the human pheromones that help stimulate feelings of attraction in the brain. He noted that the earthy, leathery and musky scent of oak-aged red wines most closely resemble male pheromones while the lighter, fresher and subtly yeasty notes of white and sparkling wines resemble female pheromones.
I've written about Dr Lake's findings and the general topic of wine scents and romantic arousal on several occasions. It's fascinating to think that picking the right wine can actually enhance your love life. This Chinese Lovers Day I suggest picking an aromatic wine that may well improve your chance of romance. For women, try serving your man a fragrant Spanish Albarino or Italian Pinot Grigio. Both wines have scents that mirror female pheromones. Guys can share a nice bottle of Tuscan Sangiovese or Rioja Temprenillo with their lovely ladies. These reds exhibit male pheromone-like earthy and musky aromas that just might contribute to amorous feelings.
One night only
Faced with only one night a year together with your lover puts a premium on wine selection. What wines would you pick for your only evening of romance? In matters of the heart my advice is always to start with bubbles. Nothing stimulates the palate and excites the senses quite like thousands of tiny bubbles titillating and refreshing your palate.
It's theorized that there are millions of bubbles in a bottle of Champagne, meaning that each mouthful of Champagne will energize your and cleanse your palate in perfect preparation for a night full of kisses. Because you only have one night with your love, budget should not be a concern, so go for a Prestige Cuvee Champagne from 100 percent Grand Cru vineyards. Dom Perignon, Krug Clos du Mesnil, Charles Heidsieck Blancs des Millenaires, Louis Roederer Cristal and Salon Le Mesnil are all wonderful choices, but if I only had one night with my lover I'd choose the oak-fermented Bollinger R.D. because of its intensity and complexity. For an even more unforgettable experience, pick an R.D. from an older top Champagne vintage like 1981, 1982, 1988, 1989 or 1990.
Once you and your lover finish the Champagne, it's time for a romantic red wine. An ideal choice would be the Saint Estephe red called Chateau Calon Segur as the label actually features a heart. The heart on the label is inspired by the former owner Nicolas-Alexandre de Segur who also owned Chateau Lafite and Chateau Latour. He once said "I make my wine at Latour and Lafite but my heart is at Calon". In addition to the romantic packaging, this 3rd growth wine offers a typically macho Saint Estephe experience of intense dark fruit and ample palate-coating tannins.
As a cow herder Niulang must have eaten his fair share of beef, so another appropriate way to celebrate Qixi is to pair beef with the right red wine. Many red wines make good companions to beef dishes but some of the best are Cabernet Sauvignon wines from Napa Valley in Northern California. Typically these big reds have plenty of ripe black and red fruit flavors balanced by powerful tannins. Some of the best beef-friendly Napa Valley reds that are readily available in Shanghai are the Moon Tsai Cabernet Sauvignon, Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon and Cakebread Cabernet Sauvignon.
A top Napa Cabernet Sauvignon enjoyed with a grilled, dry-aged prime seak served simply with sea salt is one of the gourmet world's most pleasurable experiences. The abundant fruit flavors in the wine are the only sauce you need while the tannins cleanse your palate and help you digest the meat.
Other beef dishes that pair beautifully with Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon wines are the classic French Beef Bourguignon made of slow-braised beef in red wine and beef stock with pearl onions and bacon. As the name indicates, the dish originated in the Burgundy region of France and is traditionally served with a red Burgundy. However, this is also a great dish to enjoy with any hearty red wine including Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons.
Recently I enjoyed a bottle of Heitz Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with Japanese-style beef rolls. The pairing worked beautifully as the juicy meat was embellished by the black fruit and leather flavors of the wines and the tannins offset the savory fat in the meat. I'm fairly certain that Niulang and Zhinu would love all three beef and Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon combinations.