Complex Wines for When "It's Complicated"


Ditch the port, anything pink, and don’t even think about pairing something with tuxedo-clad strawberries. Because if “it’s complicated” — and it always is — you’ll need something a little more complex than sweet and simple sap.

Chinato is an aromatized wine traditionally made in Piedmont, Italy with the Nebbiolo grape. It’s bitter and spicy and earthy with only a hint of sweetness. It’s also really hard to find. But Arlequin Wine Merchant sells a slightly modified version of the classic called Americano, made by a former Italian chemist named Maura Vergano. Vergano uses the Grignolino grape instead of Nebbiolo and mixes it with an extract of Absinthe, orange peel and bitter herbs. If that’s not a love potion, we don’t know what is. Serve it neat or top it with sparkling wine.  

Commandaria, a dark, hefty, usually fortified wine from the island of Cyprus (where Aphrodite is its patron goddess, get it?), is believed to have fueled the love affair between Cleopatra and Marc Antony. Produced from partially raisined, indigenous grapes (one red variety, one white, oddly enough) it may well be the world’s oldest continually produced wine. Serve it after dinner with dessert, or with nothing at all.

You may have never heard of Don Baumhefner, but if you are planning on popping some bubbles for the big day, you should consider a bottle of En Tirage made by Don up in the Russian River Valley. He tends to leave his wines in the bottle with the dead yeast cells (or en tirage) for a ridiculously long time— like 17 years —before disgorging, making for a complex and still fresh-seeming sparkling wine. It’s old, but it’s also young. Amy Racine, the sommelier at Sons & Daughters, just happens to have a few of the rare bottles. “It’s pretty cool stuff,” she says. “Super toasty, hay-like, and biscuity.” Sounds way better than a roll in the actual hay.

The very word sounds like love (in Italian) and it's said to be an aphrodisiac. Amaro is sweet and bitter and incredibly versatile. The brand Averna, a lightly bitter Amaro that is evidently referred to by some San Franciscans as “chic fernet” makes for a nice alternative to your typical tipple. Pour it neat, over ice, with tonic water or, ideally, mix it into a cocktail. For his “Vertigo,” Cantina’s Duggan McDonnell combines Averna with lemon juice and ginger ale. Hopefully she'll forgive you for not feeding her chocolate. 

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