Everyday: OK, so that blasted Hallmark holiday is fast approaching, you’re a little short on cash, and your gal/guy says Champagne always gives her/him a headache. Voila: The Poulet & Fils Clairette de Die Tradition NV to the rescue, and at a mere $15. It’s floral and soft, with a nice little sweet-vs.-briny skirmish going on amidst the bubbles. Plus it’s off-dry and creamy, making this a great accompaniment to Valentine sweets, but clean and vibrant enough to play well with saltier, more savory foods. It’s a nice introduction to not only a different take on muscat but to an underappreciated subregion of the Rhone Valley.
Occasion: Sticking with value wines suited for St. V’s Day, the Zaca Mesa Santa Ynez Valley Syrah 2008 ($25) is a rich, hearty treat. I love the black pepper and black fruit, the smoke and firm tannins, and especially the substantial (but not too) mouthfeel and delicious finish. The fruit is both rustic and smooth, the tannins drying but integrated. This robust red’s roasted-meat elements make it a great match for you-know-what, or try it with one of my favorite romantic dishes, steak au poivre. Or, with the money you saved buying this wine, get some seriously good dark chocolate.