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Stimulate the appetite for love and passion

IT'S Valentine's Day tomorrow and if you're in a state of panic about what to eat and drink, here are some suggestions. The most romantic foods are not merely aromatic and delicious but they should ideally also help stimulate feelings associated with love and romance while also benefiting one's health. Modern scientific studies have shown that the emotional state we refer to as love actually produces chemicals that affect our behavior and overall well-being. Can the right foods enhance the intimacy, sexiness and emotions of your Valentine's Day? Here are some foods that have historically been associated with passion and love.

Ancient Aphrodisiacs

In ancient Greece and Rome the aroma of almonds was thought to stir up feelings of passion in females. Traders would use almonds as a currency and often as a gift to show affection. Europeans have long believed that asparagus stirs romantic lust. In 19th-century France it was fashionable for grooms to be fed a multi-course asparagus dinner the evening before they were wed. Ginger was among the most highly prized imported foods in the Roman Empire and was used in both Asia and Europe for health purposes as well as a natural deodorizer - handy for freshening the mouth before a kiss.

Numerous wines are suitable when savoring ancient aphrodisiacs. With almonds serve an Insolia white wine from Sicily with a few drops of almond extract. This is a classic drink in Sicily that combines the taste and texture of roasted almonds with a light, fresh white wine made of native Sicilian grapes perfumed with almond essence. The almonds flavors of the wine dance a harmonious duet in the palate with the roasted almonds. Because of its metallic qualities, asparagus is one of the hardest foods to pair with wines. Your best option is a wine that has similar metallic qualities like a good Sancerre white wine from Henri Bourgeois or Laporte. Ginger of differing preparations is used in so many diverse dishes that it's impossible to pick one wine. But if you enjoy a sweet gingerbread or cookie dessert this Valentine's Day then a wide range of Muscat sweet wines would be appropriate and provide a balanced sweet ending to your dinner.

Sensual Seafood

Oysters have long been considered an aphrodisiac. Raw oysters are high in zinc, a libido-boosting mineral for men, and also contain omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to increase sensations of well-being and fight depression. No one wants to be sad on Valentine's Day! Scallops are also rich in nutrients and heighten feelings of pleasure. The natural sweet flavor and soft texture of fresh scallops will add gentle romantic notes to your evening. Another shellfish mood-enhancer is shrimp, especially the classic appetizer shrimp cocktail. You can use your hand to slowly dip the shrimp in the sauce and hand-feed your lover to get the evening off to a tender and romantic start.

The perfect wine for this trio of sensual seafood is dry and stylish Champagne. Nothing better reflects the grandeur of romance than Champagne. Erudite readers of this column will know that Champagne is all about women of accomplishment. Over the past three centuries, the great women of Champagne were the true catalysts of this bubbly elixir bringing it new heights of quality and popularity. So if you are a gentleman who cares, then treat your woman this Valentine's Day to vintage Champagne that honors the great women in Champagne history and in your life to a bottle of Bollinger La Grande Anne or Veuve Cliquot La Grande Dame. Both dry sparklers are among the greatest of all Champagnes and offer a level of elegance, intensity and complexity to make your oysters, scallops and shrimp more deliciously sumptuous and romantic.

Hedonistic Herbs

Derived from an ancient Greek word meaning pleasure, the term hedonistic can be used to describe foods that promote happiness and enhance positive feelings. Two herbs that beautifully advance these feelings are basil and rosemary. Basil is an aromatic member of the mint family and when served with pasta, seafood or meat dishes, it adds flavor along with sensual stimulants. Rosemary is another romance enhancer. In ancient Egypt, noble women would bathe in water laced with rosemary believing it gave them the scents of the gods and would attract the most virtuous and heroic men. The Renaissance humanist Sir Thomas More wrote of rosemary, "I let it runne all over my garden walls, not onelie because my bees love it, but because it is the herb sacred to remembrance and therefore to friendship." This British philosopher was also a champion of the education of women and women's rights as well as the creator of the term utopian. So if you wish to enjoy a utopian and egalitarian Valentine's Day with your lover then make sure you include rosemary.

Basil and rosemary find their apex of aromatics and flavor in Italy. Therefore, when enjoying a pasta or pizza with basil and a tomato sauce try a light Italian red wine like Chianti that's served slightly chilled. This fresh and fruity wine will complement rather than overwhelm the scent and flavors of this hedonistic herb. More robust meat dishes with rosemary such as grilled or roasted lamb chops or steaks benefit from heartier Italian reds such as Super Tuscans or Chianti Classico Riserva.

Villa Girardi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC, 2005

"classic Amarone wine with very deep black-red color, aromatic nose of stewed dark fruits and candied red fruits and generous plum, cassis and chocolate flavors with a long sweet tannic finish"

Bollinger La Grande Anne, 1999

"traditionally fermented in oak this robust Champagne has lovely medium golden color with plentiful tiny bubbles, expressive nose of citrus, flowers and vanilla and lots of red fruit and toast flavors with a long complex finish"

Henri Bourgeois Sancerre Blanc Les Baronnes, 2008

"refreshing and aromatic Sauvignon Blanc with bright yellow color and floral citrus bouquet and full ripe fruit and mineral flavors with the typically crisp and refreshing Sancerre finish"

Charming Chocolate

All romantics that truly love to eat must have a special place in their hearts for chocolate. And I mean real chocolates that contain an abundance of phenylethylamine, the same chemical that is released in the brain when people fall in love, and serotonin, a feel-good stimulant that produces a feeling often referred to as love-buzz. On Valentine's day, savor a selection of quality chocolates with a romantic sweet wine. Mellow-flavored, slightly sweet chocolates beg for a relatively low-alcohol, lightly sparkling wine such as Moscato d'Asti from Piedmont Italy. The delicate bubbles gently rise in unison with emotions while the incredible honey and sweet fruit aromas and flavors from the Muscat grape heighten romantic senses. Two Moscato d'Asti producers I highly recommend are Michele Chiarlo and Prunotto. If you are experiencing hardcore dark chocolates with over 70 percent cocoa content, then a big, slightly sweet red wine such as Amarone makes a wonderful companion. The special process of making Amarone red wines from sun-dried grapes results in a super rich, concentrated and heady wine that tastes somewhat sweet. This makes the wine an ideal partner for high-cocoa content dark chocolates as the ripe fruit of the wine adds flavor dimensions to the chocolate and the sweet tannins of the wine cleanse your mouth making it desirous of another lovely bite of chocolate. It's also nice to know that Amarone wines come from the same region in Italy as the world's most famous lovers Romeo and Juliet.


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