When I think about Céline Dion, which is not often, I do not think about that song from Titanic or the mansion in Florida. I think about wine. Years ago, my travels took me to the northern Rhône Valley, where, late one evening, I settled into a nondescript bar in Tain-l'Hermitage in the shadow of the legendary granite hill that produces some of the best syrah on the planet. The friendly barkeep inquired as to the source of my English accent. When I responded, she yelped, "Canada!" With that one word she reached into her till for a coin and scurried over to the vintage jukebox. Out poured a sound that haunts me still, The Power of Love, at full volume.
I stifled a cringe. Then the group of locals with whom I'd been carousing broke into a raucous wine-fueled chorus worthy of Verdi. Ouch. What was a blushing Canadian to do in such a circumstance? I drowned my shame with another glass of syrah.
Perhaps you'll want to seize the power of love this Valentine's Day with a glass of wine. I have a few suggestions, one of which happens to involve the great Canadian chanteuse. The mere mention of Céline Dion Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine – yes, it's a thing – will no doubt elicit chuckles from some quarters. But while the dessert elixir is packed with seductive sugar, it's neither saccharine in the figurative sense nor cloying. In fact, it's well-made, complex and balanced with cleansing acidity.
The Valentine-pink treat is made not in the cellars of Caesars Palace, fortunately, but in Niagara by Diamond Estates, perhaps best known for producing another brand associated with another famous Canadian, Dan Aykroyd. It's not Dion's first kick at the wine barrel. Last year she partnered with Australian producer Kilikanoon to develop a line of wines for the Aussie market that included a Barossa shiraz. That first red sold out faster than front-row seats to a Dion show.
For what it's worth, there's a good purpose behind the brand. All her wine royalties go to the Céline Dion Foundation, which employs a volunteer staff and supports a variety of charities, notably some that assist sick and underprivileged children. Chateau Diva this is not. Though, at $74.95 a half bottle, you may need a performing stint at Caesars to afford it.
Vincent Couche Sensation Champagne 1997 (France)
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $67.95
The label is novel and minimalist for hoity-toity Champagne, with cursive script spelling out "Sensation 1997" and a short foil that barely covers the cork. The wine is anything but simple. Made by an independent vintner, it's a good example of how fine, vintage-dated Champagne can gain complexity with age, in this case 16 years. The first impression is of dry fino Sherry, on the nose as well as palate, with stewed peach, honey, dried apricot and toast close behind. Available in Ontario.
Céline Dion Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine 2013 (Niagara)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $74.95/375 ml
Pretty in pink, this sweet dessert wine is silky, showing notes of strawberry jam and baked apple, supported by fresh acidity for good balance. Let the diva ribbing begin. Malheureusement, available only in Ontario.
Monzio Compagnoni Brut Franciacorta 2009 (Italy)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $26.95
Sparkling wine from Italy typically means Prosecco or sweet, industrial Asti. This is neither. There's a district in the north, Franciacorta, that specializes in high-end Champagne-style bubblies refermented in bottle. Blended not from the glera grape of Prosecco but from Champagne's superior chardonnay and pinot noir varieties, it's got a pastry-shop nose of cannoli and brioche. The palate follows through with the same, joined by peaches and cream, bruised pear, cold butter and flowers. The finish is toasted baguette. Available in Ontario.
Huff Cuvée Janine Sparkling Rosé (Prince Edward County)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $29.95
Candy-apple red, this is fruity stuff, with a big essence of cherry and raspberry enhanced by tart acidity, a hint of Provencal herbs and lively effervescence. www.huffestates.com.
Chandon Rosé Sparkling (California)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $33.95
Sexy colour, all light peachy-pink. The nose is doughy, evidence of cellaring in contact with the wine's spent yeast – always a treat with sparkling wine aged in bottle. Bone-dry, the bubbly shows a combination of fresh green– and baked-apple flavours along with succulent cherry, lifted by medium-lively froth and tangy edge. Various prices in Alta., $33.25 in Que.
Poulet et Fils Crémant de Die Brut (France)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $17.95
Champagne is not a rarity, but this sparkling wine is indeed. It hails from a place known mainly for still red, the Rhône Valley in southeastern France. Like other crémants produced around France, it's made according to the basic Champagne method, fermented a second time in bottle to produce bubbles. Very dry yet with a suggestively sweet core of lemon drop, it delivers frothy effervescence and razor-crisp acidity, which frame notes of pear and red apple. Good mid-palate depth and long finish. I like the wine and I like the label, with its psychedelic hen (or is that a rooster?) with flowers in its face and polka dots in its tail. Ah, wait, "Poulet" – must be a chicken after all. Available in Ontario.
Nino Franco Brut Prosecco (Italy)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $19.95
Bone-dry and chalky, Nino Franco's basic brut offers up fresh pear and green apple laced with a mineral essence and creamy effervescence – an orchard growing in a Carrara marble quarry. Various prices in Alta., $21.50 in Que.
Domaine Pinnacle Ice Cider 2012 (Quebec)
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $24.95/375 ml
Better than the best apple pie you've tasted (except your mother's). Better because one modest glass carries only about half the calories of a pie slice. Plus, no baking required. Sweet and rich and long in the crisp finish, this golden, honeyed nectar, with well-tuned acidity, was pressed from frozen apples, riffing on the technique used to produce Canada's famed icewine. $29.99 in B.C., various prices in Alta., $29.95 in Man., $25 in Que.
Published by HarperCollins, The Flavour Principle by Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol took home top prize for best general English cookbook at the Taste Canada Food Writing Awards.