Vintage Seduction

by CHRISTINA KELLY & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & couple recently walked into a Seattle wine merchant with a dilemma faced by many partners: the husband liked red wine and his wife preferred white.

The affable wine merchant listened as the wife described how hard she tried to like her husband's cabernet sauvignon, but it had "too much of a bite," she said, and was "too puckery" for her taste. She also thought his red wine contained too many sulfites, causing her to suffer headaches as a result. Having heard about red wine's health benefits, however, she diluted her husband's cabernet with water in order to drink it.

Puzzled, the wine merchant asked what she liked about white wines, and then recommended she try a lighter, less tannic and more fruity red wine such as a light pinot noir or a Beaujolais-style wine.

"It was just a matter of finding an entry for her -- something they could both enjoy," says the merchant. "You have to find out what they enjoy about wine before making any recommendations."

It can be an expensive source of frustration when partners have to open two bottles of wine to satisfy both preferences. A better solution is to find a "bridge wine" to achieve harmony. But for the person totally consumed by red wine, is there a white wine with a come-hither appeal? Can a dedicated white wine drinker slide on over to the dark side? With spring in the air, can wine-preference seduction be far behind?

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & M & lt;/span & ixed couples -- where one partner prefers red wine and the other favors white -- are a challenge for wine retailers simply because each corner seems to hold such strong opinions, and experiences often generate feelings about wine. (Remember the first time you sipped cheap sparkling wine at a wedding and vowed the next day to never let it cross your lips again?) To find a compromise, the retailer slides into the psychologist's chair, trying to find out what each partner likes and doesn't like.

For some wine drinkers, preference involves the mouth feel and weight of the wine. Surprisingly, some preferences are based on notions that red wine is masculine while white is feminine. Some men will not order a glass of white wine -- it is as foreign to them as wearing a bright pink cashmere sweater.

White wine drinkers tend toward a bit of underdog scrappiness, mostly due to the fact that red wine drinkers outnumber them. "Here's the thing," says a friend who prefers white wine. "It is never a white wine drinker trying to get a red to convert. It is always the red wine drinker trying to improve the life of us uneducated white wine consumers."

Partisans of each color tend to find specific faults with their partner's wine choice, even when the complaints are based on misconceptions rather than fact. Most red wine drinkers have a long list of complaints against white wine -- too sweet, too acidic, too light or too trendy. Many white wines are meant to be consumed young, which fuels the notion that they are more fun and less serious than red wines. Many red wine enthusiasts believe white wine lacks character, yet some Oregon and Washington chardonnays have as much character and weight as a red wine.

On the other hand, many white wine-only consumers find red wines too astringent. Others may complain about the tannins in red wines, the bitterness, the overwhelming flavors and the headaches. While wine retailers don't dismiss sensitivity to sulfites or sulfur dioxide (a preservative used to keep wine from spoiling), they also acknowledge that white wines generally have more sulfites than reds.

Most wine experts believe there are other factors involved in complaints of sulfites in red wine, such as the wine's histamine content. Or the reaction could stem from drinking less expensive, heavily processed, boozy red wines. The key is to steer white wine lovers to a red wine that behaves more like the wines they like.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & O & lt;/span & ne suggestion in this case is gamay noir, a versatile red variety best known for its role in Beaujolais. Although gamay contains sulfites, many smaller producers tend to use fewer sulfites in processing the wine. Gamay is lighter and can be served cool, which appeals to white wine lovers, and it has acidity but not so much that red wine drinkers are turned off by it. Preston Cellars in Pasco offers a Gamay Noir Ros & eacute;, but most of the gamay wines in the Northwest are produced in Oregon (by Brickhouse and Amity to name two).

The bridge leading white wine drinkers to red used to be merlot: say, a less tannic, well-blended Washington state merlot (like Barrister and Grande Ronde from Spokane). Now retailers also suggest a light to mid-weight pinot noir, on its trendy high since the movie, Sideways. For the most part, pinot noir is low in tannins, has pretty fruit and changes nuances in the mouth as it embraces many types of food.

When it comes to the wine color divide, the art of seduction can start with the stomach. The synergy created with a great food-and-wine pairing can go a long way toward charming your partner into a new mind-set about wine. Food may be the greatest ally in getting someone to switch or at least try different wine varieties. For instance, if you serve a plate of oysters on the half shell, a muscadet's citrusy and briny flavors with hints of minerality make for a classic pairing that can be irresistible, even to the avid cabernet sauvignon drinker. Duck breasts served with a silky, smooth Oregon pinot noir can be a temptation for the chardonnay-only quaffer.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & o change a wine lover's preference, wine experts suggest that couples recall the first time wine played a part in their lives -- a romantic dinner, a picnic or an event -- and remember why it was a good experience. If you can re-create a happy memory, you can have a surefire hit to repeat. The bottom line is to keep an open mind and enjoy the pleasure of wine and food together, but make sure to enjoy the most important ingredient -- each other.