Valentine's Day is looming just ahead, representing one of the busiest restaurant days of the year and a day of much wine consumption.

When I think of the combination of wine and romance my mind immediately wanders over to France, the proverbial capitol of both. It is France that wine and love seem to blend into one continuous song of passion. Ahh Paris.

Ah, but I digress.

When it comes to wine and romance there is simply no debating that France is the center of the universe. While the French may not be known prolific warriors, or cooperative allies, they clearly have the edge in the arena of love.

On top of that, France is the undisputed granddaddy of them all when it comes to wine. And so on this occasion, and in consideration of these details, we really must acknowledge the superiority (my goodness, did I really use that word) of the French.

So, which French wines are most romantic? Champagne - by all means, but I think a bit too obvious. Bordeaux? Perhaps, but while the wines of Bordeaux are considered by many to be the world's finest, they are also very masculine in nature, expressing great power and anger.

No, to me one French region that produces some of the most expressive and romantic wines is the Rhne.

So we begin with a focus on the Rhne region, known primarily for two hearty red grapes Syrah and Grenache.

The Rhne wine region is located in Southern France in the Rhne River Valley, producing numerous wines under various Appellation d'origine contrle (AOC) designations. The region is generally divided into two sub-regions with distinct viticultural traditions the Northern Rhne (referred to in French as Rhne septentrienal) and the Southern Rhne (in French Rhne mridional).

The northern sub-region produces red wines from the Syrah grape. Syrah is the only red variety permitted in this sub-region. The grape, which is believed to have originated in or close to the Rhne region, is also widely known as Shiraz, its name in Australia, and has recently become very popular with consumers around the world. However, Shiraz and French Syrah are very different in character.

For wines bearing the Cornas AOC designation, Syrah must be used exclusively, whereas other reds from the northern Rhne sub-region may be blended with white wine grapes. A list of premier red wines with appellations contained within the Northern Rhne region would include:

Cte-Rtie - Syrah and up to 20 percent Viognier
Saint-Joseph - Syrah and up to percent Marsanne and Roussanne
Crozes-Hermitage - Syrah and up to 15 percent Marsanne and Roussanne
Hermitage - Syrah and up to 15 percent Marsanne and Roussanne
Cornas - Syrah only

All of these appellations offer a spectacular array of flavors and characteristics that grab you by the neck and demand your attention. Most are garnet in color with aromas of sage, lavender, rosemary and fresh cassis. On the palate the wines are equally explosive with a juicy core of cassis riddled with granite minerality.

You can expect perfect balance and texture with tannins that don't grip so much as caress. See? Very romantic.
Most of these appellations tend to be more than a little pricey. But if your objective is to enjoy a truly great wine experience and hang the expense travel down this path.

The southern Rhne sub-region has a more Mediterranean climate with milder winters and hot summers. Drought can be a problem in the area, but limited irrigation is permitted. The differing terroir, together with the rugged landscape, produce micro-climates which give rise to a wide diversity of wines.

A feature of the cultivation of the region is the use of large pebbles around the bases of the vines to absorb the heat of the sun during the day to keep the vines warm at night when, due to the cloudless skies, there is often a significant drop in temperature.

The southern Rhne's most famous red wine is Chateauneuf-du-Pape (literally home of the Pope, a long story for another time). It is a blend containing up to 13 varieties of wine grapes, both red and white. Depending on the specific AOC rules, grapes blended into southern Rhne reds may include Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan and Cinsault.

The reds from the left bank are full-bodied, rich in tannins while young and characterized by their aromas of prune, undergrowth, chocolate and ripe black fruit. The right bank reds are slightly lighter and fruitier.

A list of superb red wines with appellations contained within the Southern Rhne region would include Ctes du Rhne , Gigondas, Beaumes de Venise and Tavel, just to name a few.

While some of these wines are also far from cheap (Chteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas come to mind) many of the Ctes du Rhne appellations represent some of the world's greatest wine values.

Rhne wines pair very well with entrees of beef and especially lamb. If you create a sauce with an earthy, mushroomy character, match it up with a big, bold Rhne.

Complement your Valentine's Day with wine from one of the world's most distinct regions.

Bob Monica is general manager of The Conference Center at NorthPointe and former owner of the Wine Shoppe Bistro in Dublin.