“In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love” may be Tennyson’s most famous line, but his timing is suspect. For one thing, the British poet laureate came late to pitching woo, be-ing a ripe 27 before making cow eyes at his beloved and 41(!) by the time he married her. And in picking spring he was late in the calendar, too. Proposals limp along at some 6,000 a day in the U.S., then jump to 200,000-plus on V-Day itself. Now it’s that time again, so let’s broach the bubbly in glad salute.

But there are problems to solve (modishly known as issues to address). What bubbly? What to do, and not, if proposing? What about Relationship Issues?

As for which bubbly, I say almost any except Cham-pagne. Most Americans have it too seldom—when celebrating New Year’s Eve, say, and christening ocean liners—to develop a taste for it; they recoil from aggressive acidity. Unaccustomed to the stuff, many men will knock theirs back with a grimace and many women will simply ‘wear’ it, like a prop or an accessory, then abandon their seldom-sipped flutes unobtrusively, even furtively after the toasts. For both sexes, then, Champagne is often more of a gesture than a pleasure.

The solution is Italy’s gentler, sweeter, low-alcohol sparkling wines, which also happen to be quite inexpensive most of the time (often enough they’re under $10, one of the last times romance will comeJEIOlabel cheap). Prosecco, which comes from the Veneto, has become an American favorite in recent years. Asti or Asti Spumante), the best-known of Italy’s sparkling wines, comes from Piedmont, which also gives us (in far smaller quantities) Moscato d’Asti and Brachetto d’Acqui (a.k.a. Acqui). Leading names in Prosecco include Bisol (left)  and Mionetto, and there are many others. Generally, the least-expensive bottling of any given brand will do splendidly. As for Asti, a.k.a. Asti Spumante it’s still sweet but no longer the gooey, cloy-ing stuff of yore. Martini & Rossi and Cinzano are every-where; other notables include the like of Ceretto, Nando, Bosca Ver-di, Nino Franco, Villa Rosa, Elmo Pio,  Zardetto and Borgo Reale.

Moscato d’Asti is half as sparkly but twice as good. Its Durante Nose offers one of the great moments in the history of human nostrils, so do not, not, not use a flute, lest you stifle the fragrance. Generous, big- bowled, goblet-style glasses like the Italian coppa are required. A list of notable producers would in-clude Contratto, La Serra, Cascinetetta, Michele Chiarlo, Bosio, La Corte, ceretto_26Saracco, Castello del Pog-gio and Ceretto (again). But note that total output is very small, so you’ll be wise to grab almost any bot- tle that you are lucky enough to lay hands on.

Brachetto d’Acqui, red and relatively rare, is full of straw- berry aromas and tastes, and
I could swear that it’s just made for love and choco-late—dark chocolate especially. 

It too is from Piedmont, and it comes from a vine that is  Rosa_Regale_Bottle HRcantankerous, ungenerous of yield and rather picky  about growing sites. Small wonder it was nearly extinct only a few decades ago; equally small wonder that it was saved: Italians have a soft spot for desperate causes. And grazie tante for that, because the wine is a delight even if the vine it-self is a pain, or what used to be called a pill. You’re most likely to find Banfi’s Rosa Regale in its  dis-tinctive trumpet bottle (left) at retail; others in the market include Coppo, Marenco, Sant’Evasio and Rinaldi. Here too, limited production means taking what you can get when you can get it.

So, as the British say, there you are: the Sweet Swain of Valentine’s Day, ready to see which of you will be first to go weak in the knees. And pay no mind, by the way, to all those who cock a snook at sweet wines and the Thirsty Readers who love them. Sweet, sort-of-sweet and extremely sweet wines are produced in all wine-making countries and have been since Moses was a pup. Those who sneer at the “American taste” or “Coca-Cola palate” are snobs, mere and mean. They should be hunted for sport.

If, on the other hand, you are a Champagne devotee, see whether you can pass the test:

The PWP Champagne Challenge

One of these things is not like the other, one of these things is not the same . . . as they say and sing, all too often, on Sesame Street
 

josephperrierlprectperrier-jouet2oerrier waterimagesCA6OB0UM

OK, kids! The answer is Lower Right! That’s the label of Perrier water. Forget that. (The knockout red-head was supplied for sales appeal. Eventually it was realized that a better way to sell bottled water was with a combination of high prices and spurious health claims, especially if the product has to be shipped from somewhere obscure and ridiculously far away, like Fiji or New Zealand.)

And so, if you are what Jane Austen called with her radar-targeted perception, a single man in possession of a good fortune, knock yourself out. But if you flunked the test, then buy and bury yourself in a copy of Ed McCarthy’s Champagne for Dummies. And don’t kid yourself that you’ll be able to get up to speed by V-Day. It won’t happen, so you, like the Mets, must wait till next year.

So now that you’ve got the girl (you hope) and the ring (I hope), you must at last cause the twain to meet. Which is not so easy, the whole business being stressful. As a fretful colleague put it, “She could say no. Or she could say yes. Pretty scary either way.”

There’s a mania for proposals in extravaganza mode these days: swains sky-diving from airplanes, beaux proposing on the big screen in Times Square, dolts popping the question while driving the Zamboni machine out to center ice in a noisy arena filled with complete strangers. If that’s what you’re thinking of, I’m not talking to you. Ever.

No. You want a nice, pleasant and above all familiar place or ‘venue.’ Your usual restaurant should be fine—you’re regulars there and they know you; all will seem normal. There’s only one thing about this night that should be different from all other nights, so don’t tip your hand by booking some fancy new place. (Odds are she’ll know what’s coming anyway and has practiced for hours feigning surprise, shock and fly-me-to-the-moon, but she’ll play her role and you must play yours).

Order lightly—you may want to skip one course—but otherwise proceed as usual. You’ve ordered the wine ahead of time; have it brought with or in lieu of dessert, and make your move. Hands across the table is fine, but if you want to take a knee be sure you first scope the aisle for, say, incoming busboys. It’s pie-easy, and she’ll love you for it.

There’s just one really important DON’T here: Don’t slip the ring into her glass. At best she’ll have a wet, sticky ring that’ll have to be washed before wearing. At worst—well, there’s nothing remotely romantic about a bride-to-be being doubled over and Heimliched in a crowded restaurant.

And if you think you can save the situation with a lighthearted ’One day we’ll look back on this and laugh,’ think again.

© 2011 Bill Marsano