Don’t look to me for dating advice, but I will happily suggest some wines for your Valentine’s Day celebration. It’s a special occasion - as special as you want it to be, at least - and wine can help set the mood for the evening. Best of all, a “special occasion” wine doesn’t have to be expensive - just delicious.
Your wine strategy for the evening needn’t be complicated. You have bigger priorities, after all. If there’s room for only one bottle on your menu, make it bubbly. Whether a true champagne, a crémant from France, an Italian prosecco, Spanish cava or a New World sparkler, bubbles create romance in a bottle. These wines are also very food friendly and can extend through the meal. Remember my mantra: “Bubbles go with everything.”
And if roses are part of the decorations, why not mirror them with a sparkling rosé? My splurge pick for this year is the Charles Orban Brut Rosé from Champagne. It costs $47, which is actually a great value for top-flight bubbly, especially as this is a “grower” champagne, meaning the winery uses only grapes from its own vineyards and controls production from vine to wine. This delicious rosé will reflect the glint in your eye as it entrances with flavors of strawberries, raspberries and spring flowers.
If your budget’s tight, cava is the way to go. I’m a fan of the Biutiful Brut Rosé, which I recommended last fall, as well as the 1+1=3 white and rosé, all widely available. (The 1+1=3 Brut was one of my Greatest Values of 2018.) I also really enjoy the Belle Jardin Blanc de Blanc from France - not champagne, but bright, tasty and best of all, affordable at a modest $15.
If your evening isn’t complete without a red wine, pinot noir is the answer. Its silky texture mellows the mood, and it also pairs well with a wide variety of foods. Burgundy is the gold standard, and with some judicious searching it is possible to find a great one at an affordable price. The Chateau de Santenay Hautes-Cotes de Beaune, at $26, was one of my favorite wines last year, a gorgeous single-vineyard wine at a very friendly price. I tend to gravitate toward Oregon pinot noir, where I have too many favorites to list. (But we can start with Brooks, Domaine Drouhin, Roserock and J. Christopher. Let me catch my breath and I can go on from there.) Santa Barbara offers some delicious pinots, including from J. Wilkes, Lucas & Lewellen and Cambria. And any pinot from Siduri is worth seeking out.
And then of course, dessert. Just as bubbles can get your dinner off to a great start, a fine dessert wine can set the mood for the rest of the evening. We tend to ignore wine with dessert, preferring instead to finish off whatever remains of the dinner wine. That makes a glass of sweet sherry, port or Madeira all the more special. These can pair nicely with elegant desserts such as custards, nut tarts or chocolate cake.
Late-bottled vintage port is a good, value-priced wine ($20 to $30) that pairs excellently with chocolate desserts. For a splurge, look for the outstanding 2016 vintage ports now reaching the market. Vintage port is big and intense, with strong tannins to help it age for decades. When it is young, however, vintage port offers explosive fruit. Aged tawny ports are great with custard-based desserts.
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Of course, you can always end with bubbles. Sweet champagnes, typically labeled demi-sec, are hard to find, but there’s a Valentine’s secret sleeping on your store’s Italy shelf. It’s called brachetto d’acqui, and hails from Piemonte, the home of Barolo in Italy’s northwest. Brachetto is a fizzy red with an alluring aroma of orange blossoms and raspberries, plus a sweetness and acidity that can match a chocolate dessert perfectly, especially if there is fruit or a fruit sauce involved. It’s also lighter in body and lower in alcohol than port or sherry.
If sparkling wine, pinot and dessert seems like a lot of wine - well, it is. But you don’t have to finish any bottle. Check out my pointers for keeping your leftover wine fresh, and keep your mind fresh for the rest of your Valentine’s evening.