Perhaps it is my advancing age, but while Valentine’s Day turns many people’s thoughts to love, mine turn to wine. Of course, my thoughts turn to wine a fair part of the time, and love and wine have a great deal in common. As Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “Wine is bottled poetry,” so Valentine’s Day gives me the opportunity to indulge in poetry of a sort, and to recommend some wines for your Valentine’s celebration.
Let’s start with dessert, because the confectionary industry has conned us into associating Valentine’s Day with chocolate. True, chocolate contains compounds that are closely related to those our bodies naturally produce when we feel the euphoria of love. I’ve never been given to trying to offset heartbreak with an increased chocolate intake, but maybe that’s because I take in a lot of chocolate anyway. The problem for the wine lover on Valentine’s Day is that the bitter tannins that give structure to many wines (oaky whites and nearly all reds) clash with the bitter elements found in chocolate – the darker the chocolate the harder it is to pair with wine. And besides, why would you want to? I’d rather have them separately and prolong my pleasure, but if you want to put wine with chocolate, here are a couple of tips: be sure the wine is sweeter than the chocolate, and choose a wine that has what are called “soft tannins.” Since that seems pretty complicated, let me offer a ready-made pairing for you:
David Lebovitz’s devastatingly delicious Chocolate Orbit Cake goes beautifully with a bottle of Late Bottled Vintage Port (David’s “cake” is shockingly easy to make; you’ll find the story of its creation and the recipe here). Late Bottled Vintage or LBV, is pre-aged Port, deep garnet in color, a little bit sweet and outrageously fruity. Perfectly balanced, it not only holds its own with dark chocolate, it enhances it. There are many producers of LBV Port; those most consistently pleasing to my palate are made by Quinta do Crasto, Grahams, Dow’s, Sandeman and Ramos Pinto. LBV Ports are aged at least six years by the producer and come with a vintage date, but since they are only made in good years, that vintage date isn’t as important as with other wines. I’d venture that any LBV from the brands mentioned above will be excellent, it won’t have sediment and if you don’t drink it all in one meal, it will easily keep for a couple of days – just put the cork back in and keep it cool. Best of all, you can usually get a full bottle of this sublime wine for $30 or less.
While most folks seem to think of a Valentine’s dinner as a meal for two, I’ve always thought love, like wine, should be shared with our friends, so I enjoy getting a group together. I’m in a minority here, so one Valentine’s wine tip is this: think small. If you are going out to dinner with your special someone, go to a restaurant with a good list of wines by the glass so you can have two or three wines with your dinner (bubbles to start, a nice white with the appetizer, a different white or a red with a main course) without having to open three full bottles. Where to find such a restaurant? Easy – pick one of the restaurants where the wine list is managed by one of the sommeliers who judged our recent Best in Glass Wine Challenge. You can download the list of medal winning wines here, and you’ll find the sommeliers and their restaurants listed here. All of these restaurants have excellent options by the glass, and good food as well.
If you are dining at home, cooking for someone new in your life or making a special dinner with someone with whom you’ve shared this day before, look over the list of wines that won gold and silver medals at Best in Glass – they are reasonably priced, retailing between $10-$30.
Rosé has an undeniable visual appeal for Valentine’s Day and you’ll find several there. I particularly like the Syrah-based rosé from Chile called Montes Cherub, and there is a beautiful rosé from the South of France called Whispering Angel that just oozes romance, not to mention the sort of flavors that pair beautifully with everything from tuna tartare to Mediterranean tapas.
Bubbles are never out of place at a Valentine’s dinner and while Champagne is the classic sparkler, you might consider something a bit different this year. At Best in Glass, a perennial winner is the sparkling wine (either white or rosé) from Sonoma’s J Vineyards, and I absolutely adore the sparkling wines from Franciacorta. This is a wine region in Northern Italy that is only beginning to get a degree of well-deserved visibility in the U.S. market. I recently led a seminar on Franciacorta in Miami (I’ll give the details in my next blog post) and was dazzled by the quality of all 11 wines featured. If I could only choose one for Valentine’s Day, look for the fruity, elegant and reasonably priced rosé Franciacorta from Contadi-Castaldi (I bought a bottle last week at a local wine shop for $20).
The bottom line for wine and Valentine’s Day is this: just as you hope to spend the evening with someone you care about, be it friend or lover or, if you are particularly fortunate, someone who is both, choose a wine you love as well. Don’t worry too much about making the perfect pairing – wine is about passion, and sharing a wine you love with another is both giving and receiving a great gift.
Having opened with one quote, I’ll close with another. I never forget the comment of actress Sophia Bush, who said, “Life is too short and I’m Italian. I’d rather eat pasta and drink wine than be a size 0.”