With Valentine’s Day coming up this weekend, I’m getting inquiries from people, especially new wine lovers, about what to drink for the day of romance. Wine and Valentine’s Day just seem to go together – even people without a strong interest in wine much of the year want a bottle of something appropriate on their Valentine’s Day table. But what? Champagne seems to be the default, but let’s pause for a moment and consider what is often on that Valentine’s table.
Meals for Cupid’s favorite day tend to skew toward foods considered aphrodisiacs, like oysters (high in zinc and with amino acids that trigger production of sex hormones), avocados (the pear shape may have started this theory, but researchers say the high vitamin E content does keep us healthy and vigorous), chili peppers (they produce endorphins that mimic arousal) and chocolate (the texture alone does it for me, but chocolate also produces dopamine inducing feelings of pleasure). None of these ingredients is particularly wine-friendly, but should any of them be on your table, here are some thoughts for wine pairings:
Spicy food can be an opportunity for delicious wine
(Photo: Lyn Farmer)
Port is the perfect match for chocolate
(Photo: Lyn Farmer)
Oysters: skip Champagne and bring on an unoaked white wine like sauvignon blanc or Chablis, one of the purest iterations of chardonnay. You don’t want an oaky or tannic wine because it will make the oysters taste bitter. I love the way the salinity of oysters pairs with Chablis and emphasizes its fruitiness.
Chili Peppers: anything with chili heat is going to emphasize alcohol in wine, so go with a wine relatively low in alcohol and with a hint of sweetness because that also compliments the pepper heat. I love a good German riesling with spicy food.
Avocado: this is a tough match because we don’t often eat avocado alone. I like avocado with shrimp and a light vinaigrette or ceviche style. Here’s where you could have a good sparkling wine with crisp acidity, like a blanc de blancs Champagne, or better still, either the riesling from the oysters or grüner veltliner, an Austrian wine that is very much like riesling. Just keep the acidity of your dressing in check – if you are making ceviche, temper the lime or lemon with some lower-acid orange or tangerine juice.
Chocolate: I love chocolate but it is really tough on wine. Chocolate is bitter or hopelessly sweet, neither of which is helpful to wine. But do not despair, there are some possibilities that are gorgeous. At a wine class last week, I paired a chunk of dark chocolate with an “LBV,” which stands for Late Bottled Vintage, a style of port wine that requires no additional aging. It has more alcohol than a table wine and is much sweeter and bursting with flavor. Paired with the chocolate, it tasted like a candy from my youth, a chocolate covered cherry. It was magnificent, and wonderfully simple. If you are looking to pair milk chocolate (or a mousse) rather than dark chocolate, try a tawny port, another similar wine but with a nutty character that goes very well with sweeter milk chocolate (or caramel, or figs, another reputed aphrodisiac).
The rule with desserts is that the wine must be sweeter than the dessert, and port invariably meets that requirement. Another option is Cognac, a spirit made from grapes that has beautiful aroma and texture and enough flavor to be a wonderful match with chocolate.
I realize all my suggestions are for white wines (except the port.) Sadly, aphrodisiacs seem to favor white wine but that doesn’t mean you have to forego the red. Go ahead, have a steak with a syrah or cab for the main course while you are waiting for your aphrodisiac appetizer to kick in, or until you serve your chocolate dessert? If you love it, go for it.