With Valentine's Day rapidly approaching, the pressure is on for many couples to make a memorable celebration with gifts and sweet gestures that show your partner how much you love them. As a Master Sommelier at The Capital Grille restaurant group, I've seen my share of Valentine's dates at our restaurants and I thought this year, I'd help couples around the country make Valentine's a little extra special with some great wine and food pairing advice that would hopefully take some of the stress out of the romantic night.
There is no magic wine that does it for everyone, as tastes vary. Find out what type of wine your special someone likes -- then research and find the best of that type. Come armed to impress with the story of why the wine is the best of its type so you can wow your loved one with how much you know as you drink it. Nothing says romance like I care enough to get you the best. Few suggestions (across price points) are below:
If they love red, my faves are:
LOW ON DOUGH: Juan Gil Monastrell -- there is no other red wine as flavorful for less than $20 and it pairs amazingly well with a Filet.
IN THE MIDDLE: De Toren Z $40 -- Merlot/Cab blend at a world class flavor level. Partial to a Delmonico? The plush yet strong tannins here will match perfectly with the marbled richness of the steak.
IN THE MOOD TO SPLURGE: Lewis Cellars 2007 Reserve Cabernet -- can run $175+ depending upon market. Is there anything more American than a dry aged New York strip sirloin? Have this great American Cabernet with the great American steak.
For white wine fans, check out:
LOW ON DOUGH: Santa Julia Pinot Grigio $10 -- Bright crisp and aromatic from Argentina, what 95% of all Italian Pinot Grigios wish they were. Ideal crispness to match up with appetizers such as calamari.
IN THE MIDDLE: Chehalem INOX Chardonnay $22 -- No oak obscures the apple and pear fragrance of this hip Chardonnay. Perfect with salmon or tuna.
IN THE MOOD TO SPLURGE: Far Niente Chardonnay $80 -- Powerful Chardonnay, pretty romantic label. Ideal with lobster or white fish (especially in a cream or beurre blanc sauce) to make a most decadent pairing for the night.
Don't feel like going through too much trouble? Cozy up at home and open a bottle of red Zinfandel. Red Zin, which incidentally has the highest level of alcohol of all wines, can be a fun addition to most home cooked meals.
LOW ON DOUGH: Ravenswood Vintner's Blend $10ish -- nobody else does natural fermentation on wine at this price point...it is just an excellent wine for the price.
IN THE MIDDLE: Mauritson Dry Creek Zinfandel $30 -- small maker...big taste.
IN THE MOOD TO SPLURGE: Ravenswood Belloni Zinfandel $45 -- old vines make better wine and this comes from a 110 year old vineyard. Simply one of America's great wines!
You can't go wrong with this gesture. Pair a dessert level Riesling and a Saga Blue or another creamy blue cheese (room temperature). There is something about salty rich cheese and sweet but crisp Riesling that is just magical!
Look for a chilled German Riesling of Auslese or higher quality level (for background, German wines are graded by sweetness at harvest -- Auslese, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese -- all funny sounding words that basically mean sweet, real sweet and extra super sweet). These are rich and amazing because as the Riesling gets sweeter, the acid remains, allowing you to want to drink more.
LOW ON DOUGH: Pick up a bottle of Moscato such as Martin & Weyrich ($12), a Moscoto di Asti like Sarraco ($15) or try Jorge Ordonez "Victoria" Muscatel ($35).
IN THE MOOD TO SPLURGE: Ask your favorite wine shop what they have in Auslese or Beerenauslese in stock. If they have a 2006 -- it is worth every cent you pay as 2006 is the finest sweet wine vintage since 1976. Half bottles can range from $50 to $350 per bottle depending upon maker.
Complement with some freshly sliced crusty bread and good mood music for a blissful night.
What better way to celebrate Valentine's Day than with Champagne or sparkling wine? They are the classic selections for celebrations and there are so many available for every price range (and origin) that it is a buyer's market.
LOW ON DOUGH: I look to Spain for Cava when I am looking for a "bang for the buck!" While the grape varieties may not be as widely known, many bear more than a passing resemblance to Champagne -- at a fraction of the price. We love Marques de Gelida but there are also more familiar names out there like Freixenet and Segura Viudas. Most cost in the $10 range.
IN THE MIDDLE: There are so many great American Sparkling wines that it is hard to list all of them. Most run in the $20+ range and are more fruit driven than their European counterparts. We love Roederer Estate, Mumm Napa, Schramsberg and Domaine Carneros.
IN THE MOOD TO SPLURGE: Nothing says I love you like Champagne. But we like the road less traveled and drinking something truly special and out of the ordinary (anyone can order famous Champagne). Do your homework and find one of the great, small grower Champagnes that are now readily available. What is a small grower Champagne? These are generally family owned Champagne house with small output that control every step of making of the Champagne. They own the land, crush the grapes, blend, bottle, re-ferment and finish the Champagne. These Champagnes are all about personal statement and the flavor of the land. Drinking one is as special as Valentine's Day itself -- discover one and make it an annual tradition for you and your loved one. Try Chartogne-Taillet, Gimonnet or Pierre Peters as they will all rock your worlds. $45-$200 depending upon your pocketbook.
I don't buy into that Cabernet with chocolate thing. Chocolate is dessert and deserves a great dessert wine. So, in a twist on this "urban legend," what do you pair with the sweet and bitter taste of chocolate? BANYULS!
Banyuls is a small growing area on the Mediterranean coast of the South of France (you can almost throw a rock westward and hit Spain). Here they take the Grenache grape and "vinify" it in a similar way to port. I do not know if it is the Grenache grape or the earth in which it is grown in (or some combination of both), but something happens here that makes the wine go perfectly with chocolate. Search it out to take your box of chocolates gift up a notch -- those with a sweet tooth will love the combination.
IN THE MIDDLE: Clos de Paulilles $30 -- tasty and relatively easy to find.
IN THE MOOD TO SPLURGE: Domaine du Mas Blanc $50 -- worth the search for your chocolate lover...it will help move heaven and earth.
*Both are half bottle sizes
What is it about Rose wine and how it makes one feel romantic? Personally, on Valentine's Day, I can't go still Rose wine, I have to go Rose sparkling and I like to go big.
IN THE MIDDLE: Roederer Estate Rose -- American fruit, French Structure...$30
IN THE MOOD TO SPLURGE: Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rose -- THE ultimate Rose wine in the world... priced at a precious $350 but worth the expense once a year!
People usually give sweets, flowers or cards to loved ones for Valentine's Day. This year, don't bother with roses -- play into the mood and gift a good bottle of themed wine that will you can both appreciate:
Saint Amour is a growing area in Beaujolais, France using the Gamay grape. It makes medium weight reds that are perfect for an intimate romantic evening. Stick with George DuBoef Saint Amour St Valent -- he bottles several different wines from this appellation and the 2009 vintage was wonderful (will run you $15-$20). And yes, it has a red rose on the label.
If money isn't an object, go for the Amoureuses vineyard in Chambolle Musigny in France. While significantly more expensive (ranging from $125 to $400), they are truly magnificent. Stick to great producers like George Roumier, Comte Vogue and Alex Gambal. If you can find the 2005, all the better, but the 2006s and 2007s are fine as well. You may have to make a special trip to your local wine shop to locate these but the effort won't go unrewarded.