Pick a Valentine's Day wine that's as romantic as your mood
Don't judge a book by its cover or a wine by its label. Except when it makes perfect sense to do just that -- such as on Valentine's Day. The wine itself must be good, of course, or the value of the label will be lost. But the right wine name can help brighten the mood even before the first sip.
Bubbles set the stage for any celebration, of course. Why not toast your loved one with a Spanish cava called Biutiful? The brut bottling is delicious, and features 20% chardonnay in the blend, giving the wine more richness than the traditional Spanish grapes usually do. This wine has excellent distribution and availability, and at $14, it won't stretch your budget. Biutiful also makes a nice rosé. If you're celebrating a long-lasting relationship, try a pink bubbly called Tradition, from South Africa's Villiera winery. This one is harder to find, but at $26 it's worth seeking out for its champagne-like complexity. And rosé, because, well, roses.
Hopeless romantics can dial up Dean Martin on Spotify and twist the screw top off a bottle of Amore Assoluto, a juicy, delightful Italian red wine from Italy's north, near Venice, with a shiny red heart dominating the label. At $13, it's cheaper than a ticket on Alitalia.
Fans of Beaujolais should look for wines from Saint-Amour, the northernmost cru appellation in that region. While seasonally appropriate, these are unfortunately hard to find because the village is tiny and the wines are not as sought after as those from other Beaujolais villages. The bottling from Georges Duboeuf, who recently passed away, is probably the easiest to find. Bordeaux lovers with deep pockets know to look for Calon-Segur, one of the leading chateaus in the St. Estèphe appellation, which sports a heart on its label. And Alsace's Hugel winery makes a pinot blanc called Cuvée les Amours.
And if you're really not into Valentine's Day, there's always the Prisoner.
Your retailer can point you to other wines that -- however tangentially -- have a Valentine's Day theme or reference in their name or label. Here are some other considerations to keep in mind while planning your wine list:
Pinot noir seems to make people relax and savor the good life, and with the right lighting, the wine seems to suspend a gem in your glass. Roserock from Drouhin, Oregon, is exceptional and, well, roses. Bordeaux grapes, such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec and petit verdot, seem more cerebral. Old World syrah, nebbiolo and sangiovese are earthy rewards for a good day's work, while their New World versions suggest a cozy, pampering bed-and-breakfast escape.
You can always skip wine for dessert, or finish what you had with your main course. But remember: Bottles do not have to be finished the night they are opened. And this is a special occasion, after all.
For pairing with most chocolate desserts, I love late-bottled vintage port. These usually cost about $20 to $30, providing excellent value. Port lovers may want to splurge on a top-of-the-line vintage port from either 2016 or 2017, a rare back-to-back of outstanding vintages.
A caveat: These young vintage ports will be massive and powerful, so decant them an hour or two before dinner and pair with a rich dessert. Or splurge on a bottle now and tuck it away to enjoy in 20 years when celebrating an anniversary or entertaining a distant memory of Valentine's Day past.
For a lighter finish, try moscato d'Asti, the classic inspiration for the sweet moscatos that were trendy several years ago. A good moscato d'Asti should set you back only about $25 or less. It will give you a great balance of acidity and sweetness, with palate-cleansing bubbles and low alcohol. And don't rule it out with dark chocolate.
Another excellent dessert option -- one I've recommended several Februaries now -- is brachetto, the fizzy, slightly sweet red from northern Italy. You'll want to ask your retailer to point one out to you, probably in a low-traffic corner of the store, but these can be delightful codas to your romantic meal.