A lonely-hearts columnist, I’m not. But wine is a romantic drink that can help set the mood for a special occasion, especially on Valentine’s Day. So here’s some wine advice for romantics preparing a special dinner for loved ones this week. The actual romance is up to you.
Look for romantic wine names. Okay sure, that is a bit hokey and subject to the excesses of the marketing department. But a wine name that suggests romance shows that you at least put a little thought into your selection. And many of these wines are actually good and will save you some coin for the Valentine’s gift.
To start the evening on a festive note, you can’t go wrong with bubbles. “Champagne” is probably the most romantic word in wine, but there are alternatives that fit the Valentine’s mood. One is the La Vie en Rose sparkling wine from Domaine du Pas Saint Martin in France’s Loire Valley ($17). It costs a fraction of the price of true champagne, yet provides atmosphere with its vibrant red color. Geek alert: It’s made using the “methode ancestrale,” with a single fermentation rather than the induced second (bubbly) fermentation used to make champagne and most other sparkling wines. It is also made from an obscure grape called grolleau noir, so wine lovers can quietly cross another variety off their century list when their dates aren’t looking.
The Beaujolais cru called Saint Amour probably enjoys higher sales in February than in any other month. Look for the bottling from Georges Duboeuf ($16); it’s pleasant, fruity and food-friendly. After all, you want the wine to facilitate, not dominate, your evening. White wine lovers should consider the Hugel pinot blanc called Cuvee les Amours from Alsace. Its richness makes it an ideal partner for winter seafood dishes.
Of course, in any Valentine’s Day meal, dessert is the piece de resistance, the mood-setter for the rest of the evening. If you’re indulging with a rich chocolate dessert, I recommend two approaches with wine: First, port matches chocolate’s intensity with power. A late-bottled vintage port or a good tawny, such as the Burmester Jockey Club Reserve ($26), will do nicely.
The second approach is to balance chocolate’s richness with a lighter, fruitier wine. Three years ago, I recommended brachetto and other sweet, fizzy, low-alcohol reds from northern Italy as ideal playmates for chocolate.
Now this category seems poised to become the next fad, capitalizing on the meteoric rise in sales of moscato. Even Yellow Tail, the popular Australian label, last month introduced Sweet Red Roo ($7), citing a 246 percent increase in U.S. sales of sweet wine last year.
Unless you’re courting an animal-rights activist, you might not want to go with a critter wine for Valentine’s Day. So I suggest sticking with a brachetto, such as the widely available Rosa Regale from Banfi ($25) or La Romantica from Vinchio-Vaglio Serra ($24). This winery has a cheaper, lighter version called La Passione. The category is growing: Red Dream from Rinaldi ($23) is made from the malvasia grape and is somewhat richer and sweeter than brachetto. Another popular malvasia is the delightful Fracchia Antichi Giochi Casorzo called Voulet ($14). If that doesn’t sound particularly romantic, it does in Italian.
One final piece of advice: Avoid other marketing-driven wine names such as Portly Gentleman, Old Fart, French Maid, Mommy’s Time Out, Little Black Dress, Seduction, Promiscuity or Sex — unless, of course, you intend to send an unconventional Valentine’s Day message.