It is definitely not cliché to celebrate with your loved one by popping the cork on a bottle of wine during a special dinner, and when Valentine’s Day is the occasion, well, if you are observing the amatory holiday this year, I recommend a three-course meal — I’ll leave the courses up to you, but do make sure chocolate of some sort is featured in the dessert — that begins with sparkling wine and ends with a sip or two of something special.
You’ve set the stage with flowers on the table, china and cutlery artfully arranged, and your best tablecloth and napkins at hand, not to mention candles. Your menu is finalized (oysters and/or caviar in the mix?), and the evening promises romance. Let me take care of the wines. And before I offer my recommendations, a tip: set your table with eight wine glasses — four for you, and four for your Valentine — and serve the sparkling wine in a stem with a round bowl, the better to appreciate its bouquet.
We’ll begin our Cupid selections with a nonvintage Champagne, one that won’t break the bank but will offer a touch of prestige and luxury. The Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé ($80) is a perfect way to start your celebration — just chill it properly (to between 47 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit).
The Billecart-Salmon house is a storied one, and began with the marriage, in 1818, of Nicolas François Billecart and Elisabeth Salmon. The couple teamed with Louis Salmon, Elisabeth’s brother, and a legend was born, one now run by the seventh generation of the family.
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The house’s Brut Rosé (a 40/30/30-percent blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Noir) made its debut in 1970, and has since become the brand’s flagship cuvée. Its soft, pale pink hue invites the eye, and floral and red berry notes greet the nose. When you and your Valentine take a first sip of this Champagne, the flavors of wild strawberries will grace the palate. It’s a sexy, yet elegant, pour.
If a vintage sparkling wine is more your style, I propose you go domestic and consider the 2017 Knudsen Vineyard Brut from Argyle Winery, an Oregon pioneer. It retails for $55, and is produced from vines planted in 1974. It’s fermented and aged in neutral wood barrels, which adds incredible complexity and depth. (Both this wine and the Billecart-Salmon would pair well with oysters or butter-poached shrimp, to name but two romantic foods that could begin your meal.)
The Argyle Brut is 100 percent Pinot Noir, and 1,300 cases were produced. Its supple and soft mouthfeel will provide a sensuality ideal for Valentine’s Day (or any day, for that matter), and subtle citrus and brioche notes should please you and your loved one.
For your second glass, I offer a red and a white wine, depending on your food menu. Whatever you choose will be a bridge to carry you from your first course to your dessert, and both of my selections suit the special occasion.
The 2019 Acumen PEAK Sauvignon Blanc ($75) is a wine that excites my senses in a special manner. I love that it tastes wonderful now — it possesses the typical mountain-grown structure and confidence that have made Acumen’s wines so beloved and respected — and that it will age beautifully. (It would not be a mistake to buy this wine in multiples and put some away for five years or a decade.)
The Attelas Vineyard is the source for this Sauvignon Blanc, and the grapes that produced the wine were sourced from only two blocks in the vineyard, which is located at 1,300 feet above sea level (in California, less than 3 percent of all grapes come from vineyards situated at elevations higher than 1,000 feet above sea level).
Phillip Titus, Acumen’s winemaker, aged this vintage in new French oak, neutral oak, and stainless steel (approximately 33 percent each), which lends it nuance that discerning wine drinkers will love. This is no run-of-the-mill Sauvignon Blanc, but it is one whose minerality impresses. Citrus and a slightly spicy herbaceous note (is it basil?) dominate (gracefully) the aroma, and I imagine you’ll more than enjoy the complexity of this bottle from the first sip. Lemon and spice will come to mind and tongue. You can pair this wine with poultry or fish, especially if a herb-based sauce is in the mix.
For your red wine, we’ll stay in California and go with one of my favorite producers, Seavey. The 2017 Merlot ($70) is what I selected, but if you have the chance to purchase any Merlot from Seavey, do it. The winery’s library is extensive, and offers great value for quality. The estate also happens to be beautiful, and is well worth a visit and tasting appointment.
As with the Acumen Sauvignon Blanc, this wine will reward some time in your cellar (or wherever you happen to store your wines — and please do so properly), but come February 14 the bottle you open will not disappoint. The winemaking team at Seavey is top-notch (Jim Duane and consulting winemaker Philippe Melka), and what they craft is stellar and serious.
I love this wine’s aroma, full of ripe blueberries and a warm spiciness that never threatens to veer into cloying cinnamon notes. You might discern undertones of eucalyptus and mushroom as well. Tobacco and dark red fruit carry the taste in the mouth. I’ve paired Seavey Merlot with duck, beef bourguignon, short ribs, and hamburgers, so its versatility will appeal.
It’s time for dessert, the final course of your Valentine’s Day feast. I advised chocolate for this part of your meal, and if that is to your liking, the two wines I have lined up should more than satisfy.
First, the 2016 King Cake from Medlock Ames, ($30) a port-style wine that marries well with a refined chocolate dessert. It’s 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, made from ripe fruit whose fermentation is halted by the inclusion of high-proof spirits. You’ll taste fig, blackberry, and sensual leather, just the thing for February 14.
To California’s Temecula Valley we go for the next wine, and like the Medlock Ames King Cake, the 2015 Rumi, from Fazeli Cellars, is a 375ml bottle. It’s 100 percent Cinsault, and my first taste of this wine made me purchase two more bottles of it, which I plan to cellar until at least 2027.
Bizhan Fazeli, the gregarious and welcoming owner of the winery behind this selection, poured some Rumi for me during a visit to his property, and it immediately found a place on my list of go-to after-dinner pours. It sells for $60 (order here), and is worth every penny. Ruby in color, dark ruby, an engaging sight in the glass. On the palate you’ll savor notes of dark raspberry and semisweet chocolate, which make this bottle a perfect pairing for fig tart, crème brûlée, or chocolate mousse.
Valentine’s Day should be fun, delicious, edifying, and rewarding, and I hope the wines I’ve recommended add to your experience.
Note: Ask for these wines at your favorite merchant, or order directly from the winery.