By Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr
There are probably a handful of men amongst us who dread February 14. The anxiety of shelling out big bucks for a dozen roses and then dinner can be overwhelming, especially when you consider that Valentine’s Day is but a commercial conspiracy.
It has nothing to do with love if history is correct. In fact, several St. Valentines died on February 14, two of whom were decapitated in 260 to 270 A.D. because they were Christian. We bet they didn’t feel the love.
In spite of this sordid history, Valentine’s Day today is a time to express the love that we should be expressing every day. It is a time to put our busy schedules on pause, turn to our loved ones and actually say “I love you.” This cannot be done on the way out the door or in a text message but rather around a candle-lit dinner.
If you cannot make dinner, you can make a reservation. For us, we prefer a meal cooked with love at home in low light with soft music playing in the background. Traditionally, we have done this for our spouses with lobster or steak – and sometimes both. We also have shared the occasion with other couples when the men do the cooking, no matter their skill level, while the women bask in the attention.
With the menu carefully chosen, the focus should be on the wine. Sparkling wine — or champagne if you can afford it — is a good start to the evening. Pink sparkling complements the color of the occasion. There are pink proseccos to hold down the cost. La Marca and Mionetto make good rosé prosecco.
From California we like Schramsberg, Domaine Carneros, Mumm and Roederer Estate. Prices for French champagne are not that much more. If you can afford it, consider Bollinger, Billecart-Salmon, Ruinart, Veuve-Cliquot and Taittinger.
Many of these wines come in half-bottles which make for a nice aperitif before you launch into dinner.
If beef is the entrée, you will want to consider cabernet sauvignon. Value versions come from Chile and you could substitute an Argentine malbec without spending a lot of money. If you have something like pasta, duck or even salmon, a nice pinot noir would work if you can afford its lofty price tag. MacRostie makes an inexpensive pinot noir.
If fish is the centerpiece, consider a nice chardonnay from Burgundy. A Macon-Villages can be found for less than $25. West Coast chardonnay can be expensive, but there are inexpensive versions from producers such as Fetzer, Rodney Strong, Landmark, La Crema, Kendall-Jackson and Chateau Ste. Michelle.
If you can open the wallet, consider a Meursault or a Puligny-Montrachet from Burgundy.
Here are some special wines to consider:
Whispering Angel Rosé 2021 ($25). Rosé is a nice substitute for sparkling rosé and it’s a versatile go-to wine for pasta, fowl, fish and appetizers. Whispering Angel is one of the most popular and ubiquitous rosés on the market. From Provence, it’s a blend of grenache, cinsault and rolle. Raspberry and strawberry flavors with floral aromas.
Lanson Le Rosé ($70). Put a little color in your bubbles with this refreshing blend of pinot noir (53 percent), chardonnay and pinot meunier. Floral and bright red berry notes. It makes for a delightful transition from appetizers to entrée.
Priest Ranch Brut Rosé 2018 ($60). From estate-grown syrah, this unique bottle is complex with red berry flavors.
Beaulieu Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ($38). We like this generous cabernet for the value. It’s special but it doesn’t set you back a lot. Ripe black raspberry and cherry flavors with a hint of mint and mocha.
Chilean sauvignon blancs
Many people who love a crisp sauvignon blanc don’t often think of buying one from Chile. Instead, they reach for a grassy, tart sauvignon blanc from New Zealand or a more mellow version from the West Coast. Sancerre, perhaps the oldest and most respected producers of sauvignon blanc, is often ignored in this country.
Still, Chile’s sauvignon blanc is getting more respect of late as it focuses on clones, soil and improved viticultural practices. Today, sauvignon blanc, the top white grape variety in Chile, accounts for 41 percent of its white grape varieties.
One of the newly discovered regions is Casablanca, which didn’t emerge until the 1990s. It is in this cooler, coastal area where the sauvignon blanc takes on an herbal, citrus expression.
We’ve been tasting several Chilean sauvignon blancs in recent weeks to bring more attention to this underrated wine-growing region. Here are some recommendations:
Morande Gran Reserva Casablanca Sauvignon Blanc 2020 ($20). Herbal and honey aromas are followed by aggressive grapefruit and white peach flavors.
L Cantera Sauvignon Blanc 2020. From the Casablanca Valley, this delicious wine has fresh grapefruit flavors with a dash of herbs.
Leyda Reserve Sauvignon Blanc D.O. Valle de Leyda 2022 ($15). Bold grapefruit and lemon flavors with a hint of grassiness. Excellent fruit. If you favor New Zealand sauvignon blanc, you should give this a try.
Vara Garnacha Gold Label Vino Tinto Espanol 2020 ($34). Vara was founded in 2012 in New Mexico but it wasn’t until recently its wines were nationally distributed. Its unique concept is to draw grapes across borders and blend them with grapes grown in the United States – a blend of culture and product. Artist Xavier Zamarripa and wine veteran Doug Diefenthaler recruited several established winemakers to craft special wines, including this delicious garnacha. Blended with carinena, monastrell, mencia, and a little cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah – all from various locations in Spain and California — it is round with ripe cherry, red currant and raspberry notes with a floral nose and soft mouthfeel.
VML Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2020 ($55). Using grapes from a single vineyard in the Russian River Valley, this producer has a hit with this soft and balanced chardonnay. Apricot and apple notes with hints of vanilla and flint.