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What To Drink On Valentine’s Day

February 12, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

BollingerI generally avoid holiday-related wine posts, and I do it for a number of reasons. First of all, every information source on the planet considers it to be their duty to produce some piece of writing with wine recommendations. And then for someone who drinks wine all the time, the holidays are not so much of a special occasion to have a reason to open a bottle of wine. Oh well – somehow I felt compelled to share my thoughts on the wines for the Valentine’s Day, hence this post…

Pink. Red. Extreme. Commercialized beyond belief, still increasingly so year after year. Heart-shaped to the point of insanity. There are many things which turn people away from the Valentine’s Day, and I can understand that. However, I take this holiday as an extra opportunity to celebrate love and life. All you need to do is to find your way – ignore pink paraphernalia, ignore meaningless cards, ignore conveyer belt – style experience at the restaurants – and celebrate love and romance as a pure meaning of this holiday.

Let’s agree that we will celebrate love and romance in our oenophile’s way, and let’s talk about wine – without wine on the table, celebration is … just another boring dinner, right? By the way, when I said “felt compelled” in the opening of this post, this was not entirely true. I also had a pleasure to be a guest at the Off the Vine Radio Show, talking with Benita and Latisha about … you guessed it – Valentine’s Day wines – thus as you can imagine, I gave some thought to the subject (and then yes, “felt compelled”). In case you have a bit of time, you can listen to that episode here.

What can I tell you about wines for the Valentine’s Day? First of all, if you have a plan already, it doesn’t matter what I have to say. If you have some specific celebratory dish in mind, and have a pairing ready – it doesn’t matter what I have to say. But if you are still thinking how to make this holiday special, then let me share my thoughts with you. But remember – drink what you like. The wine for the Valentine’s day doesn’t have to be pink, and it doesn’t have to be sweet. It has to be something which will give you pleasure – as simple as that.

The wine for the Valentine’s Day should have balance and it should have finesse. While thought provoking is good for the wine, on Valentine’s Day you should focus on romance and not on deciphering the complex flavors. Go after balance, finesse and simplicity. This is why I would never suggest, for instance, the natural wines of Frank Cornelissen or Jean-Pierre Robinot, or the dark magic of Randy Dunn with his Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon – those wines will drain you emotionally, and it is a wrong angle for the Valentine’s day. Thus let’s talk about balance and finesse.

First wine I want you to consider is Champagne. As the very least, it can be an Italian Sparkling wine from Franciacorta or Trento, or some of the California sparklers. Prosecco, Cava and many other sparklers are simply not consistent enough, so for the Valentine’s Day, go with classic – remember – balance and finesse. For the Champagne, my choice would be Bollinger, as I think it is one of the finest non-vintage Champagnes, with lots of finesse. Ferrari from Trento and Bellavista from Franciacorta in Italy would definitely my next choice. But – I don’t want to forget California – Roederer Estate L’Ermitage, Schramsberg Rosé, J Cuvée 20 or any of the Gloria Ferrer sparkling wines would live you with a happy smile.

Moving on, let’s talk white wines. As we are looking for the balance and finesse, I have a few recommendations for you – and you might be surprised with these. For this holiday, I want you to step outside of your “usual circle”. My first recommendation is for the white wines of the Rhône valley in France. Yes, Rhône is mostly known for their reds, but the white wines there are equally stunning. For instance, try to find Domaine Saint Préfert Cuvée Speciale – I called this wine once “a symphony in the glass”. But in general, look for the Clairette or Grenache Blanc wines from Southern Rhône, or Marsanne/Roussanne from the North – those wines are often not easy to find, but they will deliver lots of balance, finesse and pleasure. 

Let me give you a few more suggestions – equally difficult to find, but worth looking for. Viognier from Washington is a white wine worthy of celebrating love and romance with. Look for Mark Ryan or Willis Hall – their Viognier is nothing short of stunning. To close on the whites, here are 3 more rare beauties. First, 2 Sauvignon Blanc from … Italy: Gaja Alteni di Brassica and Poggio alle Gazze dell’Ornellaia – stunning balance and finesse. And the last one – Ken Forrester The FMC. You can’t go wrong with either one of these wines – go, start looking, you don’t have lots of time.

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Now, we arrived at the red wine junction. Looking for the balance and finesse will dramatically reduce our choices. I would say, let’s go for Pinot Noir. I will limit my recommendations to this one grape only – and here is why. We are looking for the balance and finesse, right? Think about Cabernet Sauvignon from California – what would be the first word or words you would use to describe those wines – probably “big and powerful” – and this is not what I’m looking for suggesting the wines for the Valentine’s Day. Same goes for many Merlot, Syrah and Grenache wines – never mind the Petite Sirah. Even with my beloved Rioja – there are few wines, which will deliver that exact balance and finesse – La Rioja Alta Reserva Especiale would be definitely the one – and I highly recommend it. But for the Rioja – and then for Barolo, Brunello and even Super-Tuscan –  as a general class, the probability of running into “big and powerful” is a lot higher than finding “balance and finesse”.

Talking about Pinot Noir, I wish I would recommend some of the classics to you – yes, the Burgundy – but unfortunately, my exposure to the Burgundy is way too limited, so you will need to ask your trusted wine merchant for the advice. Next up – California and Oregon. For the most of the time, California Pinot Noir will deliver exactly that – balance and finesse. To give you a few names, go look for Siduri, Loring Wine Company, Calera, Drew, Copain, Laetitia – but there are many others and it is hard to go wrong with California Pinot Noir. Oregon would be also a perfect choice – look for Adelsheim, Chehalem, Antica Terra, Evening Land – finesse is a middle name for the Oregon Pinot, so you will not be disappointed. And last but not least – don’t forget the New Zealand! Pinot Noir from Central Otago, Marlborough and Martinborough are typically well balanced and round, perfectly fitting our quest for finesse. Look for the wines from Craggy Range, Mt. Difficulty and Amisfield among the others.

Dessert time! People often underestimate how bad the dessert wines can be – one sip of the cloying, single-sugar-note wine would ruin the experience of an amazing dinner. You really have to put a lot of care in selecting the dessert wine which will have balance and finesse. Of course I would like to recommend Sauternes and Barsac wines for you, but again, my personal experience is very limited. I’m sure you can’t go wrong with Château d’Yquem – if you can afford it, go for it! What would be a bit easier to find (and afford) is a Port. Not just any Port – balance and finesse, remember – so go for a nicely aged Tawny, 20-, 30- or 40-years old. As Port ages, it loses power, and becomes fragrant and sublime, guaranteed to deliver lots of pleasure. Look for Rozes, Graham, Quinta do Noval – lot’s of excellent choices. Then of course, the king of the dessert wines – Riesling. For the special experience, I would only recommend to go to the BA and TBA levels – you know, the stuff which always comes in the small bottles. You see, it is very hard to mass-produce BA or TBA level Rieslings – you can’t harvest enough grapes at those sugar levels – thus it is hard to go wrong with BA or TBA Riesling from any producer. And the last recommendation for today – an Icewine. Not any Icewine, but I want to recommend my personal favorite – Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Icewine. This wine is vibrant, perfectly balanced and has lots of finesse – I guarantee you will finish your Valentine’s Day dinner on a high note with this wine.

Here you go, my friends – in the quest for the balance and finesse, these are some of my personal recommendations to enhance you Valentine’s Day experience. Let me know what do you think about my suggestions and feel free to provide your own. Happy Valentine’s Day and cheers!



  1. Troy
    February 12, 2015 at 12:36 pm

    The FMC is wonderful. It has the names that FMC stands for on the bottle, but Ken says it’s really stands for F***ing Magnificent Chenin.

    • talkavino
      February 12, 2015 at 1:14 pm

      I like that definition! Will be interesting to see it on the label 🙂

  2. February 12, 2015 at 2:10 pm

    Reblogged this on WineStyles.

  3. February 12, 2015 at 3:20 pm

    Very nice suggestions, Anatoli, but perhaps more importantly: are you just mentioning in passing that you have become a radio star now??? 🙂 You should publicize it more! Very cool interview, great job!

    • talkavino
      February 12, 2015 at 7:03 pm

      Thanks, Stefano, you are too kind! The Radio program is fine – we have to get you there too!

  4. February 12, 2015 at 8:29 pm

    Had the good fortune to try the FMC, along with Ken Forrester’s other chenins, in Stellenbosch during a surprise visit. Easily the best Chenin blanc I ever had. Great suggestion!

  5. February 12, 2015 at 8:31 pm

    And don’t forget, you can get Riesling Auslese in half bottles as well. With the surge in temperatures over the last years, these often are of BA quality, and come in at a fraction of the price point. 🙂

    • talkavino
      February 12, 2015 at 11:29 pm

      Completely agree that Auslese might be every bit as good as BA. My point was not about the bottle size ( that was only a reference) – the reason I suggested to go to BA or TBA is that there is a lesser chance to go wrong – those wines are not mass-produced, so you can pretty much take what’s available. Going to Auslese level requires you to know the producers – and I couldn’t recommend too many outside of, let’s say, Dr. Loosen – hence the recommendation to take a safer route with BA or TBA ( yes, and unquestionably more expensive – but Valentine’s Day is only once a year 🙂 )

      • February 13, 2015 at 8:48 am

        I agree that things get more myriadic with Auslese. My point about bottle size was more: Do you really want to share a full-size bottle of very sweet wine on your Valentine’s Day (if you choose to celebrate it, which I don’t)? 🙂

        Also let me note that there is a sizable amount of BA (not necessarily TAB) that is mass-produced and often does reach the US market, and that is BA from the Rheinhessen region (my home region). There is nothing artisanal in these wines as they are often machine harvested and bottled in huge facilities, and often are about as soulless as a “California Red” (I am exaggerating here). That risk is pretty much eliminated at the Mosel.

        But I totally agree: There is hardly anything more romantic than a half-sized bottle of BA or TBA, knowing that this is one of only a few dozen or few hundred bottles of it. And the delight that Riesling grapes of that level provide is almost magical. 🙂

  6. February 13, 2015 at 4:12 am

    I definitely agree with Bollinger and the note that it is one of the best NV champagnes from price/quality perspective. I had it for my wedding!

    • talkavino
      February 13, 2015 at 12:37 pm

      Great! Bollinger is very distinct, so I feel good with my recommendation 🙂

  7. February 13, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    Congratulations on your radio interview, Anatoli! You did such a great job! Of course, my favorite part was when you talked about champagne! Yup! Guilty as charged! 😉
    The only reason I would celebrate Valentine’s Day is to drink a glass (oh well, actually more!) of good champagne! 🙂

    • talkavino
      February 13, 2015 at 12:39 pm

      You are way too kind, Francesca! And yes, you are exactly right – look at the V Day as a reason to open a better bottle of Champagne 🙂

  8. February 14, 2015 at 11:26 am

    Ice wine was a great suggestion for Val day – it’s rich, sweet but if done well not cloying and rather decadent – I’ve never met a bottle that wasn’t a bit splurgy. Love your rec will be on the hunt! CA sparkling recs were fab – if you ever find it – IronHorse out of the West Sonoma Co. Green Valley AVA does a fantastic méthode traditionnelle that has scored very high and the family story is fascinating. Hope you can get a hold of some – or come out and visit!

  9. February 16, 2015 at 6:07 am

    Poggio alle Gazze is truly an amazing wine.

    • talkavino
      February 16, 2015 at 7:23 am


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