Everybody wants to get laid, and Valentine’s Day is either a blessing or a curse when it comes to the pursuit of it. It’s potentially an excuse to have hot monkey sex with your partner, to bed the hottie you’ve been lusting after — or, less appealing, to go down in flames desperately hungering for the panky you’re not getting.
The pressure is on. Expectations for action are higher than any other night of the year (except maybe senior prom).
Whether you’re in a relationship or hoping to be, it’s always helpful to pull out all the romantic stops to increase your odds of having a tawdry evening. One tried-and-true and fantastically effective aphrodisiac is to treat your sweetie to an elegant dinner.
Wine is an integral part of a romantic feast and a critical element in getting cupid’s arrow to fly straight. Wine also holds the potential to turn you into a hapless mess if you aren’t comfortable ordering it — nothing kills the mood quicker than incompetence.
Wine is an integral part of a romantic feast and a critical element in getting cupid’s arrow to fly straight.
Fortunately for you, there are people trained to make you look good enough to get in the game. (Well, at least when it comes to ordering wine.) Here are tips from some top sommeliers on how to order wine competently, plus some suggested wines to help you round the bases.
Christy A. Canterbury, Master of Wine
Canterbury is a consultant to wine competitions, freelance writer and teaches at top wine schools. She is the former National Wine Director for Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group and Global Corporate Beverage Director for Culinary Concepts by Jean-Georges. She holds a Master of Wine, is a Certified Sommelier via Court of Master Sommeliers and is Winner of the Villa Maria Award for Outstanding Viticulture Examination Paper.
New York City-based sommelier Christy Canterbury recommends doing your homework before heading out the door. “It’s a huge help to check a restaurant’s online wine list before you go. Double-check that the list is current, either from the date on the web or by calling the reservationist.”
Canterbury recommends sparkling wine as a great Valentine’s Day choice, and “rosé Champagne in particular works like a charm.” Here are her suggestions for rounding the bases
- First base: “Frankly, the goal is at least second, and Champagne should get you there! Maybe rosé sparkling wine not from Champagne is the First Base wine? You’ve got to be thinking special occasion wines after all. Bump up the quality to really swoon your date.”
- Second base: “Rosé Champagne! Or, try an old-school Rioja Reserva from a producer like CVNE Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España or Lopez de Heredia. A cool thing about Rioja is that the wines are released later, so it looks particularly special because they are older than most wines you usually drink . . . as well as other wines on the wine list.”
- Bypass third and head for home: “Red Burgundy. Pinot Noir is the ultimate svelte, graceful, sexy wine, and Red Burgundy is the best there is in the category. Splurge for a Premier Cru if you can, but there are lots of good Village-level wines out there. The 2008 and 2009 vintages are on lists now and are spectacular. Only go for the 2007s if you like really racy, lean, mineral styles of wine.”
Bill Elsey, Sommelier, Wines.com | Red Room Lounge
Elsey is a Certified Sommelier via Court of Master Sommeliers, a Certified Specialist in Spirits and a Champagne and Cork Specialist through the Society of Wine Educators and is winner of Texas’ Best Sommelier 2011 at TexSom.
Bill Elsey recommends putting sommeliers to work to use their knowledge to your benefit. Just give them a few parameters to work within to get the best results. Start by knowing what type of wine your date likes to drink: Do they prefer sweet or dry, white or red, light or full bodied, fruit forward or earth driven?
Next, tell the sommelier how much you are willing to spend on a bottle. Elsey says “a smooth way of handling this without coming across as cheap or as though you are trying to show off is to point to a certain wine on the list and say to the sommelier, ‘I’m looking for something in this area,’ to signal the amount that you would like to spend.”
“Food and wine pairings are fun, and they take some of the pressure off of choosing one bottle to go with an entire meal that may have several different dishes.”
Finally, if you are completely open to suggestions, give the floor to the sommelier and let them guide you with wine and food pairings with each course. “Food and wine pairings are fun, and they take some of the pressure off when choosing one bottle to go with the entire meal that may have several different dishes.”
Elsey suggests dry rosé Champagne for a perfect Valentine’s Day wine. In particular he suggests Marc Hébrart N.V. Premier Cru Brut Rosé, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ de la Marne NV. The pink color is perfect for Valentine’s Day and the rich and layered flavor with tremendous acidity and minerality make it extremely versatile with food. To bring you home, he advises:
- First base: “Dry Riesling. A great way to compromise if there are sweet and dry wine drinkers on a date. All of the lemon, apple and citrus fruit that comes with Riesling without the sweet finish. Look to Australia for Pewsey Vale dry Riesling from the Eden Valley or to Austria for Emmerich Knoll Federspiel dry Riesling.”
- Second base: “Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is always a safe go-to for both red and white wine drinkers and Oregon is my favorite New World region for Pinot. These wines typically are fruit forward, but not overly extracted with out of balance alcohol. Look for 2008 as a stellar vintage from the Willamette Valley. Retour and Domaine Serene are two of my personal favorite producers.”
- By-pass third and head for home: “If you want sex potential, order a wine that needs to be decanted. This adds another element to the dining experience and is sure to score you points. Look for wines that benefit from age such as: Barolo, Barbaresco, Bordeaux, and wines from the Northern Rhone. Personally, I'd go with Barbaresco. These wines show depth of flavor, are elegant and beautiful on the nose. Like a woman who has it all together — confidence, beauty, finesse, maturity. I love the Nebbiolo grape and it is fairly off the radar for most wine drinkers, so it shows you know a little something about classy wines when you order one. Look for 1996 or 1997 vintages, both great years for Piedmont. One of my all-time favorite producers is Pio Cesare.”
Scott Ota, Wine Captain and Sommelier of The Driskill Grill
Ota is a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, and Wine Captain and Sommelier of The Driskill Grill in Austin.
Scott Ota suggests that you start the conversation by asking your date his or her preferences. The sommelier should be able to make recommendations based on your date’s answers. Be confident, and ask questions.
"A well-structured Cabernet is classic, confident, powerful and alluring."
He agrees that you can never go wrong with bubbles on Valentine’s Day and recommends an elegant and refined Blanc de Blancs Champagne — Champagne is just downright sexy. Ota’s preference is Pierre Gimonnet 1er Cru Cuis, N.V.
“It’s ridiculously delicious, and you don't have to break the bank. It's premier cru, and cheaper than Veuve Clicquot! Go with quality, not the big name.” If you are looking for lovin', here are Ota’s propositions:
- First base: “Pinot Noir is always a good choice because it is smooth and feminine, often very food-friendly and easy-drinking. For around $50 or under, I love Evening Land Blue Label Pinot Noir from Eola-Amity Hills in Willamette Valley, Oreg. The wine is gentle, but structured, with plenty of fresh red fruits. If you want to spend a little more, you can’t go wrong with Burgundy. Domaine Leroy Monthelie AOP Rouge 1999 is jaw-dropping good. A stunning wine that features farmer’s market fresh fruits and blooming rose petals.”
- Second base: “Cabernet Sauvignon is a great choice. A well-structured Cabernet is classic, confident, powerful and alluring. For under $50, I’d go with Terra Valentine 2009 Cabernet from the Spring Mountain district of Napa Valley. It has bold, rich black fruits mixed with judicious oak that provides spice and chocolate. If you’re willing to splurge, I recommend the 1989 Château Beychevelle, a fourth growth Bordeaux from the commune of Saint Julien. The ‘89 vintage was stunning, and the wine gives just about everything that you could want in a great bottle of Cabernet.
- By-pass third and head for home: A second bottle.
Davis Smith wine director at The Black Pearl Seafood and Martini Bar in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Davis Smith is a studying sommelier. He also produces content for his own personal website, winestateofmind.tumblr.com, where he does video and text reviews of wine; and for FindTheBest.com, a comparison website, where he writes posts in an educational capacity. Davis’ goal is to educate and empower people so that wine is no longer intimidating. His philosophy regarding wine is simple: Keep an open mind, be honest, and drink what you enjoy.
Davis Smith recommends open communication to make sure your special night goes off without a hitch. Sommeliers are required to study the wines of the world for countless hours to find a wine that’s perfect for every customer. Start by describing the kind of wine you like and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Sommeliers love curious customers.
“Moscato d’Asti is a great way to start off the evening. Slightly sparkling and slightly sweet, this Italian wine goes great with salads."
When picking a romantic wine, Smith’s mind goes immediately to bubbly, sure to set the mood on Valentine’s Day; plus, it’s hard to find a bad pairing for sparkling wine, making you look like a pro. Look for Cava, a sparkling wine from Spain that is very high in quality and very low in price.
You get great freshness and a wonderful savory character from Cava that is tough to find in other sparkling wines at the same price. His other proposals for wines to get ya knockin’ boots are:
- First Base: “Moscato d’Asti is a great way to start off the evening. Slightly sparkling and slightly sweet, this Italian wine goes great with salads, generally the first thing set on the table, especially if there is a salty component to the salad. This wine has blown up in the marketplace lately and is widely available.”
- Second Base: “Port is a great wine for after dinner. This fortified dessert wine has a boost in alcohol and is super rich, thick and delicious. A glass of this after dinner makes you feel warm on the inside and the deep dark aromas of berry, cassis and chocolate make for a nice mood setter for after you get home.”
- By-pass third and head for home: “The wine your date likes. Talk to your date about what they like about a wine and listen very carefully. Take this into account and engage the sommelier, asking questions that will lead the two of you to a wine that your date will love. Show them that it’s not all about you and that you’re also a good listener. That goes a long way.”
Whether you choose Champagne, Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon, wine experts agree that the surest path to passion is to listen to your date and order what they like. Now get out there and make it happen.