Story by Dave Eckert
Well, here we are again, facing down the barrel of the romantic rifle that is Valentine’s Day. Love it or hate it, and I know people on both sides of the fence, it’s a fact of life, and how you handle it can make for a great or a lousy day, week, month, or longer. I’ll tell you how I handle it-with alcohol! Specifically, with a few nice bottles of wine paired to a few good meals. Yes, I said a few because I don’t believe Valentine’s Day should be a one off. I think you should celebrate your love for that significant other early and often. That in mind, here are some romantic reds to get you in the mood, some whites that will have you worshipping the power of the cork, a few randy roses, and some sublime sparklers! Enjoy and Happy Valentine’s Day!
I start with sparkling wine for several reasons. First, I love them. Second, they are the only wines, in my opinion, which can be drunk any anytime of the day, any day of the week, and with the widest variety of cuisine. And third, the bubbles are just delightful and hard to resist. Here are some of my favorites:
Graham Beck Brut NV (SRP $20) This is one of those rare finds in the wine world-a great wine at an equally great price. The Graham Beck Brut NV is a Méthode Cap Classique wine from South Africa that is dubbed the “President’s Choice,” as it was served at both President Nelson Mandela’s inauguration in 1994 and President Barack Obama’s election night victory party in Chicago in 2008. This sparkler loves anything salty. Don’t believe me? Pop yourself some popcorn, pop open a bottle of this sparkler, and pop yourself down in front of a fire or the television and enjoy!
La Vieille Ferme Sparkling Rosé NV (SRP $14.99) A blend of Grenache Noir, Cinsault, and Pinot Noir, the La Vielle Ferme is ideal for those who want an authentic, delicious sparkler, but aren’t sure exactly what to get and don’t want to break the bank. There are fruit, peaches and raspberry, there are lovely, delicate fine bubbles, and there is a wonderfully crisp, clean finish. I’ve polished off more than a few bottles of LVF Sparkling Rose in my time, and I’d happily consume more.
Miguel Torres Chile Estelado Brut Rosé 2018 (SRP $18.99) A new wine for me – my wife and I popped the cork on this one just a few nights ago, and it did not disappoint. Another excellent value, this sparkling Rose has fruity notes, buttressed by hallmark bracing acidity.
Champagne Delamotte Rosé NV (SRP $105.99) Okay, it’s pricy. I get that. But, of you who have the means or inclination to splurge, this might be the sparkler for you. A blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the wine offers elegance, sophistication, and one of the most beautiful bottles you will find in the wine world! Save the best for last as the Delamotte Rose pairs wonderfully with most desserts!
Biltmore Estate Pinot Grigio (SRP $17) This is a unique wine as it bears the American Appellation designation. The grapes are sourced from growers on the west coast and vinified at Biltmore Winery in Asheville, NC. A crowd-pleaser of a wine, this Pinot Grigio is dangerously quaffable with bright, high-tones fruit, lively acidity, and a lovely, slightly floral finish.
Hahn Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay (SRP $25) A classic SLH Chardonnay, the Hahn bottling is brimming with fresh fruit flavors ranging from lemon to pear to pineapple. There’s a creamy core to the wine, but it is in no way flabby or over-oaked. Perfectly balanced, even a non-Chardonnay lover would like this wine.
Ponga Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (SRP $16) Bold, but crisp, the Ponga Sauvignon Blanc brings everything I like about a Kiwi SB to the table: citrus and tropical fruit notes up front followed by chalky, mineral tones, leading to the class Marlborough expression of grapefruit on the palate. If you haven’t had a New Zealand SB in a while, try this one. It’ll take you back in time to when you tried your first one.
Cult Wine Co. Lodi Sauvignon Blanc (SRP $20) I’ve not had a lot of experience with Sauvignon Blancs from Lodi, but if there are more out there like this one, I’m all for it. Fruit forward and more tropical than many SBs, the wine’s bright acidity balances things out nicely.
Planeta La segreta Grillo (SRP $11.99) From Sicily comes this lovely wine with its notes of citrus, ripe tropical fruit, and a surprisingly level of salinity that refreshes the palate and keeps you coming back for another sip. This wine is a great way to get the evening started!
Finally on the white wine front, I leave you with three recent discoveries. All three are from South Africa. All three are Sauvignon Blancs. And all three are delicious and affordable.
Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc (SRP $17.99) This is the most complex of the three with a core of bright ripe fruit and a solid dose of earthy minerality. Delicious with a wide range of cuisine, there is also a “green” reason to purchase the wine. Named for the rare Southern Right whales that frequent Walker Bay in South Africa, the winery donates a portion of every bottle sold to the whales’ conservation.
Lomond Sauvignon Blanc (SRP $17.99) This is a cool climate Sauvignon Blanc come from the southernmost tip of Africa at Cape Agulhas. The cool sea breezes lead to fantastic minerality and a unique stone fruit character in the wine. This is my style all the way!
Rustenberg Stellenbosch Sauvignon Blanc (SRP $13.99) When I think of Rustenberg and Stellenbosch, I think of big, bold, full-flavored red wines. This bottling has me thinking outside the box. From a much warmer climate than the Lomond Sauvignon, the flavors and aromas run more toward tropical fruit, including pineapple and passionfruit. Think of it as a Sauvignon Blanc for Chardonnay drinkers.
I’ve tried to include something for everyone in my red wine picks, from simple slammers to straightforward expressions of familiar grapes, to more esoteric bottlings from regions not as well-known featuring indigenous grapes you may not have heard of. Happy hunting.
Bread & Butter Merlot (SRP $15) A wine to set the mood, this Merlot is loaded with fruit with just a kiss of oak added to the mix. Pleasantly uncomplicated, this is a wine to quaff with straightforward cuisine like cheeseburgers, pizza, or chicken wings.
Baileyana Firepeak Pinot Noir, Edna Valley (SRP $30) Stepping up your game, this lovely Pinot Noir hails from the coolest growing region in all of California. Even more unique, the Firebreak vineyard features extinct volcanos, leading to unique soils and flavors. This Pinot Noir tastes like it comes from Sicily’s Mount Etna appellation, a special and delicious wine.
Famille Perrin Côtes du Rhône Réserve Rouge 2019 (SRP $13.99) In the way of full disclosure, I don’t think I’ve ever had a wine from Famille Perrin that I didn’t enjoy. This is no exception. Featuring a classic Côtes du Rhône, a blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Syrah, the wine is both fruity and fleshy with gorgeous tannins holding it all together. You would be hard-pressed to find a better wine at a more attractive price.
Lievland Vineyards Pinotage 2019 (SRP $18.99) As I’m writing this, I know I have a glass or two of this Pinotage left from the bottle I opened last night. In the hands of right producer, Pinotage can be fruity, earthy, balanced, and delicious. This is one such producer. Plus, Lievland, directly translated, means “Love Land”, so what better wine for Valentine’s Day?
Peteglia Montecucco Sangiovese (SRP $28) One of the best kept wine secrets in the world is the Tuscan appellation of Montecucco. I traveled there several years ago and absolutely feel in love with the place, the people, and the wine. This Sangiovese is a perfect representative of Montecucco’s wines. Lush, soft, and loaded with dark cherry and cola notes, the wine still has a firm backbone comprised of well-integrated tannins and classic Sangiovese acidity. Try this wine with anything involving tomatoes or hard Italian cheeses. You will not be disappointed.
Stemmari Cantodoro Rosso Riserva ($14 SRP) Staying in Italy, but heading to the island of Sicily, I give you four great reds at remarkable price points. This is a blend of Nero d’Avola, Sicily’s signature grape, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Blackberry, raspberry, licorice, and hints of vanilla dominate the nose and palate. There are tannins, but they are well in check. This is one for lovers of full-bodied red wines!
Nero d’Avola Quattro Quarti ($17 SRP) Richer and riper than the Stemmari, this 100-percent Nero d’Avola sends plumes of cherry and plum leading from the glass. The wine is elegant and complex, aided by four select Sicilian Vineyards, each with its own soils and micro-climate. Another element that sets this wine apart is the fact that dried grapes are added to the mix! Bravo!
Vurria Nero d’Avola ($22 SRP) Walking up the Nero d’Avola ladder, there is this wine occupying the top rung, in my opinion. Rich, ripe, and opulent, the Vurria NDA emits scents of dark fruits and sweet spices. Silky smooth, the wine is approachable now, but could easily improve with a few years or age!
DonnaFugata Sherazade Nero d’Avola (SRP $22.99) If you’d told me even a year ago that I would be recommending four separate Nero d’Avolas, I would not have believed you. My experience with Nero d’Avola in the past has been a lot like my past experiences with Pinotage. I’ve tried a lot and not liked many. But, as this and the other three Nero d’Avolas exhibit, producers are now capturing the fruity essence of the grape while keeping the alcohol, oak, and tannin levels in check. This is a lovely wine!
Lucienne Lone Oak Vineyard Pinot Noir (SRP $50) I leave you with perhaps the most decadent wine on the list-the Lucienne Lone Oak Vineyard Pinot Noir. Another bottling from Hahn Family Vineyards, the Lone Oak Vineyard expression is silky, complex, and opulent in every way. With flavors and raspberry and red cherry along with notes of oak, spice, and earth, skip and savor this wine, allowing it to unwind and wrap its arms around you.
And there you have it! Have a flavorful Valentine’s Day!