With Valentine’s Day—one of the most important “date nights” of the year approaching—couples both young and old set out with hopes of special evenings of romantic perfection. Whether you choose to dine where the table cloths are white and the waiters don tuxes and tails, a quaint little place with all its charm or a cozy evening at home, you will probably want to have some wine with dinner. That’s what we do, right? Special occasions call for all the bells and whistles, not excluding a nice bottle of wine. If the thought of choosing that perfect bottle is causing you some anxiety or if you are looking to try something exciting and new, I will suggest you step outside that heart-shaped box of chocolates and do date night right.
So, there you are with a wine list in your hands glancing over pages of names or perhaps you are at the wine shop passing row after row of bottles. Where do you begin?! I know some folks who will confess to searching out for the Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon and then choosing either the second most expensive or second least expensive in some kind of law of averages, or “luck of the draw” system. Where is the romance in that? You may not be disappointed in your result, but you may not be wowed either. The “Wow” factor is what we are going for here. It is Valentine’s after all.
Never hesitate to ask for suggestions. There is someone there who chose those selections or wrote that list and loves to talk about them. With a few simple questions asked or details given, you could be drinking an amazing bottle of wine you may have never considered before. Start with the basics.
Decide first whether you want a sparkling, a white, a rosé or a red wine. Do you typically drink popular favorites like a Chardonnay or Pinot Noir? “I really don’t drink wine often. What do you recommend for the wine novice?”
It’s also important to let this person know what it is that you DO and DON’T like about wine. Do you like a little sweetness or something dry? Do you like crisp, clean citrus flavors or do you prefer rich, buttery tropical notes? How do you like your red wine—light with soft red berry flavors or bold and dark, full of spices and earth?
There is nothing wrong with also mentioning a comfortable price range. I actually prefer it when I am giving that kind of direction.
Knowing what you are having for dinner is very helpful as well, which brings us to another great option for wine when you are dining. Wine flights and course pairings can be a great alternative to the single bottle of wine. Most restaurants may offer this or be happy to oblige.
Start with a couple glasses of bubbles. It doesn’t have to be Champagne! You could start with a fruity Prosecco or a crisp Spanish Cava to whet your appetite. Ask for a white or rosé offered by the glass or half bottle to complement your soup and salad. When it’s time for entrées, you can opt for a nice bottle of red to complement the meal and then carry on to chocolates or cheese after dinner.
For the full course-by-course experience, have some glasses or a half bottle with your entrées and then ask about dessert wines offered. You will not be disappointed. If all this has you worried you might be more than just drunk on love, ask for half glasses or tasting portions of two to three ounces.
Here’s wishing you a most perfect and magical evening. Cheers and enjoy!
– Nikki Bowes, Sommelier at The Greenbrier Resort‘s The Forum Restaurant. LBSPY #74. February, 2016.