By Matthew Brody
I am a born and raised Upper West Sider and a longtime wine geek. My professional experience with wine includes six-plus years owning and operating (and reverse commuting to) a boutique wine and spirits shop in Westchester. While I have a personal soft spot for the wines of Burgundy and northern Italy, I happily continue to be surprised and delighted by new bottles, producers, and styles from across the wine world. Most of all, I take great pleasure in helping others broaden their knowledge and enjoyment of wine.
Let’s begin with Valentine’s Day on Wednesday. While you may have gifts and dinner reservations on your mind — the magic is in the wine. Whether your plans include a fancy night out or a casual meal on the couch, any celebration can be elevated with the right wine. Here are three foolproof pairings for Valentine’s Day success.
Elevate Your Night-In With a Classic: Blanc de Blancs Champagne
Sparkling wine and in particular, French Champagne, may already be top of mind around Valentine’s Day. It’s a classic selection — the pop of a Champagne cork has always suggested celebration, not to mention romance. Your inclination may be to enjoy a quick toast before sidebarring your bubbly when the food arrives. But instead, consider sparkling wine as a partner, and not just a preamble, to your meal.
Champagne is in fact an ideal and versatile pairing wine. The bubbles act as a natural palate cleanser, “freshening” your mouth between bites while the wine’s bright acidity cuts through rich flavors. For those taking the low-key approach with Valentine’s on the couch, Champagne adds a fancy touch and perfectly complements pizza, sushi, and Chinese.
While Cava or quality Prosecco will certainly do the trick, French Champagne remains the king of sparkling wine. Most Champagne is made from both white and red grapes, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and more. However, Blanc de Blancs Champagne designates wine made from exclusively white grapes and typically features livelier, crisp citrus fruits. Pierre Moncuit’s Champagnes are a favorite, relatively affordable option, and a great example of the Blanc de Blancs style.
Recommended Bottle: Pierre Moncuit Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne ($52-$60)
Indulge with a Dense Italian Red: Rosso di Montalcino
Nothing says amore quite like the hills of Tuscany. After all, the holiday’s origins begin with the Roman Empire. If this year your plans are taking the indulgent path — say, Filet Mignon or decadent Italian pasta — you’ll need a striking red wine as a beverage partner. The celebrated Tuscan region of Montalcino, midway between Florence and Rome, is an ideal place to look.
Brunello di Montalcino is the big name in the region and is one of Italy’s best-known types of wine. Made from the Sangiovese grape, Brunellos are typically full-bodied with red fruits and structured tannins. Tannins impart the grippy, drying effect on your palate that is crucial for food pairings. Like the acidity in Champagne, tannins cut through the richness in foods, particularly Italian red sauces and fatty cuts of meat.
You should also consider the slightly more humble Rosso di Montalcino. These are effectively “baby Brunellos” made by Brunello producers at more everyday prices. The wines have a similar taste profile albeit often with a slightly fresher, younger style. Caprili, a smaller Montalcino winery, makes a balanced Rosso di Montalcino that, like many wines, opens up to show more complexity an hour after the cork is popped.
Recommended Bottle: Caprili Rosso di Montalcino 2021 ($23-$28)
A Digestif with Dessert: Amaro, Nocino, & More
For a Valentine’s celebration that includes chocolate – or even better, revolves around it – beverage pairing can be notoriously tricky. One easy solution is to eschew traditional table wine and instead look to an after-dinner drink, like a digestif.
The after-dinner drink is an oft-overlooked delight that serves as both an ideal companion with sweet desserts and a proper bookend to a celebratory meal. Digestifs are a broad category with a simple aim – to aid in digestion at the end of the meal. This old-world European tradition encompasses many styles including Port and Sherry, Italian Amaro, Brandies, and Liqueurs.
To pair with Valentine’s chocolate try an Amaro (bittersweet Italian digestivo), Nocino (walnut liqueur), or even high-quality Coffee Liqueur. Each of the three bring complex flavors like nuts, botanicals, and spices that are natural mates with chocolate. Amaro, in particular, are enjoying a renaissance lately with classic examples from Italy readily available alongside new-wave producers from the US. Nocino and other liqueurs, while slightly less trendy, are still more accessible than ever before.
Best yet, try one of the above courtesy of a local New York source. Forthave is a Brooklyn-based producer with a small-production lineup that includes Amaro, Nocino, and Coffee Liqueur.
Recommended Bottles: Forthave Marseille Amaro and Forthave Brown Coffee Liqueur ($28-$32, 375ml half-bottle)
The above bottles can all be found at various UWS retailers. In a pinch, ask your favorite local wine shop for their substitute recommendation!
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