Post and Courier – February 2024 – Wine for Your Valentine Success

With the turn of the calendar, February is upon us and with that a new month of holidays. This year we have Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday falling in February, along with the old favorites like Groundhog Day and Presidents Day. The one holiday that everyone associates with February, however, remains that misunderstood and improperly celebrated Valentine’s Day.

Saint Valentine was a Roman priest that defied an edict by Emperor Claudius II banning marriages for young men. The priest continued to perform marriages in private until he was discovered and imprisoned. During his time behind bars, he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter and would send her love notes signed, “from your Valentine”, or so the legend goes. Eventually, for his act of insolence, Saint Valentine was executed on February 14th setting the stage for our celebrated romantic evening only a couple millennia later.

The tradition of giving gifts, especially chocolate, came about during the Victorian era when expressing emotions openly was often considered improper. Giving chocolates allowed individuals to convey their feelings without directly expressing them. Although the mention of a suitor filling their betrothed’s goblet to the brim is lacking in the historical records, I remain quite certain that it occurred more often than not.

Modern day philosophies have us shelling out for flowers, cards, chocolate and a fancy dinner in an over-booked restaurant. Not to sound overtly counter-culture to all the rigamarole, but I feel you can have a “successful” evening without that much pomp and circumstance. Although I am admittedly no Casanova, most of the time my recipe for keeping my sweetheart happy, works all of the time.

I think providing a home-cooked meal for your significant other trumps any fancy restaurant. There is a personal element that cannot be understated. For my beloved, nothing demonstrates my adoration more than throwing something red-and-dead onto a hot grate above natural wood charcoal; stoking both the literal and proverbial flames. What can I say, I’m a romantic.

For an occasion like this, I do tend to “trade up” and put a respectable wine on the table. It just so happens that I discovered a producer that may be my new favorite in all of Sonoma, Aperture Cellars. These cooler climate terroir-driven wines are some of the best I have ever sampled from Sonoma. If ever there was an example of a winemaker listening to the grapes and making the wine the vineyards want to make instead of what the winemaker contrives, Jesse Katz is exactly that.

To accompany my grilled carnage, I recommend Aperture Cellars Bordeaux Blend 2021 ($60). This 19th Century style Bordeaux blend has 44% Merlot, 27% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot and 9% Cabernet Franc. As I personally find many Napa and Sonoma wines over-extracted, over-manipulated, over-ripe, and over-priced, I was pleasantly surprised. Both the wine and the philosophy of the winemaker are insightfully refreshing.

Although a bit cliché, chocolate has a strong association with our focused holiday. Rumored to be an aphrodisiac, and needing all the help I can muster, a chocolate dessert (or two) will find its way to my Valentine feast.

There are two opposing schools of thought when pairing red wine and chocolate, and I think both have merit. If you pair a highly tannic red wine with a sweet chocolate dessert, the wine will seem tarter and more insipid. This does not, however, suggest that red wine and chocolate cannot be good bedfellows. There are a few options that will assist in increasing the likelihood for an effective match.

One way to ensure success is by choosing a wine that is at least as sweet or sweeter than the dessert you are serving with it. Red wines with some residual sugar are often overlooked and wrongfully scorned as an inferior product. As I find bubbly always lightens the mood of the evening, I am combining the two styles (red and bubbly) with Alfredo Bertolani Dolce Fiore Lambrusco NV ($15).

Before you relegate the choice of Lambrusco to the vertical file, just try it. These hidden gems from Emilia-Romagna, Italy are greatly underappreciated and can steal the show as a dessert pairing. This example has a foamy mousse and bright red fruit elements that pair ridiculously well with chocolate desserts containing raspberry, cherry, strawberry, etc. At that price point, this may become my new after-dinner chocolate dessert wine.

I love fortified wines and find they go extremely well with certain desserts. For chocolate inspired dishes, I lean heavily on the Port-style wines. They have a slightly higher alcohol due to the addition of a neutral grape spirit during the fermentation process. This higher alcohol stops the ferment and leaves residual sugar in the wine.

I am a big fan of the “late bottled vintage” style because the aging is done for you so they are ready to consume right of the shelf (no additional bottle age needed like a Vintage Port). Warre’s Late Bottled Vintage 2009 ($35) fits the bill and should add not only to the chocolate dessert but also make a great after dinner contemplation wine.

If your dearest is opposed to wines with residual sugar, you may need to reconsider the relationship but, in the short term, I have a solution. In this event, or if you have a substantial amount of a dry red wine remaining and wish you carry it through to the dessert course, we have you covered. One secret is choosing a chocolate dessert that has sea salt as a component. The small amount of salt will soften the tannins and allow an increased success for your pairing.

So instead of waiting for that chubby cherub to ignite the flame of romance, take the initiative by giving the gift of food and wine. After all, most likely, you are one of the reasons they drink.