Valentine’s Day calls for the perfect meal for two, either at a special restaurant or at home – cooking for your relevant other can indeed be the ultimate romantic gesture.
But a meal can only ever be perfect with the right wine to match your menu of choice. We’ve listed the occasion’s most iconic dishes and summoned some experts to help you with the best wine pairing for each of them.
Wine with oysters
No doubt the most classical of all classical Valentine’s Day pairings: a plate of oysters alongside a glass of Champagne is the quintessential starting point of the perfect meal for two. This is one of the staples at one of London’s most coveted dining destinations, Chiltern Firehouse, where oysters are served alongside Ruinart, the house champagne.
But head sommelier Beatrice Bessi says there are many other possibilities, and indeed a lot of things to consider, when finding the best pairing for an oyster platter. ‘It all depends on the type of oyster…rock, native, etc. What is the specific texture and structure? Is it meaty? Does it have a briney taste?’ After answering these questions about the specific oyster species, Bessi recommends a wine with more or less acidity, more or less aromatic expressive.
‘If you have a meaty native oyster you need a wine with a little more body, such as a Grüner Veltliner or a dry Furmint. For an oceanic, sweet and sour oyster variety, on the other hand, I would go for Assyrtiko, Chablis, Sancerre or a dry Riesling kabinett.’ Bessi adds.
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Wine with caviar and smoked salmon
This is another classic that is often paired with Champagne – it works particularly well with a structured Blanc de Blancs – but which other, more adventurous pairings can complement even better.
A Loire Sauvignon Blanc or a Chablis, with their savoury minerality, are great options, but you might want to go for a more expressive style that can offer a more affirmative counterpoint to the strong flavours of cured fish and roe. An Alsatian Gewürztraminer, with aromatic expressiveness balanced by mineral precision, is a good alternative. But for a truly vibrant choice go for a Manzanilla En Rama or Fino Sherry – their tangy salinity and unique grip will support the intensity of the food’s flavours and enhance its texture and length.
Wine with baked goat’s cheese
‘Tangy goat’s milk cheese is quite versatile and can be baked with sweet or savoury accompaniments, like herbes de provence, or, if the cheese has a mouldy rind, go sweet with fig preserves.’ says Dan Belmont, of Good Wine x Good People. An expert in cheese and wine pairing, Belmont recommends a ‘sun-kissed Vermentino from coastal regions like Sardinia, Corsica, or Liguria’ with plenty of ‘orchard fruits, citrus zest and sea salt. ‘I’m quickly transported to the Mediterranean in my mind. I’d be seeking a dry and fruity white wine and avoiding oak tannins,’ he says.
Tannins are indeed a big enemy of cheese, and while a cheese platter is often pictured with a glass of red, you’re much better off enjoying it with a glass of aged traditional method sparkling, a rich white (barrel-aged Chardonnay or Pinot Gris from Alsace or Baden, for example), a Vin Jaune or an orange wine from aromatic varieties (Muscat, Gewürztraminer or Riesling).
Wine with tuna tartare
Beef might be the most classical choice but Alexandre Freguin, UK Best Sommelier of the Year 2018 and head sommelier at L’Oustalet, recommends going for the tuna iteration of tartare. ‘I’ve always considered tuna a highly interesting pairing subject because it can be approached from various angles and the cooking method is the key element to the pairing.’
Although Japanese beverages, namely sake, are ‘a heavenly match’ Freguin says ‘we can also open the door to sea-influenced regions’ such as Corsica. ‘We can easily imagine a vibrant Sciaccarellu [an indigenous red variety] grown on the island’s south western granite slopes.’ He recommends going for a bottle with a bit of age: ‘The evolved but vibrant profile would lighten the Tuna’s fleshy and meaty character.’
For something a bit more adventurous, Freguin suggests a Xinomavro rosé or a Trousseau from the US.
Wine with chocolate
A Valentine’s Day menu would not be complete without a chocolate-based dessert for which a wine pairing might not be easy to find.
Bessi always looks for something that can balance the dessert in both sweetness and weight. ‘Sherry PX, Port, Banyuls or an Uruguayan fortified Tannat’ are among her favourite recommendations. ‘Spirits are also a great option’, she adds. ‘Armagnac in particular.’
For Freguin ‘a huge classic would be an aged Rivesaltes’ but for a sense of discovery he suggests taking a look at the Rancio style. ‘The oxidative and dry finish will lift up the bitterness of the chocolate and add a bit of punch to the pairing.’
But, he adds, ‘Madeira is of course a treat when it comes to chocolate especially if you accompany it with hazelnuts. In this case a good old school Bual would definitely be a great choice.’
Wine with fruit-based desserts
Another Valentine favourite: flavourful, pink-hued fruit-based desserts. Think raspberry tart or panna cotta with wild berry sauce. A bullet-proof and altogether delicious companion will be a sparkling rosé, preferably one that has expressive fruit flavours itself but is not sweet (so for something like an Extra-Brut or Brut).
You might want to check our Sparkling rosé wines for Valentine’s Day for a quick reference of multiple options across regions and styles.
Wine suggestions for your Valentine’s day meal: