After making dinner plans for Valentine’s Day, the next step is to start thinking about an incredible wine that will wow your date. Forget sparkling wines and rosés and set your sights on the rich, full-bodied reds. The main reason: If you’re dining out, it’s almost guaranteed that beef or a braised meat of some kind will be on the prix-fixe Valentine’s menu.
Another reason: “It’s cold outside too, which is all the more reason to drink a lush red that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside,” says Nick Morisi, wine director at Yvonne’s, a four-star restaurant in Boston.
A good wine list will include options for special-occasion reds from a number of grape-growing regions, but some areas just do “sexy and decadent” better than others. “Italian blends and California Cabs are popular” on Valentine’s Day, says Morisi, “but richer expressions of Pinot Noir have a place too. You need a wine that is as sexy as the occasion, and these options certainly fit the bill.”
Here are some recommendations for 10 delicious, luxurious (and in some cases, pricey) red wines for Valentine’s Day. They’re also some of the best wines you’ll have all year.
If you’re looking for a blockbuster statement bottle (engagement proposal, anyone?) from an iconic producer, Super Tuscan Marchesi Antinori 2012 Solaia Toscana IGT ($325) is just the thing. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Cabernet Franc, Solaia has deep aromas of briar, gingerbread and dried spice. On the palate it serves up plush tannins, ripe plum and raspberry fruit, and layers of earth, spice and mineral.
Dal Forno Romano 2009 Amarone della Valpolicella ($450) is another incredible Italian red, and is a once-in-a-decade bottle for most wine lovers. The 2009 is a dense, tightly woven wine with intense cassis, raspberry, spice, cedar, quince and a host of other flavors. There’s no sensory detail spared here. It is best paired with rich, wintry braises like osso buco or short ribs.
The single-vineyard Prunotto 2008 Vigna Colonnello Riserva Bussia Barolo DOCG ($200) has great grip on the midpalate, and red fruit that’s peppered with notes of fresh herb, forest floor and cinnamon. It’s tight and sprightly now, but it has terrific aging potential: If you’re the sentimental type who likes to celebrate with the same wine every year for the sake of tradition, this is one you can count on until, say, 2030.
Malbec is hot right now, but it’s not a variety we remember to turn to on special occasions. Here’s one you won’t soon forget: Argentinean winery Alta Vista’s flagship wine, the Alta Vista 2009 Alto Mendoza ($90), is a plush Malbec (blended with 20% Cabernet) with rich flavors of purple fruit, mocha, and Mexican spice. It is one of the most enjoyable reds I’ve had recently.
Ovid’s 2012 Red Wine Napa Valley ($285) is a delicious love letter to your favorite intellectual: The Bordeaux blend is richly textured and serves up heaps of cassis, chili spice, and mocha flavors. Its label quotes (what else?) Ovid’s Metamorphoses. If you’re buying it for an intimate Valentine’s dinner at home check the winery’s website first, where there’s a recommended bibliography to enjoy with each vintage of the wine. Postprandial poetry reading, anyone?
Now only in its fourth vintage, the Mathew Bruno 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($100) is a dark-fruited, juicy Cab with pretty chili, spice and nutmeg accents. Its tannins are fine and smooth, but its backbone is firm—there’s no extra flab on this guy. From Pahlmeyer, a winery known for its lush, powerful wines, the Pahlmeyer 2013 Jayson Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($75) doesn’t disappoint: It’s loaded with blackberry fruit edged in mocha, black pepper and vanilla.
The Hedges Family Estate 2012 La Haute Cuvée Red Mountain ($120/1.5L) is a terroir-driven 100% Demeter-certified biodynamic Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon. It is focused and just delicious; its vibrant, black- and blueberry core is layered with bitter chocolate, earth, eucalyptus and rosemary notes. The wine is a bargain compared to other Cabs of its ilk, but it’s only available in magnum. This is a good one to order if you’re on a Valentine’s double date.
Pinot Noir is not as rich and dense as some of the other wines on this list, but it can still be quite indulgent. Pinot lovers will remember Bob Cabral as the former winemaker at Williams Selyem; he’s now director of winemaking of Three Sticks Wines in Sonoma. The Three Sticks 2013 Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($65) has beautifully ripe, juicy black cherry and currant fruit, owing to a terrific vintage, plus fine tannins and a mouthwatering finish. It’s accented by smooth, minerally notes throughout. This is one to consider if you’re a vegetarian and your date is a carnivore: This wine will go with salmon, pork, mushrooms—you name it.
The fellow who orders vintage Port after dinner? He’s a keeper. Though it’s already over 20 years old the Fonseca 1994 Port ($400) still has a long life ahead of it. A classic vintage from a top-tier producer, the 1994 is powerful on the mid-palate, with ripe berry and currant fruit edged in spice and violet notes. While blue cheese is the classic pairing for vintage Port, other piquant cheeses work well, too, as do nuts and dried fruits.
Daryna Tobey lives in New York and has been writing about wine since 2001. You can reach her at email@example.com. Prices quoted are suggested by the wineries.