A case for drinking beyond the obvious on Valentine's Day.
You're on a Valentine's date. Whether the person across the table is a new love interest or a decades-long spouse, you want this night to feel special. You've already scored major points by booking your favorite restaurant well in advance. The menu is a prix fixe with the requisite truffled and caviar-topped classics. There's just one choice to make: the wine.
Because it's, well, booze, wine has been proven to lower inhibition, improve mood, and promote relaxation. That's probably why the beverage has such strong historical and mythological ties to the concepts of passion, revelry, and erotic love. In ancient Greece, grape clusters were gifted to newlyweds as a symbol of fertility. And let's not forget the god Dionysus—Bacchus to the Romans—who inspired orgiastic rituals fueled by excessive consumption. Wine, it was believed, freed his followers from self-consciousness and fear.
In a sense, all wine is romantic. But in this modern era of drinking, we have a vast array of wine types, appellations, and grape varieties. For the Hallmark card-and-flowers type, the right label might be enough to set the tone. Countless brands and wineries have amorously-designed logos and insignia, some based on longstanding tradition, others based on clever marketing. There's a New Zealand Pinot Noir called Cupid's Arrow (from the Wild Rock estate in Central Otago). J.L. Chave Selection produces a Côtes-du-Rhône cuvée Mon Coeur (which translates to "my heart"). Bordeaux Third Growth Château Calon-Ségur emblazons their bottles with a heart; as does Montevetrano for their Campania Aglianico they call Core.
Warming winter wines might also be considered romantic, whether it's because their higher alcohol levels bring a flush to the cheeks or because they're the types you might see yourself sipping cozily by a fire. Think bold wines made from Syrah, like the savory, spice-laced reds of the northern Rhône Valley or fruit-forward Shiraz from Australia. A great Cabernet with a bit of bottle age is a go-to. Or even the fortified wine Port, which is a quintessential pairing for chocolate (a food that contains a number of compounds that are known aphrodisiacs).
The most obvious romantic wine, however, is Champagne. While its claim to aphrodisiacal qualities is vague at best, it is one of the world's most infinitely pairable wines—great with everything from crudo to pasta to poultry and game. It's also a category that just about every wine drinker can agree on. Have you ever met someone who was revolted by the fine effervescence of a mineral-laden blanc de blancs? I didn't think so. And while Champagne is great for any occasion, it's still largely viewed as celebratory. Restaurateurs know this and will stock up with extra cases before holidays like New Year's and Valentine's Day, so chances are there will be plenty of options for you to choose from—from tried and true brands like Krug, Taittinger, and Ruinart to boutique grower-producers like Lassaigne, Pierre Péters and Agrapart & Fils.
Bear in mind that with Champagne, as with winter warming wines, each bottling has a certain style. So if your date doesn't care for the slightly-saccharine flavor profile of Veuve Cliquot or can't palate the bracing austerity of an Extra-Brut, certain choices might not perfectly align with your expectations for the evening.
But really, they best course of action is to think about what wines your partner really loves. Is he a cru Beaujolais fanatic? Has she really taken to Sicilian reds? If you're unsure, ask what he'd like to drink. Better yet, if you have a long history as a wine list hog, simply hand the book over and say, "Why don't you pick the wine tonight?" That will prove to her that this dinner is as much about her pleasure as it is about yours. If the two of you are already enjoying yourselves, any bottle will amplify that sentiment. But the one that will make the difference between a good night and a great one is a wine that you both consider utterly delicious, regardless of its price tag or where it came from. What can be more romantic than that?