Ah, Valentine's Day... One of the interesting aspects from within the wineblogger perspective is that for the month leading up to the holiday, every wine gets pushed as being the perfect romantic wine. A press release will state, "Tell your special lady that you love her with the 2007 Angry Viking Bloodthirsty Red. And be sure to pick up a bottle of our Late Harvest Naval Blockade Fortified Wine. It will put hair on your chest, and it goes great with chocolate! Join us in singing the Drikkevise: Det kom ein bondemann ridande til by’n det var trudd at han skulle på fylla..."
The truth of the matter is that there's no perfect wine out there to impress the ladies. They all like different things, and just like with flowers, the quickest way to get into trouble is to assume that Girlfriend #12 has the same tastes as Girlfriend #11. (Even worse if the two of them are friends... Oy. Also, if halfway through a blind date you realize it's a mail-order bride scam from Eastern Europe, trying to talk about the wines of Ukraine doesn't get you very far. Trust Uncle Benito on that one.)
Assuming that your lady isn't a wine fanatic and you don't already know that she only consumes South African Steens from specific vintages, the best advice is to go dignified (no Fat Bastard or Bitch) and go for something that will be pleasing to even the novice palate. Which is why I was highly impressed with the Valentine's Day selections from Domaine Carneros.
Sparkling wine is an obvious choice, and restaurants move a lot of terrible fizz this time of year. They might as well be offering Haut-Sept or Dew de la Montagne. Skip whatever is included with the price of the meal, and try something tasty, even if it's the only time during the year that you drink real bubbles.
NV Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé Cuvée de la Pompadour
58% Pinot Noir and 42% Chardonnay
$35, 12% abv.
This has a beautiful pale salmon color, but don't let the pink color throw you off. This rosé is dry and tart with a crisp raspberry profile. The bubbles are big and fizzy, although a delicate foam forms in the flute. I found this sparkler to be substantial enough to stand up to a meal, so if you're going for poultry or shellfish, this would be a very fun wine to pair along with the food. Likewise, it would be excellent as a starter or with dessert. People often forget how versatile sparkling wines and rosés are, and this classic California bubbly combines the best of both worlds.
If you're opting for the steak or salmon for dinner, I'd highly recommend their Pinot Noir.
2008 Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir
$35, 14.2% abv.
Light aroma of wild strawberry, tannins are gone. Smooth and silky, very mild. Like I said, this will work with red meat if you've decided to shell out for the beef tenderloin, but it's light enough to work with heartier seafood dishes. The real benefit here is the near absence of tannins: even someone that is terrified of red wines will be able to drink this without puckering or feeling the need to run to the restroom and brush the teeth before the date ends. It's got a few years of age on it, but you can tell that it started out delicate and has only mellowed with time.
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Can I provide any other advice to the wine novice gentlemen who might be reading this post before a big date? Don't go crazy and buy the $100 bottle. Later on you'll figure out what's worth that price and what's just riding on an expensive reputation. Don't assume that the $4 bottle covered in gold foil will fool anybody. Do read up a bit on whatever wine you select by reading the wine list online ahead of time. If you pick the wrong wine and don't like it, admit to it, and laugh it off. Relax, and start planning for 2012. When you've opened a few dozen bottles and learned what you're doing, all the pressure will be gone and you and your special someone can comfortably sip the wine, in the way that it was meant to be enjoyed.
Note: These wines were received as samples.