I dont like to go out to eat for Valentines Day. No, not because it’s a dark day for me, but because everyone goes out to eat for Valentines Day, so even if you are a regular at your favorite place that you and your sweetheart (real, prospective or imagined), there is a good chance you wont be treated as well. The menu may be limited to fixed price, there may be pressure to turn over the table more quickly, and your favorite server may be so harried, it could set that special relationship back a number of visits.
I am going out for dinner this Valentines Day. My friend Laura owns a fun, funky, quirky establishment in my community that serves really good food at too low prices with the most genial, easygoing service, and she is having a fixed price menu for the special day. But I am seeing it as an anti-Valentines Day dinner out. Yes, its a set menu, but its six courses for $125 a couple and there is only one seating and you dont have to be there at a set time on the nose. And knowing Laura, she wont be rushing anyone out, which means she is likely to sit and have a glass of wine with us at some point. There is also a small jazz combo performance included in the price tag. As well as I always feel treated in this casually paced eating place, I suspect it is also a place where I may end up feeling even better treated on Valentines Day, not the norm for holiday dining.
As I live in the community, and Laura communicates a lot about her establishment via community based social media, and since I RSVP’d for a table for four (four people can celebrate Valentines Day together, no?), I have been asked to make wine recommendations for the six course menu, so I thought it would be a good chance to write a piece that discusses wine pairing thoughts and give some folks some ideas for making their own choices for that fun night.
Menu: Ravioli Trio, Mushroom, Asparagus and Lobster, With a Saffron Cream Sauce
Strawberry Champagne Soup With Passionfruit Sorbet
Seared Divers Scallop, Endive, Fennel and Cara Cara Orange Slaw
Grilled Fig Chevre Salad With Pomegranate, Roasted Peas, & Rasperries
Main Course Choice of Aged Dried Tenderloin with Tarragon Wild Mushroom Borganzola Honey Gingered Breast of Duck Grilled Swordfish with Mango Salsa
Dessert, A Mélange of Delicacies Handcrafted by Laura
Here are my wine pairing ideas.
First, you are dining with someone or a number of someones you care about to some significant degree, so drink “personally”…drink what you like, or what the two (or more) of you like, a wine that has some personal significance. It could be the wine from your first date, from a trip, from your wedding night, from the first wine you shared after meeting in group therapy, whatever. One year, I prepared a VD meal at home around a bottle of wine we shared on our honeymoon. I found a recent vintage of that producer and prepared a meal to match. If you are going to commemmorate the quasi-holiday, personalize it. Think “best pairing” second. Believe me, personalizing it will pair best. One exception: if white zin was the wine you remember from that special shared moment in the past, go directly to my other suggestions.
Second, I wondered it there was one wine choice that someone could drink throughout the meal, that would pair well, or well enough, with the entire menu being offered. Not only do the courses vary, but there is a lot of variety in every dish. That is one way wine pairing has become a challenge today. Any plate being put in front of you at many restaurants today are no longer a simple presentation of a protein, a starch and a vegetable. There are different flavors, spices, seasonings, levels of heat, sauces and textures on any given dish today (the challenge of the 21st century Thanskgiving pairing too), so you are trying to hit not just multiple notes throughout a meal, but throughout every individual course.
If I want to pair with the entire menu (with the possible exception of the beef main course, but it would work just fine there because of the mushrooms), I would go with, and will go with, a sparkling rose. It is the wine that meets my Thanskgiving challenge every year, not to mention it looks great on a set table. Traditional champagne roses or champagne style sparkling roses have a pinot noir base or a grape very similar to pinot noir (such as garnacha in Spanish cava). I have my favorites…and you can find very good sparkling roses starting at low to mid teens.
Pinot noir goes great with a lot of the components in most of the courses, so if you had to choose a single red for your meal, Id pick pinot. Since there is an emphasis on fruit and freshness, I would go with a more fruit forward pinot noir whether it was from Burgundy or the West Coast. I think East Coast pinots would be too austere, and some CA pinots may be too raspberry jammed, so Oregon may be the right tone. Of course, there may be nothing sexier than a red Burgundy (always 100% pinot noir), but in this case, romance will cost you. You better be sure they are worth it (the wine and the company)! Dont want a pinot? Try a nice garnacha or grenache. I have found myself reaching more and more for those the past couple of years to accompany such meals.
Some people dont like sparkling wine. Some people dont like red wine too. I dont spend much time with those people. But there are definitely white wine choices to be had for this night. I am not a fan of big oaky chardonnays with most food because it can be overwhelming, but it certainly goes well with a cream sauce or with cheese sauces too. If you want to continue to impress your dining companion(s), go for a white Burgundy, again a sexy wine with a higher price tag, but my idea of the general style chardonnay should be. I also dont want anything too acidic or crisp or light, so I will not go with sauvignon blanc which I usually like for its food friendly versatility. I will bring along one of any of these following whites. Perhaps gruner veltliner, a wine I love with vegetables and greens and seafood. An Alsatian or Oregon style pinot gris would be very nice too. Most likely though Im looking towards Spain for my whites for that night, with either albarino or godello. In fact, I think godello will give me the crispness combined with rounder mouthfeel I want (in the wine, not anything else).
But really…enjoy the company that night. Everything else is just background stuff.