In times past, it was pretty easy for an aspiring suitor to establish their culinary cred: simply take one’s Valentine down the road for the local version of surf 'n' turf and order a bottle of Lancers or Blue Nun to wash it down. Job done.
How times have changed. The interest in food TV has created a whole generation of home and wannabe restaurant Masterchefs. And wine has also been swept along: “natural”, “alternative” and biodynamic are les mots du jour.
That old time stroll down the road for the all-important date/meal has (d)evolved into a multi-course extravaganza, with “matching” beverages which can include “pet-nat”, decanted Champagne (yes, that’s a thing), sake, and Lord knows whatever else.
Did I mention the not inconsiderable cost associated with same?
So, for those seeking a simpler way of living, whether stepping out for dinner, or choosing home, if your libation of choice is wine, then any of the following baker’s dozen should engender bonhomie and pleasure at your table.
No wine style is more associated with fun and good times than Champagne and sparkling wine in general.
MV Paul Bara “Grand Rose” Champagne Brut ($99.99 per bottle
A multi vintage blend of 18% Chardonnay, 70% Pinot Noir and 12% Bouzy rouge.
The latter is the still red wine of the village Bouzy (famous for its Pinot Noir) and from which this wine takes its colour.
Salmon pink appearance, so appealing to the eye. With lacy aromas of blood orange, with a touch of orange zest and red currants, the palate is bursting with small red berry fruits, the red currants again, both combining with rose hip notes throughout a medium length finish.
Pair this with gravalax (sugar-cured salmon) on arrival and continue on with salmon fillet main if you like. Serve to your partner and let the games begin.
MV Laherte Frères Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature ($89.95 per bottle)
This MV (multi-vintage) Champagne is a “B de B”, so 100% Chardonnay, and the “Brut Nature” means “sans dosage /liqueur d’expédition” (bone dry, no added sugar).
Dosage is often employed by some Champagne house to give their fizz the character the fruit inherently lacked. No such issue with this “Farmer Fizz”, with total annual production of all cuvées totalling circa 8000 dozen, a mere drop in the ocean compared to that of some of the traditional “grande marques” houses.
This lip-smacking wine is very pale in appearance with a fine persistent bead. The bouquet reminds me somewhat of high quality premier or Grand cru Chablis, with notes of seaspray, iodine and chalk, with a faint hint of background citrus. The palate has real texture to it with characteristics of white peach, apple, mineral and brioche. Absolutely satisfying and refreshing and left me wanting more. Serve on arrival and if any left at the time, would pair beautifully with oysters.
2013 Hattingly Valley Rose ($83 per bottle)
England is now home to more than 140 wineries and has for some years been producing very fine sparkling wines (don’t say “Champagne” unless you want to be sued by the French).
From the Hampshire area, in the the south, this blend of 59% Pinot Noir, 35% Pinot Meunier and 6% Pinot Noir Precoce a mutation of Pinot Noir) is an excellent example of the quality that English sparkling wine can attain.
Pale salmon pink in appearance with excellent fine mousse, the aromas are of rose, strawberry and red currants.
The palate is similarly flavoured with a deliciously savoury backbone that is powerful and long. Serving this might be a useful ice breaker should your Valentine be from Old Blighty.
Wines to serve with oysters
We all know what they say about oysters. That said, it’s remarkably easy to get this wine pairing wrong: serve anything showing much obvious oak influence and it’s a food and wine match made in hell with no love to follow for anyone.
Below are some classic wines to serve with freshly shucked oysters natural. Enthusiastic consumption of the briny wonders - in the hope that at least one works - and any of these matching wines, is encouraged.
2014 Domaine Pierre Luneau-Papin “Les Grange" Vieille Vignes Muscadet Sevré et Maine sur lié ($25.99 per bottle)
To my mind, the Loire Valley region of Muscadet is underappreciated. It is the home of the varietal, “Melon de Bourgogne”, which in the right hands can produce a delicious wine that rises above being a simple “vin de soif”.
This is a first-rate example. Light lemon colour, with fresh, lively aromas of white flowers, acacia, and with a light lick of honey.
The palate is pleasingly textured - more than I expected - with characters of melon, stoniness and finishes with, again, unexpectedly sneaky length thanks to the beautifully integrated acidity. Perfect to wash down the natural molluscs - which might I add, should be served on a bed of ice, in a cold metal dish or bowl.
A delicious wine and a bargain to boot, being available for as little as $25 if you shop around.
2014 Domaine des Hates Chablis “Les Chatillons” ($49 per bottle)
How could I not recommend a Chablis, the region that produces the most inimitable Chardonnay in the world and the quintessential accompaniment to oysters natural?
In looking around for wines of romance, I came across this recently landed beauty from the great, great 2014 vintage.
Domaine des Hates' (pronounced “hut”) first vintage was in 2010 and owner winemaker Pierrick Laroche is regarded as a rising star of the region. It's easy to see why from this little gem.
Brilliant appearance with youthful lime highlights. Classic aromas of oyster shell, wet stone, lemon and lime citrus.
The palate has excellent nervosite, with the flavours showing complex fruit notes of lemon and grapefruit coating a backbone of iodine tang, all of which finishes long and oh so crisp. Yardstick village Chablis.
Seafood and white meat wines
The following will stand you in good stead if you are in search of a fuller bodied white wine experience.
2015 Bachelet-Monnet Bourgogne Blanc ($58 per bottle)
Entry level white burgundy from a quality producer and from a very good, if not classic, year. This impressively credentialed Chardonnay is produced from fruit coming off 20-50 year old Puligny vines combined with a plot of young vine Chassagne fruit.
Complex Citrus aromatics are filled out with white flower and rock melon notes. The palate starts with medium weight textured fruit, the flavours are of warmed lightly-spiced pear compote which extend throughout the palate to a medium length with a touch of warmth and spiciness on the farewell. Easy to love and sure to impress.
2015 Joseph Matrot Bourgogne Blanc ($50 per bottle)
Same year, same status as the Burgundy above, but different producer, and a quite different style.
Fermentation wild yeast in oak (20% new) then complete malolactic fermentation and maturation on less for 11 months prior to bottling.
A medium-bodied style which is somewhat New World however the inherent line and drive keep this lively and fresh. The yellow stone fruit flavours provide plenty of easy satisfaction and interest. Those who usually drink new world chardonnay would find this an easy bridge to cross to experience old world examples.
2015 Chateau Mont-Redon Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc ($25 per bottle)
Should your Valentine be “allergic” to chardonnay, wheel in this white wine from the famous Chateauneuf appellation.
Six varieties are able to be used in producing white Chateauneu and this wine utilizes five of them: Grenache blanc, Clairette, Picpoul, Roussanne and bourboulenc (but no Viognier).
This medium to full bodied wine has a generous bouquet comprosed of floral notes and hints of citrus zest.
The palate has lovely mouthfeel and balance with the complex flavours of honey hints, acacia combining to produce a deliciously long and fragrant aftertaste.
Will work a treat with chicken and other white meats.
Lets keep it simple for mains: either of these playful reds will put a smile on the face of someone lucky enough to be served them.
2016 Mas de Libian Bout D’Zan
I love the winemakers tasting note for this wine: “It’s good humoured and enjoys good company”. Boom!
From Cotes-du-Rhone in the south of France, this is a blend of 75% Grenache 25% Syrah. Intense mid red/purple colour, very vibrant and appealing.
Some wilder, funky aromatics on first opening which quickly dissipate to reveal an exotic bouquet of wild red berries, a hint of garrigue and some meaty, mineral notes.
A deliciously vibrant palate is driven by youthful cherry and plum flavours, which cavort on the palate with real vitality and length. Complex? Not really.
Pleasurable? Damn Straight. Team up with steak au poivre.
2017 Bondar “Junto” McLaren Vale GSM ($28 per bottle)
I can’t remember seeing a McLaren Vale as elegant as this 93% Grenache wine with smidgens of Mataro and Shiraz. Such a beautiful colour which is light to mid red with pinkish highlights - it absolutely looks like grenache.
The bouquet is pure and airy with floral red fruits, rose and watermelon.
With such an eye for shape and style, this winemaker could design haute couture: elegant rosewater flavours, with exotic spices and showing a light milk chocolate note in the middle palate.
This has real line and drive within a lithesome profile, culminating with a long and fragrant aftertaste. This is deliciously pretty and perfect with veal, pork or chicken.
Load up and drink often. (PS It's also a damn fine “options” wine )
Can a V-Day repast be complete without – at least - one dessert.
Indulge in simple classics such as chocolate mousse, mango, strawberries and ice cream, whether they be traditional or contemporary renditions. Serve the following to amp up the pleasure meter. Note the small bottles sizes, perhaps useful at this stage of the celebration.
2015 George Breuer Auslese ($38 per bottle)
A German “sticky “ from the Rheingau, the grape is riesling and the alcohol 8.5%.
Brilliant mid ripe lemon colour, the nose has notes of honey and lemon fruit jubes with plenty of fresh floral aromatics.
The palate is weighty with sweet rich lemon custard flavours which finish clean and persistently, thanks to the impressive acidity. Drink this with most fresh fruits
2016 Keller “PIUS” Beerenauslese ($79 per bottle)
From one of the new superstars of the German winemaking firmament, Klaus-Peter Keller.
This Beerenauslese (literal translation “selected harvest of berries”) is from the Rheinhessen region and a blend of botrytised Riesling, Scheurube and Rieslaner.
Boy, there’s plenty to love here: voluminous lifted aromatics of barley sugar, mango and passionfruit really stimulate the senses.
The palate is high performance racy, with the flavour cornucopia partying in the mouth like there’s no tomorrow : simply stunning vitality in this wine. Finishes long and fresh with the superb natural acidity. Yes please.
Geoffroy Ratafia de Champagne ($65 per bottle)
I confess to being a Ratafia newbie. What is it? Well this example is from the Champagne region, and starts with 60 degree proof Fine de Champagne (brandy spirit made from Champagne fruit), aged in oak for 8 months to soften, and then Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier grape juice (not wine) are added to soften.
The colour is burnished, ruddy salmon. The nose is warm and a bit pudding-like. Warning: this is so easy to drink and being 18% alcohol by volume, that could lead to who knows what on February 14th.
A palate of plush, dark berry, woodsy (not woody) fruit flavours, with the base warmth and length of the “Fine”. Notwithstanding the alcohol,l somehow this manages to stay light on its feet and finishes clean. Would work a treat with marinated berries, chocolate mousse, even some cheeses.
Note this is available in a very handy 20cl bottle.