The big heart day is coming and millions of folks will be sitting down to dinner with their main squeeze. I’ll probably be making dinner for Thing 1 and Thing 2, but lets pretend that I’ll really be having an amazing dinner with the love of my life. And whether you go high-end and pull out the lobster and caviar, enjoy some Italiano, or keep it real with some fried chicken, there is a wine for that. But instead of the reliable faves, let’s go with some under-the-radar wines that will be sure to impress your valentine.
Crémant de Limoux
Sure, you could uncork some champagne (and nobody would be mad) but to flex some bubbly knowledge, how about a couple of alternatives? For affordable bubbly (you know, cause inflation!) why not go with one of the true O.G’s – Crémant de Limoux from the Limoux region in France’s Languedoc. Featuring Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir (less than 10% by law) and Mauzac, Crémant de Limoux gives producers an opportunity to explore a wide variety of flavor profiles made in the traditional method (the same way champagne is made). Contrary to what many believe, sparkling wine actually originated in Limoux when it was discovered by Benedictine nuns from the Saint Hilaire Abbey next to Limoux. Bubbly didn’t make its way to Champagne until a century later. Not surprisingly, the Chardonnay vines in Limoux are some of the oldest in the south of France. Now imagine uncorking one and impressing your date with all this bubbly knowledge! A couple of producers that I enjoy make both a brut and rosé stye that are quite enjoyable.
If you want something a little higher end, then pop open some Franciacorta. For me, this is one of those wines that is so amazing but doesn’t get nearly enough press. Also made in the traditional method with a second fermentation, Franciacorta is Italy’s answer to the quality sparkling wines of France. In fact, it was the first Italian wine to be made with a second fermentation. Like Champagne, Franciacorta is made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Some also feature small amounts of Pinot Blanc and more recently, the ancient native variety Erbamat which is known for its high acidity and serves as an answer to climate change. Lower yields, hand harvesting, gentle grape pressing, and more leads to higher quality wines and Franciacorta’s DOCG status, Italy’s highest classification. Like other high-quality traditional method sparkling wines, Franciacorta requires lengthy minimum aging periods starting at 18 months for non-vintage wines all the way up to 60 months for riserva wines. A few to try include:
German Pinot Blanc
Got some seafood or lighter salad options on the v-day menu? Then you’ll need some white wine and I have a few to suggest. Sure, Germany is known for Riesling, but lately, I’ve really been enjoying German Pinot Blanc. Like seriously, be the person that shows up with Pinot Blanc rather than Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, or Chardonnay (no shade – I love them all!) and score some cool points. And while it’s grown across the border in Alsace, Pinot Blanc takes on a different expression in Germany and tends to be fresher and more delicate. Sometimes referred to locally as Weissburgunder, Pinot Blanc was created when it mutated from the quite unstable Pinot Noir (as so many other varietals have) and makes a light, dry, and refreshing wine. The wines tend to exhibit vibrant fruit flavors such as yellow apple, pear, apricot, peach, lemon and even some nutty characteristics. I love it with seafood or a salad, but it can certainly hold its own with roast chicken, pork, and even cream sauces. And as I mentioned above, it also shows up in my beloved Franciacorta. A couple to try include:
OK, I’m probably guilty of liking this wine as much for how it sounds as I enjoy its vibrant acidity. “peek-pool” One of southern France’s oldest varieties, I was thrilled when I first discovered this wine. Picpoul de Pinet is what actually introduced me to the tasty wines of Languedoc. The name loosely translates to “lip stinger” due to its natural lively acidity. I’m a bit of an acid head (in the best way possible) so this wine speaks to me. The ones from Languedoc are what got me into it, but I have to share that many I’ve had from Texas are dangerously easy drinking. The Texas wines seem to have a little less acidity too. Green fruits (apple, pear, melon) along with some minerality makes them great for warm days and excellent food wines. Bring on the pool, the beach as well as some salmon and fried fish and shrimp. If you’re a fan of Pinot Grigio, Albariño, or Vinho Verde, give this a try. And then you can say, “Picpoul” all night. Would you care for some more Picpoul? Can I top off your Picpoul? Should we open another Picpoul? You get the point. A couple I recommend include:
Heading over into red wine territory, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my beloved Blaufränkisch. After a few unpleasant American versions, I got a newfound appreciation of it when I visited Burgenland in southern Austria. To be sure, Blaufränkisch is the star of Burgenland as it is grown in all of the sub-regions and enjoys DAC status in all but but one sub-region. The ones from Leithaberg, with its slate and limestone soils, are some of my faves. Blaufränkisch has been described as having the elegance of Burgundy Pinot Noir, the pepperiness of Northern Rhône Syrah, and the structure of Nebbiolo from Piedmont. It is also a vehicle for terroir as much as say, Chardonnay as it tastes like the place it grows. Blaufränkisch is characterized by its dense structure, rich tannins, and dark fruit and has good ageing potential. And it can please a wide variety of palates. In the USA, you may encounter it as Lemberger and in Hungary is goes by Kékfrankos. A few from Austria to try:
I’ll admit that I struggled with Tannat the first time few times I had it. Heck, I’d never even heard of it until I visited Uruguay over a decade ago. Some I enjoyed, while others just beat me over the head with their brusque tannins. When it comes to tannins, Tannat has some of the highest which also means it’s full of heart healthy antioxidants compared to many wines. But it’s those tannins that can render the wines tough to drink if not made by the right hands. I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I uncorked one. But all that changed when I started drinking Texas Tannat. I still recall my first taste of Texas Tannat at Bending Branch Winery, and was surprised by how tannic the wine wasn’t. Texas growing conditions and winemaking techniques are such that the grape’s tannins can be tamed. What’s left is bold, luscious, and damn good wine. If you like a bolder wine with some oomph, this is for you. Sure you could show up with the same old Cab Sauv or Syrah (again, no shade) but step out of your comfort zone and do something unique for v-day. Tannat is the perfect wine for a wide variety of Texas eats including smoky BBQ (that is, REAL BBQ, you know, from Texas), black mole enchiladas, beef fajitas, or a cowboy ribeye. A few to try include:
Cheers to uncorking something a little different for Valentine’s Day!