Wine Pairings for Your Valentine’s Day Dinner
Valentine’s Day seems like it should be an easy one for pairing food and wine — there are so many things marketed for this one specific day. The problem is, most of those things are terrible. Syrupy sweet wines, sugary chocolate vodkas, and no consideration at all for the poor people who might actually want to drink these things with dinner. So we’ve compiled a kind of cheat-sheet to help you pick out some wine pairings that will enhance your Valentine’s Day dinner, not overwhelm it.
When you’re pairing your food and wine, there are two primary ways to approach it: overlapping and opposing. Complementary flavors are easy enough to understand—you just put two similar things together. But contrasting flavors might seem harder to grasp at first. Although you probably already get it without realizing it. Think about pineapple: its natural sweetness makes it a great partner with coconut since both are light tropical flavors. But pineapple is also delicious with pork, where its sweetness and astringency is counterbalanced by the savory meat.
You can use these same basic principles when pairing food and wine. Whatever two things you’re putting together should make the other one taste better; neither the food nor the wine should completely drown out its pairing. And it’s not just about flavor—you want the relative “weights” of each item to be roughly the same. If you took a light, crisp vinho verde and served it with goulash, it would be totally overwhelmed. But you take that same vinho verde and pair it with a bright, fresh ceviche, and suddenly both the food and the wine come alive.
With those ideas in mind, we’ve created a basic pairing guide for some of the more popular Valentine’s Day dishes, to help you serve a perfect meal to the object of your affection or just make an awesome dinner for yourself.
If you’re serving…
Well obviously the first thing that comes to mind when you pair oysters is sparkling wine, and with good reason; the crisp fizz goes perfectly with oysters’ brininess. (And if you need a refresher on sparkling wines, we’ve got you covered.) But if you’re not in the mood for bubbles quite yet, you can’t go wrong with a dry Sauvignon Blanc, particularly a New World bottle.
Valentine’s Day seems like the perfect time to break out the “engagement chicken.” But even if you’re not trying to trick anyone into proposing, roast chicken is a simple-but-impressive dish that should be manageable for most home cooks. It’s also perfect for earthy wines like Pinot Noir. Or, if you want to go the more oppositional route, a jammy Syrah would also be delicious.
For some people, romance means red meat. Those people are going to want a wine that’s equally bold. An Argentine Malbec is a can’t-miss pairing; the full-bodied wine will stand up well to a heavy meal. And we’d be remiss if we didn’t suggest a California Cabernet Sauvignon, whose big, fruity, spicy notes will only make your steak that much better.
Is there any food more consistently associated with Valentine’s Day than chocolate? Though it might not be your first thought, a sparkling sweet rosé can actually pair very nicely with chocolate desserts. Another option would be a sweet fortified wine, like Banyuls. Chocolate is one thing where the “opposites attract” principle doesn’t work quite as well—you’re better off sticking with something on the sweeter side than going too dry.