Sometimes, the best response to a question is another question.
Like when someone asks: What wine should my sweetie and I drink on Valentine’s Day?
In return: How long have you been together?
There really doesn’t have to be much more to it than that (although we’ll get to some catch-all options in due time). Just think in terms of how long you’ve been a couple:
Six months or less: Think pink. And bubbles. The bloom is still on your relationship, big time, and the beverage of choice should reflect that. If money is little or no object, shell out for the real deal from Champagne, $75-plus for Billecart-Salmon or Pol Roger or maybe half that for Nicolas Feuillatte or Piper-Heidsieck. Or spend a little more on the food and look for something from Alsace (Lucien Albrecht, Zinck, Pierre Sparr) or Austria (Brundlmayer).
One to five years: The bloom might be off the rose (or the rosé), but you’re still sweet on each other, so celebrate with one of those lush, nectar-like wines. Two sweet ones that are well worth a $70 splurge are the Baumard Quarts de Chaume, a chenin blanc from France’s Loire region, or Inniskillin Vidal Ice Wine from Ontario. But again, more affordable options abound, from chocolate-infused reds (Trentadue Chocolate Amore or Rosenblum Désirée) to a wonderful Washington riesling (Chateau Ste. Michelle’s “Eroica”) to the gorgeous dessert wines from France’s Banyuls region (Chapoutier, Les Clos de Paulilles).
Five to 10 years: So now there’s a good chance your relationship is as much about looking ahead as looking back. In my experience, wine and wanderlust are natural companions: People who enjoy fermented grape juice almost invariabIy love to travel, especially to vine-laden lands. So as you start mapping out your journey, begin exploring the destination’s bounty: Brunello di Montalcino from Tuscany (Casanova di Neri Tenuta, Banfi), pinot noir from Oregon (Ken Wright, Le Cadeau), the under-recognized whites from Australia (Yalumba Vermentino, Brokenwood Semillon).
More than 10 years: Plenty of options here, starting with a vintage bottle from the year of your first date or wedding (if you have a hard time finding one, get a 20-Year-Old Tawny Port from Dow or Taylor Fladgate and call it a day). Or have the same wine you savored together on a cherished trip, or at a wonderful wedding, or on your best date of late.
Or just open something from your collection that you’ve been hesitant to try, perhaps because it might be too old or too expensive or you just never found the exact right occasion.
A few years back, the Wall Street Journal’s John Brecher and Dottie Gaiter came up with the notion of “Open That Bottle Night,” a time to uncork something that has some significance (and/or a lot of dust). They settled on the last Saturday in February for this night, and many local cork dorks put on quite the fete. But there’s no reason you can’t move it to the middle of the month and keep it to yourselves.
You might end up loving the wine, or you might laugh about it. Or both.
One more option, with local flavor: a hearty red from Napa’s Terra Valentine winery, owned by Minnesota’s own Angus Wurtele. Unlike some of the gimmicky pseudo-romantic wine monikers out there, this brand’s legit: Wurtele’s dad was named Valentine.
But really, anything the two of you feel like having is just fine. This holiday and this beverage tend to have too much self-imposed pressure around them as it is. So just have some fun with it — although you might want to steer clear of Ménage à Trois.
Follow Bill Ward on Twitter: @billward4