By now you are probably deep into your Valentine's Day plans, whether you'll be making your own romantic dinner at home or heading out to paint the town red. So while you're planning on how to impress the guy or gal across the table, let's not forget about the ultimate accompaniment to your meal — the wine. Like peanut butter and jelly, butter and popcorn, a cheesburger and fries, or chocolate and... anything, certain wines and dishes are meant to go together.
Want to know how to best wine-and-dine your date? We asked Cobi Jones, one of the HJL Group Restaurant Advisors and a parttner at the California hotspots Arch Rock Fish and Magnolia, what to pair with the no-brainer, classic Valentine's Day dishes — and how to not look like a wine-ignorant fool in front of your date.
Really, the most important trick in the book to ordering wine on a date — confidence. It's all about what you like and what you're craving, Jones said. "If someone gives you a strange look when you order, you give them a strange look right back," Jones said with a laugh. Not sure what you're looking for? Jones advises to not be afraid to ask for help or suggestions; after all, they're paid to know what will go with your meal. "Let's be real, these people know the wine list in and out, and you may not know," he said. There's no shame in wanting to learn more.
Still feeling less than confident? Thanks to Jones, here's an easy primer of what dishes to look for on the menu, and the best varietal to go with them.
If you order oysters: Yeah, you've got some aphrodisiac ideas in mind? Better get a wine that's light and sweet to complement the salty, ocean flavors of the shellfish. "For me, I like the fruitiness of a pinot grigio as compared to other white wines," Jones said. "It's why I like it with oysters." Jones' pick: 2011 Santi "Sortesele" Pinot Grigio; Trentino Alto Adige, Italy
If you order filet mignon: With steak (Jones' favorite meal), you need a big, powerful wine to go with it — which is why a cabernet with dark berries and big flavors is often a favorite pairing. "When you're having a heavy meal, like steak, you need a nice, big wine to pair with it," he says. "A cabernet — a big, bold wine — won't get lost in the meal, but won't overpower it either." Jones' pick: 2009 Justin Cabernet Sauvignon; Paso Robles, Calif.
If you order mahimahi or a white fish: The acidity of a sauvignon blanc, plus its fruity overtones, will match nicely with a fish dish, Jones says. But don't be afraid to order a red wine (something light, like a pinot noir) if you're craving red. "You're seeing the traditional rules — red meat with red wine, fish with white wine — is starting to change," Jones says. "Order what you want, whatever you're craving — and order it with pride." Jones' pick: 2009 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc; New Zealand
If you order dark chocolate cake: A pinot noir is a safe bet for your chocolate desserts; if it's a rounded wine with hints of berries and vanilla, there's no easier pairing. Jones' pick: 2010 Brophey Clark Pinot Noir; Santa Barbara County, Calif.
If you order strawberries: Well, we should add to the PB&J-type foods list the easiest pairing of all — strawberries and champagne. The strawberries "match well with the citrus, stone fruit, and white blossom aromas of sparkling wine," Jones said. And really, nothing's wrong with starting (or ending) the meal with champagne on its own. "Really," Jones said, "can you even go wrong with that?" We think not. Jones' pick: 2008 Mumm Brut; Napa Valley, Calif.