kushman on wine

IT'S VALENTINE'S DAY: OPEN THAT BOTTLE!

WRITTEN BY RICK KUSHMAN
ILLUSTRATION BY SOPHIA PAPPAS

valentines kushman

Before we get to a couple key bits of wine advice, here’s one thing to remember about Valentine’s Day. The restaurant industry calls it Amateur Night.

This does not, of course, refer to anyone we know, but it’s the night when lots of people eat out at places where they don’t usually eat, and tables turn over more slowly than usual. So expect to wait a bit for your table, no matter when you made your reservation.

And, really, that’s just fine. People are taking their time, savoring the evening. You should, too. Think about a starter glass of wine — especially bubbly — at the bar as part of your plan. Toast the evening. Enjoy the energy in the room. And when you get to your table, don’t feel hurried; this is your special night, too.

That gets right to the wine advice. Is there a better occasion than Valentine’s Day to open that bottle of wine you’ve been saving (for possibly too long)? Whether you’re dining in or out, and whether you’re on a date or not, this is the night to finally pop that cork.

Many of us have a bottle, or a few, that has gotten away from us. It’s a great wine, or came from a great trip, or was a present from a great friend. We say we’ll save it “for a special occasion,” and the longer we save it, the more special the occasion needs to be. Well, here it is, Valentine’s Day — share it with the love of your life. Or with friends. Maybe just toast your loyal pet.

A couple things, though: This is really about reds. Most whites don’t age well, so if you’ve been saving, say, a special Chardonnay for half a decade, it’s probably lost much of its pop.

And the reds, which generally age well, begin to change as soon as five years after their vintages. They evolve away from the fruit you tasted when you bought it at the winery and develop what winemakers call secondary aromas and flavors — those of a cigar box, or a cigar, or earth and leather. Just expect some of that, and it may be a special treat, especially if you haven’t had older wines.

Speaking of reds, here’s another big tip: Despite all the ads and romantic images that have been cultivated over the years, red wine and chocolate really don’t go well together. All wines have acid in them. We don’t notice, just as we don’t notice the acid in orange juice unless you brushed your teeth right before sipping your OJ. Red wine and chocolate are worse. The sweetness in chocolate makes wine taste sour.

So instead, choose a wine that’s sweeter than your dessert, and the pairing can be magical. And what a cool way to finish off Valentine’s Day, with a dessert-style wine, such as a Port, a sweet Riesling, a late-harvest red or white, or even a sweet moscato. Whatever works for you.

And while you’re sipping your dessert wine, don’t fret for the people standing at the bar sipping the bubbly. They’ll be fine.

Rick Kushman is a New York Times bestselling author, the wine commentator for Capital Public Radio, and the creator and co-host of the radio show Bottle Talk with Rick and Paul. To reach him, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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