A snowy winter night tees up a great excuse to stay inside, prepare a gourmet meal, and open a really nice bottle of wine. For this year’s (pandemic-friendly) at-home Valentine’s Day Date Night consider cooking up a pan-seared ribeye and serving a bold red wine. There really is no better drink to pair with steak than a rich red wine; this is a truth that exists on a chemical level—the fat and protein in steak play off of the tannins in red wine, enhancing flavors in both. Look for a red wine that means business, preferably one with good structure, polished tannins, and balanced fruit. And, be sure to ask for guidance (always free!) from your local wine retailer if you can’t source from the selections below.
Mini-Splurge Date Night Wines
Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva, 2016: Roberto Stucchi, fifth generation winemaker and owner of Badia a Coltibuono, has practiced organic farming for decades but the winery was officially certified in 2000. Sangiovese is a delicate varietal but when farmed and vinified with finesse and attention to detail it yields a wine of elegance, structure and heft. Roberto also likes to work with native yeast during fermentation, which he believes is an essential influence on the wine’s flavor. Bistecca Florentine was meant for Sangiovese, and this bottling is surely the best value for a date night. $36
Clos de los Siete, 2016: A red blend comprised mostly of Malbec with additional Merlot, Cabernet-Sauvignon, Syrah, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Winemaker Michele Rolland, famed for his work in Bordeaux, elevates Argentina’s Uco Valley terroir in this wine. He characterizes 2016 as one of the most difficult harvests since the launch of the Clos de los Siete project. The cold harvest season yielded smaller, more concentrated fruit. You’ll get ripe notes of blackberries and plums, spice and a savory freshness that pairs so beautifully with grilled steak. The 2017 vintage is also available in stores now. $20
Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Sagrantino SOCG, 2013: Sagrantino has one of the grape world’s highest concentrations of polyphenols—a nice bonus if you are eating rich, red meats. This one is bold, tannic and complex; it demands at least an hour of decanting to better tease out the layers of black cherry and plum fruit, notes of dried herbs, clove and leather. You’ll get a lot of wine for the money and if you can buy two bottles, put one aside for a decade as it will soften and evolve into an even more flavorful wine. $42.99
Serious Splurge Date Night Wines
Turnbull Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Reserve, 2017: This small, independently-owned Napa winery works exclusively with estate fruit from their Oakville AVA. Winemaker Peter Heitz specializes in detail, fermenting in small lots (up to 90 in any given vintage), and then blending the results to achieve a wine of balance and polish. This Cabernet Sauvignon shines with blackberry, black cherry and notes of cedar and cassis. The finish is supple and long and easily able to hold its own against any roasted protein. $104.99 on wine.com
Blackbird Vineyards, Contrarian, 2016: Supple and silky, this Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot hits all the right notes on tannins, structure and fruit. Crafted by winemakers Aaron Pott and Kyle Mizuno, it shows ripe black cherry and cassis notes on the palate with a whiff of mocha and spice. Made with fruit from three different vineyards across Napa, the wine is a bit lighter in alcohol than most (14.1%) and that shows in the tension and restraint on the palate. $135
Clos Apalta, 2017: This exquisite wine celebrates its 20th vintage this year and continues to be praised as one of the finest iconic wines of Chile. Produced by the Marnier Lapostolle family, the first vintage dates back to 1997 and is credited with bringing much deserved attention to the winemaking potential in Chilean terroir. This year’s release (primarily composed of Carmenere, with additional Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and a touch of Petit Verdot) sings with deeply concentrated layers of blue and black fruits, hints of cassis and olive, as well as forest floor—all folded into a satiny texture. Open this at least one hour early and decant before serving—it will evolve all evening long. $130
Parallel Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2017: Widely-regarded winemaker Philippe Melka collaborates with the four ski-loving families (note the ski tracks on the label) that started this boutique winery back in 1999. Melka lends his skills with fruit, tannin, and balance to this wine, crafting a lush but balanced expression of Cabernet that will play well with a steak. Look for a palate of dark chocolate, black cherries, warm spices, and excellent savory tension that lends a freshness to the finish. $110
Collina Dalle Valle 2017, Napa: Japanese-born Naoko Dalla Valle moved from the West Indies to the Napa Valley with her Italian husband Gustav Dalla Valle and the couple purchased a hillside vineyard in Oakville. The winery was completed in 1986 and today their wines are highly awarded and regarded. The 2017 Collina shows purity with a polished and silky texture and a lovely black fruit core. The finish has notes of warm spice and refined tannins. $100
Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz, 2018: As go-to, never-let-you-down steak wines go, this blend from Penfolds might be the best option out there. The wine’s pairing of shiraz (think pepper and depth) with Cabernet Sauvignon (think structure and silky red cherry fruit) works so well with so many dishes. Pair this with a well-seasoned grass-fed filet. Penfolds suggests pairing the steak and wine with a spread of spring vegetables, such as chilled asparagus drizzled with EVOO, mustard greens, and radishes. $62 average online
Salco Salcheto Vin Nobile di Montepulciano, 2013: Salcheto is a one of Italy’s few certified organic and sustainable wineries with an energy-independent cellar—more importantly, the wine is a brooding, darkly fruity wine with pronounced tannins and structure. Notes of tobacco and forest floor add an intriguing layer making this a wine to contemplate throughout the evening. Be sure to decant at least one hour before drinking. $56 avg online.