Thank God for Valentine’s Day. Without it, what would we have to look forward to in February?
And it seems like the world needs a little love at the moment. We could all use a little escape via a unique bottle (or two) and a few unplugged hours with someone we love.
The bad news? This year, Valentine’s Day is on a Tuesday.
The good news? You still have plenty of time to hunt down some sexy wines for the evening.
With the ultimate date night in mind, I had been flagging a few wines for this feature over the last month. But a lengthy trip to Napa and Sonoma last week upended the whole list. Yes, some of these wines top $100, but each one has their own certain romance, and you know what? I wouldn’t hesitate to drop some serious bucks for any of them.
Something to Set the Mood
2012 Inman Family Wines Blanc de Noir OGV Estate
Starting the night off with a little sparkle doesn’t always have to involve Champagne. California has long churned out excellent bottles of Brut, beginning with the Davies family and their iconic estate — Shramsberg — in the 1960s.
This week in Napa and Sonoma, we were often treated to glasses of sparkling wine at the start of a tasting (including Schramsberg before dinner one night), but none of them compared to the beauty of Inman Family Wines Blanc de Noir (★★★★ 1/2) from the Olivet Grange estate vineyard. It’s wonderful aromas reminded me distinctly of almonds and apples, and the lovely acidity and bright minerality it showed on the palate will get your evening out of the starting blocks in a hurry.
2013 G.D. Vajra Langhe Rosso
Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto are rarely blended. After a glass of G.D. Vajra Langhe Rosso (★★★★ 1/2), you might be wondering why that is.
This gorgeous blend includes Piedmont’s top three red grapes as well as two lesser-known indigenous Italian varieties (Freisa and Albarossa) and a dash of Pinot Noir. They combine for some symphonic stuff. Aromas bring to mind cooked strawberries, light cherries, roses and hazelnut, and on the palate, the wine couldn’t be any more frisky. Think of it as Barbera Lite (or Dolcetto after its gone on a pasta bender).
As unusual as it may seem, it comes across as classically Piemontese — which can only be a good thing. And at $14, it is a remarkable value.
2012 Gamble Family Vineyards “Family Home” Cabernet Sauvignon
I get it: there is something about Cabernet Sauvignon that people find sexy (especially, it would seem, men of a certain age). It has a ripe and juicy core that’s delicate yet potent, and the power to show off its toned muscles.
Unfortunately, many Cabernet Sauvignon are obvious in their sexiness. Their lack of mystery and eccentricity renders them anonymous. And they can be ridiculously expensive, too.
The Gamble Family Vineyards “Family Home” Cabernet Sauvignon (★★★★ 1/2) doesn’t come cheap, but unlike many Napa Cabs, it is full of surprises. And it has the structure to justify the cost. I wouldn’t hesitate to cellar a bottle or two for 10 to 20 years.
Sourced from a slope that overlooks Screaming Eagle in the distance, this rich and dark wine has remarkable depth; notes that recall cola, beeswax and a variety of herbs; as well as a strange juxtaposition of character – equal parts playful and serious. Sexy indeed.
I asked for a second pour at the tasting, just because it was still talking to me. Etiquette be damned.
2012 D. Ventura Viña Caneiro Ribeira Sacra
The Ribeira Sacra appellation produces some of Spain’s best shape-shifting wines, especially in the red category. If I were studying for a sommelier exam with blind tastings, I’d probably get tripped up by Ribeira Sacra every time.
To my palate, their one common denominator is a sensation of spice on the roof of your mouth. The D. Ventura Viña Caneiro Ribeira Sacra (★★★★) shows this trait well. Aromas are deceptively pretty: strawberries, plums and crabapple blossoms came to my mind. But then you take that first sip, and you get a little kick on the mid-palate.
It is complex if you pay attention to it, yet easy to drink if you want to keep it simple. In other words, perfect for a date night.
2013 Inman Family Wines Sexton Road Ranch Pinot Noir
Yes, another wine from Kathleen Inman. Meeting her this week was a real treat. She seems to do it all. Just listening to her describe all that she does in a season with a small crew and a tiny winery, I began to wonder where she finds the time to sleep.
During our tasting, she poured both the 2014 and the 2013 Inman Family Wines Sexton Road Ranch Pinot Noir (★★★★ 3/4), and they both showed remarkable beauty. I preferred the 2014, simply because it was deeper, richer and more of a stand-alone wine in such a context. (But I believe the 2014 has yet to be released.)
This is a sensual wine, with the kind of aromas you cannot easily turn away from. Think of an entire berry patch of fruit, with inviting traces of vanilla bean and smokey tea. On the palate, it comes across as equally decadent, yet never plush.
Light the fireplace and pour two glasses.
Something to End the Night
NV Frank Family Vineyards Late Harvest Chardonnay
I had planned to include a Sauternes on this list, but while in California I came across a delicious Non-Vintage Late-Harvest Chardonnay from Frank Family Vineyards, which immediately struck me as just as decadent — and possibly more romantic.
Like a blast of honeyed apricots, this wine fills every corner of your mouth with sensation, and goes down easy and sweet as any dessert wine should. Made from Chardonnay grapes that botrytized on the vines in Carneros, it also recalls beeswax on the aroma, giving it a naturalness that I found very appealing.
Photographer’s Apology: You’ll have to pardon my crappy photo of this bottle. It was the last of about 12 different wines served to us Monday night at Frank Family Vineyards, and I was too lazy to cross the room to grab my good camera.
By the way, the featured photo for this article at the top is from the temporary tasting room there, and the dinner they set up for our not-so-ragtag group of writers. Stop by before they rearrange the barrels!