The Valentine’s Day Guide to Wine Romance

Yep, it's Valentine's Day again. Important: What are you drinking? In the latest installment of "That Certain Something," Whitney Adams asks everyone from Alan Richman to Eric Asimov about what goes best with romancing.

valentine's day

Wine pairing needn’t only pertain to, say, a multi-course chef’s tasting or your weeknight roast chicken. It can be applied to any number of situations wherein food is scarce. After all, wine tends to be part of life’s best and worst moments—anniversaries, break-ups, birthdays, deaths and even…make outs.

So, on a day devoted to love and lovers, why not pair wine to one of humankind’s most pleasurable activities? Consider this a primer in kissing accompaniments, an addition to your tool belt of love tricks, a vinous mixed tape for snogging.

When selecting a bottle for a special evening, I generally like to follow principles both practical and sensorial. The practical? No bubbles. One word explanation: burps. They ain’t cute. Also: aggressive tannins—those tongue-drying phenolic compounds—should be avoided. Cottonmouth never helped anyone do anything.

What we need is a subtle saliva enhancer. A riesling with the tiniest touch of residual sugar and a generous helping of bright, mouthwatering acidity will certainly do the trick. Or perhaps a lighter, cheerful red at a cool temperature, like gamay or frappato.

But enough of what I think. Being the curious lady that I am, I took to the virtual streets and asked an extremely qualified bunch about the wines they might pair with a little romancing. I was inspired—titillated even—by some of the answers I received. Strap on your hard hat, folks, and get ready for the responses.

Now, who wants to make out? I’ll bring the wine.


HUGH ACHESON | Chef, Five and Ten & Empire State South; Author, A New Turn in the South

Let’s first talk about what not to do. I remember at age 16, chugging cheap “champagne” in front of some girls and the champagne having no place to go but out my nose. That’s not an ice breaker or the first step to young romance. Burgers and pinotage would also be a misstep. Pork belly and zinfandel would be a clumsy move. Romance is definitely not spelled with raging tannins and high alcohol.

How about a nice Chablis? An aged Grand Cru Chablis? Maybe a 2002 Servin Chablis Grand Cru, Les Preuses? Some nice icy-cold oysters and a simple mignonette? I think that would take away some inhibitions and set a good tone. A fennel and orange salad and a small roasted chicken after the Chablis, maybe moving into red Burgundy, probably a Gevrey. If I was currently making out a lot it would be with the Gevreys of Rene LeClerc.

But at the end of the day it’s really about which wine would you not feel guilty waking up next to. Have fun out there.


ALISON ROMAN | Senior Associate Food Editor, Bon Appétit

I have a thing for Arianna Occhipinti’s wine, and while I could fawn over her entire oeuvre, I think that her SP68 is the perfect pairing pre and post make out session. It’s a flirty, juicy, substantial red that’s also really nice lightly chilled, and something about that (yes, even in winter) really does it for me. Also, for me it’s a cult wine that’s not insanely expensive, so I’d know that whoever ordered it (for me, presumably) really knew their stuff—which is hot, obviously. It’s almost too easy to drink, which, when it comes to the art of making out, can only help.


ALAN RICHMAN | Food Critic, GQ

I recommend the classics. In my make out days, Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill proved very effective. After a bottle or two, my dates would even kiss me.


JORDAN MACKAY | Wine and Spirits Critic, San Francisco Magazine; Author, Secrets of the Sommeliers

For making out, you really can’t do better than madeira, which is, at heart, a very carnal wine. Its deceptively high acidity literally gets the juices flowing, resulting in glossy, well-lubricated lips and tongues. Its golden hue and saline sweetness sensually suggest honey, the beach, sunset and other icons of romance. It’s also a sipper that requires neither food nor a dinner table to be at its best. Rather, madeira saunters gracefully from sideboard to couch as snogging intensifies.

Indeed, sipping madeira is at its most sensual when consumed in the embrace of soft pillows on a cushy sofa, lying in bed under light covers or, best of all, reclining in a field of soft grass and tender spring flowers. And finally, as a fortified wine, madeira delivers a bigger punch than a standard dry table wine, and thus more thoroughly melts inhibitions transporting lovers more quickly into the “zone.”


ANDREW MARIANI | Winemaker, Scribe

I had a great uncle who would drive his wife to Reno every Valentine’s Day to gamble and whatever else. He owned a Cadillac with brown leather interior. My cousin once told me that he kept a cooler in the center console of the front seat to keep his bottle of gin cold. So I imagine my great uncle and his tanned wife driving in their Cadillac to Reno, drinking gin & tonics and maybe making out at gas stations and rest stops, which seems pretty romantic. Scribe Sylvaner also works.


PASCALINE LEPELTIER | Beverage Director, Rouge Tomate

Green Chartreuse VEP, because it helps to warm you up, can be paired with absolutely everything (including garlic). It keeps your breath fresh and makes you feel closer to heaven.


TOBY CECCHINI | Owner, The Long Island Bar

If you’re being scrupulously honest in considering what wines constitute the most efficient make out session lubricants, I think you’d be forced to conclude, given sheer numbers and history, the tiara would go to Boone’s Farm or, perhaps, Smirnoff Ice. Though in my prom days, Cold Duck was the roofie of choice, my current money is on strawberry-peach.

Actually, my current currency is on no such thing. When I need to curry favor, I know the drill: rosé champagne, and the hierarchy is rigid. Billecart-Salmon’s insuperable bottling leads the pack (as difficult and expensive as it’s become to locate), though Krug rosé will always get big points. One of my favorites has always been Pol Roger vintage rosé, though it has so often been the innocent bystander in my most epically tragic dust-ups with Aphrodite that I’m terrified to let that genie out of the bottle anymore. Of the grower-producer bent, to which all the geeks must bow of late, there are hundreds. I love Chartogne-Taillet’s plump non-vintage rosé or Jacques Lassaigne’s Rosé de Montgueux.

Given the surprising aphrodisiacal power of bubbles coupled with wine, I’ve found a marvelous shortcut to be lambrusco—the deeper and drier, the better. Lini’s Labrusca Rosso 910 couldn’t be simpler or lovelier. If you’re the type of highbrow to scoff at this, do so at your own peril; with heat-seeking wines, sometimes the simpler gesture carries the day. Er, night.


ERIC ASIMOV | Wine Critic, New York Times

Sorry to be a contrarian, but for me, it’s not the quality of a wine but the chemistry of a relationship that arouses the impulse to make out. Sadly, the aphrodisiac remains a holy grail. In its absence, one must rely on wit, charm, magnetism and all those other personal elements that might be enhanced by a good wine but cannot be created by a wine no matter how good.


ANDY RICKER | Chef/Owner, Pok Pok

The best wine for making out in the back seat of a ’67 Chevelle when you are 16-years-old was Boone’s Farm Tickle Pink. I say “was” because it isn’t made anymore. Hopefully someone had a similarly memorable experience (vomiting in the ditch) and had the foresight to cellar some of this panty-dropping, fruit-like flavored, effervescent nectar for future generations…maybe with some Twinkies (RIP).


RANDALL GRAHM | Winemaker, Bonny Doon

With the aim of increased salivation (is this something we want?), we might wish to consider umami-intensive white wines, i.e. those that have been subject to extensive bâtonage.* A crisp Muscadet—with oysters, to be sure—should do the trick on any number of levels. I also very much like the suggestion of a feinherb riesling, maybe Maximin Grünhauser. A floral rinse with every sip.

*Bâtonage encourages the autolysis of yeast cells, and release of glutamate from the cell contents.



All practicalities aside (where I am often fond to place them), a lean and savory syrah is a sure-fire way to spark a wild make out glint in my eyes. The combination of feral and floral aromatics is just downright carnal, like the Black Sabbath of wines. In fact, Black Sabbath and syrah might just be my ultimate seducers.


ANDRE HUESTON MACK | Mouton Noir Wines

Chambolle-Musigny is not just your average pinot noir. It’s the Victoria’s Secret of Burgundy: silk, lace and velvet.  It’s warm, perfumed and electric and even better out of magnums—because size does matter.


CARISSA MONDAVI | Continuum Estate

For me, a wine that inspires romance is something with sensuality and soul, a wine with maturity and depth, a wine with power and substance that time chisels into beautiful, supple textures and yet shows delicacy and interest. A great wine, like love, is beautiful and profound and leaves an enduring imprint on my soul. For this, I would imagine an older vintage of a cabernet blend, with a healthy dose of cabernet franc for suppleness and fragrance, perhaps great Napa or great Bordeaux. Cheval Blanc…Continuum in 20 years?


THOMAS CARTER | Wine Director, Estela

The bits that I’ll be using my tongue on aren’t meant for drinking wine…



I can vouch for the efficacy of sherry in all romantic matters. And I do mean all.  The salty quality of the wine is simply slurpable, and the higher alcohol doesn’t hurt either. As one guest suggested to me, his favorite way to serve pedro ximénez is to make his partner build up a sweat, then pour the liquid where he pleases, with the salt balancing the sweet. So… that’s a fun option. For me? I prefer to seduce with a sharp manzanilla or fino, at which time all bets are off, and the beasts are unleashed.


GAVIN CHANIN | Winemaker, Chanin Wine Company and Lutum

I have had some great wines with bad company and the wine was not very enjoyable. Similarly I have had terrible wines with great people and had amazing times. So I would say if you’re spending time with someone you really connect with, any wine will do! I like exploring someone else’s tastes because I can get caught in the Burgundy and Rhône world too often. It takes me out of my comfort zone tracking down wines and regions that a significant other likes. That’s how I got into port and Sancerre at least.

If it’s just a date, white—not too tart or sweet—is the ticket. Old-world Sancerre or new-world chenin maybe. And, of course, volume never hurts as long as you can call a cab!


DAVID MCMILLAN | Chef/Owner, Joe Beef

When I met my wife, money was tight. Very tight. Back then, even drinking lesser Burgundy was costly and a big deal. But, to be a true Burgundy drinker, you drink all Burgundy no matter what pedigree. We drink Auxey and Monthelie, because that’s what we drank on our first Valentine’s. The producers change, but always those two specifically. And no talking about wine on Valentine’s Day. Just drink.