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The best sommelier-approved wine picks for date night

Need some wine recommendations for date night? We've got you

Hands toasting with red wine
rikkia hughes / Unsplash

Wine has captivated the senses for what seems like an eternity. And while a solid Sauvignon Blanc is great for everyday sipping, special occasions call for special pours.

We’ve assembled a list of great wines worthy of your special somebody, whether you’re on a date or celebrating your 10th anniversary. The options come courtesy of seasoned pros representing restaurants all over the nation.

Read on for some of the best wines for a memorable date night.

Red wine swirling in glass

Margalit Cabernet Franc

Zach Engel is a James Beard Award-winning chef and wine director at Galit in Chicago. His wine selection is so near and dear to him that the name now runs in the family. “The easy one is the for me,” he says. “The story is that in 2011, I visited the winery with my then-girlfriend/now-wife and had a private tasting with Asaf and his family. We did a full 32-barrel tasting, and I had Asaf send me cases to the US. For every special occasion, like anniversaries and even our wedding, we drank a bottle of Margalit Cabernet Franc. We then named our eldest daughter Margalit and, subsequently, my first restaurant. The 2014 vintage has a really elegant body and mouthfeel, and it’s a good time to drink it right now. Dark cherry fruit notes and the bell pepper are very light, fresher, and garden, almost minty.”

Bottle and glass of red wine on bench

Zucardi Concreto Malbec

Alex Cuper commands the wine program at El Che in the Windy City. He suggests starting with something floral like a Torrontes and then moving into a bigger red for the entree. Specifically, the from Argentina. “This Malbec is aged in concrete, giving you a lush, plush, and ripe body with beautiful blue and black fruits and a hint of that classic Malbec spice to it,” Cuper says. “It is as elegant as they come and great with any sort of protein but still has enough finesse to be drunk with that surf and turf you may be sharing.

How to cap off the meal? With a sparkling wine, of course. Cuper suggests a to fill your flute. “This is pretty darn close to classic Champagne without the price tag,” Cuper says.

Sparkling rose

Jean Vesselle Rosé de Saignée

Sommelier Alex Ring works at the Michelin Star-approved restaurants Proxi and Sepia. He likes a pink celebratory wine from France. “This small, family-owned has existed for over 300 years, and it produces wines that are both traditional and contemporary,” Ring says. “Saignée is a special method of rosé winemaking, where red grapes are left to rest on their skins, and then a portion of the juice is “bled” off, resulting in a darker, more structured wine. Where a pale pink rosé might do for a fleeting crush, this bottling is perfect for expressing a more impassioned love. Great with charcuterie, east coast oysters, or on its own.”

Another great option to accompany a romantic dinner is a lovely . “This picturesque Tuscan winery dates back to the 17th century and has a long history of noble ownership,” Ring says. “In the 80s, when the aging owner had no obvious heirs, she left the winery to the estate’s longtime property manager and farmer. This Brunello comes from the estate’s top single vineyard and features bright cherry flavors and loads of spice — perfect for a romantic dinner or a cozy night in.”

Red wine pouring.

Domaine de Perdrix Premier Cru Pinot Noir

It’s not always the case, but often, with wine, you get what you pay for. This suggestion is expensive but worth the price tag and is sure to make a splash at the dinner table. “ delivers (if not over-delivers) consistently from vintage to vintage, and 2019 is particularly stunning,” says Ted Rink, beverage director at BLVD Steakhouse. “It’s an old vine Pinot Noir, with all the finesse, complexity, and richness you could ask for in a well-assembled red from Nuits. This increasingly rare bird (see what I did there?) seems more challenging to get a hold of these days, but so worth the hunt if you can snag a bottle or two.”

A toast with several glasses of sparkling wine.

Champagne Billecart-Salmon Cuvee Elisabeth Salmon

Champagne rarely disappoints, especially the good stuff from a reputable producer. “This deep salmon pink is gently fragrant and takes time to be ready,” says Ricardo DiMauro, beverage director at Antica Pesa in Brooklyn. “First of all, the nose is rather creamy, even lactic, seeming like being in a bakery, but then slowly, redcurrant and blood orange appear with an aromatic and romantic overtone of orchard cinquefoils. The palate, with a very fine mousse, exquisite texture, and balance, then goes into the classic Pinot notes, revealing truffle and a dimension of earthiness and undergrowth. Fades of white pepper and a touch of toasted hazelnut on the bright finish. A real treat for a romantic night like Valentine’s Day.”

wine cork

Bellavista Franciacorta Alma Cuvee Brut

Here’s another guaranteed to impress. Beverage director Cristian Martinez of The Foundry in Ohio is a big fan. “Light apricot with lively, persistent mousse,” Martinez says of the wine. “The nose displays red blueberries, fresh cherries, and rose petals, with fine creamy tones on the aftertaste. Fresh and balanced on the palate with great interplay of fruit, well-integrated mousse, great texture with fine persistence.” Suggested pairings include San Marzano tomato bruschetta, a good charcuterie board, and green salads.”

Martinez offers a few still wines, too. In particular, he’s drawn to a richly-textured from the Loire Valley and a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir he says to try with salmon, roasted chicken, full-bodied seafood, or mild-to-medium cheeses.

Wine and decanter

What makes the best wine candidate?

Wine is incredibly subjective stuff, and the price doesn’t always tell the whole story. As industry pros, we gauge wines based not only on craftsmanship and quality but also on how they fare with foods. In the case of a great date night wine, there’s some wow factor at play. That means a wine worthy of a special occasion, a high-caliber option that’s balanced and teeming with inviting flavors and fragrances. The above wines do that in droves, worth cracking on special evenings with your partner and stocking up on so you can see how gracefully they age over time.

Let the wine content pour over. Check out our favorite pink sparkling wines for Valentine’s Day and some wine pairing ideas to enhance your special night. We’ve even got insights on what sommeliers drink at home when they’re off the clock.

Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
A quick guide to French wine crus
We'll help you understand French wine labels
Person grabbing a wine bottle

A French wine label can seem, well, foreign. As a whole, they tend to be peppered with traits and terminology that are not immediately familiar, sometimes cloaking the contents of the bottle to those who don’t speak the language or understand the hierarchies.
One word you’re likely to encounter a lot — whether you’re hunting for a fine Burgundy, a good sauternes, or a celebratory Champagne — is "cru." Meaning "growth," the word is a viticultural one, pointing to the vineyard where the fruit is grown. Over the years in France, vineyards have been rated based on their ability to create wine. It’s subjective and, like a lot of things in wine, probably due for some reform, but it’s worth understanding if you’re looking to better know what you’re drinking.
Like water rights or celebrity, the cru system is certainly antiquated, based largely on family names and maps or lists drawn up a long time ago. To France’s credit, growers are finally waking up to the many moving parts at play, adjusting dusty old blending rules and considering different cru designations based on an abruptly changing climate. But there’s far more work to do here. With the imbibing masses increasingly focused on transparency over critical acclaim and prestige, it’ll be interesting to see what comes of it.
In the meantime, here are some basics to get you in and out of the bottle shop a little more confidently, whether it’s an online find or a brick-and-mortar pickup. In addition to being something of a rating hierarchy, the cru system stresses terroir. Bottles designated a certain way should, in theory, demonstrate some type of typicity associated with a specific place. Again, it’s often more subjective than scientific, but there are certainly styles and flavors attached to certain French vineyards (and beyond).
Generally, if you see cru on the label, it’s pretty good stuff. The two most esteemed wine crus are Premiere and Grand. How the two terms are used is a little confusing. In Bordeaux, Premier (or premier grand cru classé) is the best of the best, the topmost of five formal designations (refresh your French vocabulary by looking up how to count from one to five). Unlike Burgundy, where the focus is on the site, the cru designation here is more focused on the production facility itself, or the chateau. 
Elsewhere, as in Sauternes or Burgundy, Grand wears the gold medal while Premiere refers to the silver medal bearer. Burgundy classifies all of its vineyards this way, with lesser-revered sites and labels sporting the “Villages” (bronze medal) and “Bourgogne” markers (honorary mention). Many other regions in France and beyond work under very similar labeling guidelines. Famous spots like Alsace and Champagne place their work on similar podiums.

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