<p>Wow the woman you woo with this choice selection of exemplary wines.</p>
How do you select the right vintage for optimum wooing when you can hardly tell a grape from a raisin? Hit up an expert.
For your hunkering-down-at-home, wintertime wine-and-dine pleasure, Playboy.com introduces sommelier John Ragan. From California to Tuscany, Ragan scoured the ends of the earth to find the seven best wines for your V-Day fun. His fantastic Valentine’s wine suggestions will help you create the chill twosome vibe you’re going for. “What, this? Just my favorite pinot noir from Spring Mountain.” Pretty smooth.
- Champagne: R. Pouillon et Fils, La Fleur de Mareuil
Gifting champagne around the holidays can be a dangerous proposition. No one appreciates forgettable fizz. For years, this bottling has been my go-to for even the most jaded champagne drinkers. La Fleur de Mareuil is faithful to the old-school method of aging the wine in oak before the second fermentation takes place in the bottle to give the signature mousse. The time in oak lends an unmistakable richness and texture, giving the wine the weight to drink throughout a meal. Don’t be afraid to pair this with roasted chicken and root vegetables. The best champagne you’ve never tried. About $75 retail.
- Red/California: Shafer, One Point Five, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2010
Sometimes you will hear wine lovers speaking of certain wines in their cellar as their “blue chips”—almost like a stock, these are wines that always deliver vintage after vintage and just seem to constantly improve. Shafer is my “blue chip” wine. I’ve tasted their cabernets all the way back to the ’79 vintage, and they just continue to get better with each vintage under winemaker Elias Fernandez. 2010 is a strong vintage at chez Shafer and this wine has a long life ahead of it. The beautiful herb notes of cabernet are a great marriage with lamb marinated in a bit of rosemary and mint. About $60 retail (2010 vintage).
- Red/California: School House Vineyard Pinot Noir, Spring Mountain 2009
“Blind” tasting a wine is the great equalizer. No reliance on labels or grapes, you size up what is in your glass and let it make an impression with no outside influence. I love blind tasting Burgundy snobs on a bottle of School House pinot noir. The vines are purportedly the same budwood from Burgundy’s Romanée-Conti vineyard and were planted in the 1950s. Just like most Burgundy domaines, the production is miniscule and everything is done by hand. The wine is pale in color and soft and elegant like a great Burgundy. Serve this blind the next time you are thinking of red Burgundy and watch what happens. About $70 retail (2009 vintage).
- Red/Provence: Château Simone, Palette Rouge 2006
The tiny region of Palette in Provence might be one of the most unknown fine wine appellations in all of France. For centuries, the Rougier family has been making wine here with very few changes; even most of the vines are purported to be over 100 years old. The red is based on the Grenache and Mourvèdre grapes but has at least 10 grapes in the blend, many virtually extinct outside of this vineyard. This is the ideal winter red wine: rich, spicy and perfect with roasted game. Not much has changed about this wine for hundreds of years and that is a very good thing. About $60 retail (2006 vintage).
- White/Loire: La Ferme de la Sansonnière, La Lune 2009
While there are many more famous vineyards for Chenin Blanc throughout the Loire valley, Marc Angeli is making some of the most exciting ones at his farm and vineyard called La Ferme de la Sansonnière. His single-vineyard wine “La Lune” has all the richness and texture of a Meursault while still maintaining the unique aromas of the Chenin grape. Plenty of fresh floral notes and orchard fruit, with a touch of honey and an intense mineral streak running from the first aromas all the way through the finish. Farmed biodynamically, it is the perfect gift for anyone who wants to drink healthy or just drink well. About $35 retail (2009 vintage).
- White/Burgundy: Romain Collet, Les Clos Grand Cru, Chablis 2010
Every once in a while, an unexpectedly great bottle causes you to look at a familiar region or grape with a newfound appreciation. Though his family has been making Chablis for generations, young Romain Collet is making Chablis that has everyone taking a second sip. For the first time in 2010, Romain bottled his own wine from the family’s old vine parcel of Le Clos (perhaps the finest of all the Grand Cru vineyards in Chablis). Though it helps that 2010 was a magical vintage for Chablis, Romain’s talents are undeniable in this monumental wine. Notes of chamomile, lemon verbena, flint and chalk make this perfect for most any simply prepared fish preparation. About $95 retail (2010 vintage).
- Red/Tuscany: Montevertine Rosso di Toscana 2010
Montevertine is one of the most essential wines of Italy. Since the first vintage in 1971, Sergio Manetti has championed the local Sangiovese grape—so much so that when local law required that the Sangiovese be blended with white grapes in order to be labeled Chianti, he refused in order to make the best wine he could. As a result, one of the most noble wines of Italy was labeled as a humble table wine. The laws have since come around, but Montevertine remains the same: red cherries, rosemary and a dusty, earthy note which is quintessential Tuscany and excellent with a dish like suckling pig. The 2010 is the perfect wine for the Italian purist. About $50 retail (2010 vintage).
Born and raised in Kansas City, John Ragan spent some time living in Napa before moving to New York City in 2006. In his new role as the first ever Wine Director of Union Square Hospitality Group, John works with each restaurant to ensure exceptional and distinctive wine programs. In 2013, John spearheaded DeVine Intervention, a wine auction to raise money for victims of Hurricane Sandy. John also directs various wine and beverage educational programs.