Will you be counted on to select the wine this Valentine's Day (assuming your plans involve someone other than, but hopefully at least half as charming as, your cat)? Does the prospect put you ill at ease? Does the thud of a 30-page wine list next to your dinner plate yield the onset of sweaty palms and ill-timed adult acne?
Maybe you're staying in and have it all sorted, as in that bottle of Asti Spumante left over from the holidays – in 1997. There's a saying: Compromises are for relationships, not wine. If true, this is especially true of wine on Valentine's Day.
Not that you need to spend like a tipsy Kanye West in a jewellery store. I've got a few suave, offbeat and reasonably priced reds to suggest as well as some bubbles. There really is no excuse to forego some sort of sparkling wine unless you're so zealous about curbing global warming as to fret over the carbon emissions of a couple of glasses of froth.
Blue Mountain Gold Label Brut, British Columbia
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $23.90 in B.C.
High-watt acidity and lively effervescence in this bone-dry wine from one of North America's leading sparkling wine producers. Admirable flavour depth, with notes of lemon curd, cherries and fresh baguette. Available in British Columbia direct from the winery at the above price (bluemountainwinery.com), $28.95 in Ontario.
Piper-Heidsieck Brut Champagne, France
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $60.15
Valentine-red, the brand is big and storied, as in Marilyn Monroe's favourite. It's also the official Champagne of the 2017 Oscars, so you can drink like in la-la-land. On the lighter side of the spectrum, with doughy, tart-lemon pastry sitting on flinty stones. Call it "peeper," as the French do, because three tenths of wine connoisseurship is pronunciation. Available in Ontario at the above price, $60.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $57.99 in Saskatchewan, $59.99 in Manitoba, $58 in Quebec, $55.99 in New Brunswick, $64.99 in Nova Scotia, $67.05 in Newfoundland.
Joseph Cattin Brut Rosé Crémant d'Alsace, France
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $19.95
The colour is pale salmon, like a sexy Provençal still rosé. The wine hails from farther north, though, in Alsace. Light bodied, with suggestions of sweet strawberries and raspberries freshened up by tart green apples and zesty lemon. Available in Ontario.
Carpene Malvolti 1868 Brut Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, Italy
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $18.95
Just 11-per-cent alcohol, which I suppose is responsibly moderate for a Valentine celebration that falls on a weeknight. Seductively soft, not like your average brut. Restrained acidity helps generate a creamy sensation that carries nuances of apple, pear and sweet lemon. Available in Ontario.
Château d'Or et de Gueules Les Cimels 2013, France
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $15.95
Peppery syrah-dominated red blend from the Rhône. Medium-bodied, with an undercurrent of lavender and thyme and a backbone of chalky-dry tannins. Available in Ontario.
Pipoli Aglianico del Vulture 2013, Italy
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $15.95
Display wine-geek cred by uncorking one of southern Italy's majestic and trendy red grapes, aglianico. Medium-full bodied and juicy, with an instant, sticky-tannin grip and notes of raspberry jam, roasted nuts, bitter chocolate and grilled herbs. Available at the above price in Ontario, $19.99 in Nova Scotia, $18.97 in Newfoundland.
Château Saint-Roch Vieilles Vignes Syrah-Grenache 2014, France
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $15.95
From the bargain back alley of Côtes du Roussillon in the French south. Smooth and ripe, with sweet blackberry jam and a gummy-jubey quality. Available in Ontario.
Cesari Amarone della Valpolicella 2012, Italy
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $38.95
Admirably fresh and restrained for an Amarone, yet fully ripe. Smooth and complex, with dark plum, cocoa, baking spices, tobacco and a hint of cured meat. Good buy for Amarone, too. On sale in Ontario for $35.95 ($3 off until Feb. 26), various prices in Alberta, $40.75 in Quebec.