It’s about three weeks after Valentine’s Day, which means you are officially in the clear to go on a first date. No longer do you face confusion around romantic gifts, gag gifts, cards, flowers or worse yet “the conversation”. Now’s the time to really impress that person you’ve been macking on all semester, and the best part about dating in Philly is that it’s BYOB, so you get to call the shots when it comes to wine (did someone say shots? I suppose that’s another way to get a date going).
While BYOB removes the pressure of picking the perfect bottle from a seemingly endless wine list, the question remains: what do you choose?
Now, the last time I was on a first date was about six years ago, so I’m not promising any miracles here. But I can help you find a bottle that will please you and your partner-to-be. Assuming your date spot is in Center City, the most likely wine shop will be the Fine Wine and Good Spirits on 21st and Market. Bear in mind that wine.com also ships to Philly, if planning ahead happens to be your thing. And for better or worse, many Philly BYOs fall into 1 of 3 categories: Italian (e.g., Mercato, Melograno, Porcini, Casta Diva), New American (e.g., Matyson, Audrey Claire, Pumpkin), or French (e.g., Bibou, Cochon, Will). Once you’ve got your reservation made, read on to seal the deal with the perfect wine.
As many of you know, Philly is far from lacking when it comes to the fresh pasta, tomato-ey sauces, and meaty goodness of Italian food, and some of the best pairings oh-so-conveniently come from Italy as well. Italian reds usually have the body and complexity to stand up to the heft of Italian sauces, while the strong acidity can serve to complement those common tomato flavors.
One of my favorites Italian values is the the Rocca delle Macie SaSyr Sangiovese and Syrah ($15). This wine blends the bright acidity of Sangiovese with the spiciness and slight dark chocolate bitterness of Syrah. Combine with velvety smooth tannins and you’ve got a match for many Italian treats.
For a complex, high quality option, reach for the Pio Cesare Dolcetto d’Alba ($20) from the Piedmont region in northwest Italy. Despite the earthy scents from this wine, the flavors are relatively fruity–red raspberry, cranberry, and pomegranate. With its vibrant acidity, this dry wine would be a great match to a meaty dish (I’m thinking braised wild boar) or something with lots of mushrooms. Make sure to give your glass some decent swirling, as the acidity mellows out with some air.
If you’re on a budget, try the Bolla Chianti for just shy of 10 dollars. This fuller bodied red has deep, dark cherry flavors and a bit of smoke to balance the sweetness. This is a good option if you’re thinking something more casual for your date, like pizza.
Because of the range of dishes under the category of “New American”, versatility is key when it comes to the wine. Here, I think of more approachable grapes, like Cabernet or Chardonnay, that can offer good value and rounder flavors when picked from New World regions (New World includes the Americas, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand for wine). And just in case you need it, New World wines typically have higher alcohol levels than their Old World counterparts, given their warmer climates.
Keeping things domestic, the Cabernet Sauvignon from Bonterra ($16) is a reliable option. This wine has lovely black cherry flavors and black pepper spice balanced by a slight vanilla oakiness. The velvety smooth tannins with this wine allow you to pair with a number of dishes. Order a heartier meat dish or a salty cheese course for a match made in heaven–much like your date, right?
New American restaurants often have delicious fish or seafood options, too, so consider a richer white wine to carry you though the meal. The Marques de Casa Concha from Chile’s Concha y Toro winery ($19) has some oaky vanilla richness without being sweet or overbearing. The fresh fruit flavors and crisp acidity will do nicely with a filet of flaky white fish, scallops, or a range of poultry entrees.
French food is often very rich, with plenty of butter, cheese, and/or cream (no complaints here!). To cut through the richness of the food, you’ll want something with bright acidity to freshen your palate before you dive in for the next bite.
The Trimbach Riesling ($18) from Alsace is a dry (yes, dry Riesling, which is both abundant and delicious) French white that consistently delivers. While the wine has scents of tropical fruit, the flavors are more on the lemony, citrus side of things. The tangy acidity and crisp minerality is perfect for lobster, other seafood, or even veal.
As for reds, Oregon’s Pinot Noir is often likened to some of the top notch producers in France’s Burgundy region. If you have a few extra dollars to spare, consider the Benton Lane Pinot Noir ($25) from Oregon’s Willamette valley region. This light-bodied red has the tartness of red berries with a touch of earthiness. Duck, pork, or even gamier meats would be a good choice for this bottle.
This set of wines should hopefully get you to a second date, or at least make for an even tastier meal. Again, I make no promises, but if you do get lucky, I fully expect a thank you note. Merry mating!