Master Sommelier, Laura Maniec, on her perfect wine pairings for Valentine’s Day

February is a month where couples get cozy, and big bold red wines are flowing to beat the winter chill.  But in a city that brings the heat year round, you need to get creative with some wildcard wine pairings that can really spice things up for the most romantic holiday of the year. Whether you’re dining out or trying to find the perfect selection for an intimate night in, this pairing guide will add a special touch to your Valentine’s Day celebration.

When it comes to food and wine pairings we like to remember that “What grows together goes together.” Consider the ingredients and where they come from, and try to find a wine from the same region as the dish. For example, if you are making a Mediterranean-inspired fish dish, you could choose wine from Sardinia or Greece. One of my favorite Greek wines comes from the island of Santorini – Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko ’14 – will beautifully compliment octopus, prawns, and oysters with flavors of sea salt and Meyer lemon zest.

When pairing food and wine, opposites do not always attract; pairings should contain the same components such as intensity, complexity, texture, fruit or earth. For example, an earthy Pinot Noir from Burgundy with wild herbaceous mushroom risotto is a match made in heaven. Look for producers from villages of the Côte de Nuits, the more northerly and cooler section of Burgundy’s famous Côte d’Or. Domaine Coillot’s Les Boivins bottling from Marsannay strikes that perfect balance of mushroom/forest floor and dried violets/tart red cherries.

It is also important to consider the weight of the wine with the weight of the dish. Lighter wines are paired with more delicate dishes. Hamachi crudo would be perfect with a light bodied Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling, but would be overwhelmed by a rich red wine like Shiraz from Australia. Robert Weil’s Trocken (dry) Riesling 2013 from the Rheingau region of Germany is full of fresh peaches and apricots, white flowers and delicate minerality – a perfect complement to fluke or hamachi sashimi.

If you’re having a casual outing at one of your favorite dive bars or making some comfort food at home (like burgers with bacon, cheese and pepper), grab that Aussie Shiraz, or a Garnacha from Spain. You can find blends of these two varieties in wines from France’s Southern Rhone Valley, and a particularly delicious is Domaine le Courloulou’s 2012 Vacqueyras (a village in the S. Rhone); smoky, spicy, and meaty, with notes of cigar leaf, black peppercorn and juicy plums.

A rule of thumb for pairing wine with desserts: the wine should always be sweeter than the dessert, otherwise the wine will taste dry or bitter by comparison.

Here are my favorite wine pairings for Valentine’s Day:

Raw seafood such as oysters with lemon and mignonette & Champagne

Champagne is one of the most versatile wines in the world and pairs well with many dishes. Try a lighter style of Champagne like a Blanc de Blancs, made entirely from Chardonnay. One of my favorites is Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV – crisp, refreshing and clean, it’s like squeezing a lemon on the oysters.

Grilled Ribeye for Two with Roasted Potatoes & Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon ’08

From the southern Napa appellation of Mt. Vedeer comes this extraordinarily complex and bold Cabernet Sauvignon. The dark flavors of the Cabernet (ripe black currant/blackberry, smoke and leather) are perfect with the char of the steak, and the tannins of the wine perfectly bind with the richness and fat of the dish.

Chocolate Covered Strawberries & Port

Port is one of my favorite after-dinner drinks, something like Churchill’s Late Bottle Vintage ’05 from Portugal. The inherent sweetness of fortified wines such as Port is necessary when pairing with dessert, and this port perfectly compliments the richness of the chocolate and the bright red fruit of the strawberries.

French Macaron Cookies & Renardat Fache’s Bugey-Cerdon

Sometimes when pairing food and wine, it’s helpful to think of the occasion and match appropriately; macaroons are not complicated and fun to eat, so my go-to pairing is Renardat Fache’s Bugey-Cerdon, an off-dry, sparkling rosé from the Savoie region of France. It’s bright, refreshing, and fun, with flavors of rhubarb and cranberry (and it’s lower in alcohol – so perfect for an afternoon Valentine’s picnic!)