Who hasn’t imagined the perfect first date at a dimly lit wine bar?

Flickering tea lights, knees bumping under the table, warmth spreading to the legs, fingers brushing fingers as you clink your glasses…

Flash forward to the perfect wedding, and there’s that same bottle of wine, the first one you ever shared.

Do you really want your guests to guzzle a cheap Pinot Grigio that smells of, ahem, Linden tree blossoms (Google: “Queen Victoria and the Linden Tree”).

That said, some people quite like the scent of a blooming linden, and there are some luscious Pinot Grigios out there—namely higher altitude vineyards (try Cavit Terrazze della Luna).

A first date wine ought to make an impression. A good one.  Assuming the date goes well that wedding wine idea could be pretty cute.

A first date wine should be complex and interesting. It’s something to talk about.

Most importantly, a first date wine should be delicious, because there’s always the chance that you’ll need a lot of it to get through the night.

Because we don’t always end up at that perfect wine bar, I’ve put together a list of first-date scenarios with wines to match.

1) The classic wine bar

We’re into autumn now, but that doesn’t mean white season is over. Try a Sicilian blend, like Donna Fugata Anthìlia.  It’s a warm, rich, and fruit and flower scented, dry on the palate with a lingering saltiness that instantly recalls the sea.

2) Live music

If it’s upbeat and you’re on your feet and dancing, a stemmed glass can be awkward. If you think you can handle the coordination, have something light and white like a Sancerre—Sauvignon Blanc, but without too much overbearing lemongrass and lime. It’s subtle, with mineral notes and generally not too alcoholic. If you’re jamming to some blues or jazz, foot tapping and all that something a little spicy and Spanish is nice. Look for wines made from the Garnacha grape, or a blend like Red Guitar Tempranillo and Garnacha from the Navarra region.

3) Sushi

If I had a dollar for every profile that declares a love for sushi, I’d be drinking wine, not writing about it. Sushi dinner dates are a quintessential first. Red wines will more than likely smother the delicate flavors of the fish and clash with wasabi. Try something equally delicate but slightly smooth, like a Chardonnay. I’m not a fan of wood, so I stray from mainstream California styling. Long Island producer Channing Daughters makes a clean and versatile one from a Dijan clone called Scuttlehole. If you’re feeling daring after a few glasses, you can joke about the name. But seriously, this is a beautiful expression of Long Island terror. Minerals and salty, sea air definitely leave their mark.

4) Asian Fusion

From the pork bun craze to Korean fried chicken, Asian Fusion cuisine is pushing the limits of coolness these days, and that means all kinds of herbs and spices. Lemongrass, chili pepper, garlic, and Thai basil are turning up where you mightn’t expect them, so you need a wine that will neither mask the flavors, nor whither in the face of a chili oil-drizzled scallop. Look for a dry Gewürztraminer.  Check for the word “trocken” on the label for the German/Austrian ones, or try Ravines Dry Riesling from upstate New York; the smooth consistency offers a welcome relief from fiery bites, while the spicy (think nutmeg and ripe pear) aromas and long finish contend delectably with what’s on your plate. Fried chicken and creative spring roll confections are deep-fried, and require a little bubbly to skim the oil from your palate. There’s no need to spring for Champagne, however, and the characteristic toasty-ness wouldn’t quite jive. Try a Spanish Cava or a dry spumante wine like Zardetto Brut Private Cuvee.

5) Picnics

Summer’s not over yet, and in some luckier parts of the country it’s always warm. If you can still wear a t-shirt to your beach or park outing, Côtes de Provence Rosé is the hands-down choice. Château du Rouet a is trusty, character-filled rosé with herbaceous notes and a touch of summery strawberries. For the chillier picnic settings, choose a light red like Beaujolais Nouveau. They’ll be in stores soon, and remember to only purchase this year’s vintage. They’ve got a freshly harvested flavor and tend to expire and lose their luster within the year.

6) My place or yours?

Let’s face it, not every relation gets off to a formal beginning. Some people like to jump right in with a bottle in the living room and their favorite music on the stereo. Red is best for dispelling inhibitions; remember to keep things light on the alcohol front to insure quality performance. Pinot Noirs in the European style do the trick. I also like Chilean winery Viña Los Vascos’ Cabernet Sauvignon. It packs all the flavor that the grape is known for, but it’s subtle and French in style. It’s approachable, yet complex, and takes just enough time to open up.

Annie Shapero is the Founder/CEO of DiVino wine events planning and wine consulting, currently operating in New York City.
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