An Incredibly Last-Minute Guide to Valentine’s Day Drinking

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Feb. 14 2013 5:04 PM

An Incredibly Last-Minute Guide to Valentine’s Day Drinking

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Choices, choices, choices.

Photo by LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images

In winter, a drink columnist’s thoughts turn to heated subjects—menus featuring mulled bishops; toddies highlighting hibiscus liqueurs; the question of how much drunk-dialing will be accomplished by Irish-coffee enthusiasts who buy a forthcoming product that combines a coaster, a phone charger, and a Stirling engine. Thus, this chilly mid-February afternoon, I’m excited to unveil an original variation on the Negus that I have dubbed the Thrushcross Grange. Starting with a bottle of port…. Wait. Mid-February. What time is it? Crap.

Troy Patterson Troy Patterson

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

Here some are some last-minute Valentine’s Day ideas for lovers running late.

If you desperately need to round out or ramp up your gift-giving this evening...
Spring for Champagne, yes? “No other wine or perhaps product, with the exception of diamonds, has been so closely linked to occasion-based consumption,” as one contributor to an engaging academic study puts it. “The overall name… has become a brand in itself.” On the one hand, the brand is so strong that it seems superfluous to observe that this luxury good is an ideal wine for celebrating a sexy-times holiday. On the other hand, superfluity and sexy times go together like satin edging and knitted lace. Point is, Champagne is the perfect eleventh-hour gift on February 14, not least because, like satin-and-lace unmentionables, it is a present that contributes to the giver’s own happiness in the immediate future.

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If you’re looking for a very good Champagne in the $40 range...
Look no further than non-vintage Piper Heidsieck Brut. The deep-cadmium-red label is sturdily handsome. It may not provoke a Pavlovian response of the same great intensity as the saturated yellow of Veuve Clicquot, but its closeness to the crimson of the soles of famous fancy shoes may compensate for that. Besides, this Hallmark holiday is dedicated to idealized love and legitimized lust—to pretending that it’s what’s inside that counts. What is inside the bottle of Piper is dry and crisp and very fine for use in the cocktails I’ll be mentioning later in the article, if I time to type them up before the florist closes.

If you are still at that stage in a romantic relationship where you feel it important to try to impress your date with how smart you are...
Try to impress your date with how smart you are by steering the conversation around to Lincoln and seguing into the casual recital of the tale of Charles Heidsieck’s imprisonment  as a Confederate spy.

If you are a character in an Evelyn Waugh novel…
Then you may refer to Champagne as “champers.”

If you can summon the correct tone of light irony…
Then you may call it “bubbly.”

If you are already drunk…
Then you may call it “shampoo.”

If you are not drinking a Champagne that was double-fermented in the northeast of France…
Then you are not drinking Champagne.  You are drinking sparkling wine. By agreement with the EU, this became the law in the United States in 2006. The most notable American sparkling wine that, pursuant to a grandfather clause, may call itself a “Champagne” is the best-selling American sparkling wine—André, an excellent value at $4.99 a bottle.

If your valentine was your high-school sweetheart…
Just for old times' sake, pick up a bottle of André.

If you’re looking for a good sparkling wine in the $15 range…
Go into a wine shop and ask for recommendations for a good sparkling wine in the $15 range: “Maybe a Cava or a Prosecco or something?”

If the wine shop does not have a good sparkling wine in the $15 range…
It is not a good wine shop. Leave and do not return.

If you’re going on a movie date…
Track down Sofia Blanc de Blancs, a sparkling wine that blends Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscat. I recommend it for the movies not because it is a product of Francis Coppola Winery but rather because they package it in pop-top cans, which are fun and easy to sneak into  the theater.

If you’re going to see Argo...
Buy one four-pack of the Sofia Minis.

If you’re going to see Django Unchained...
Buy two four-packs; Quentin would want it that way.

If you’re going to see Amour because its title makes it sound romantic...
Buy three four-packs.

If you want a light sparkling cocktail before dinner at a traditional French restaurant…
Go for the Kir Royale, which is named for a hero of the Second World War. Its combination of sparkling wine and crème de cassis is a magical example of a sweet-ish drink that perks up the appetite.

If you want a sturdier sparkling cocktail before dinner…
Go for the French 75, which is named for the heavy artillery of the First World War. Its combination of gin and lemon juice with sparkling wine will make you drunk instantly, which might be highly desirable if you’re planning to propose to the girl at dessert. Or to dump the guy before the appetizer.

If gin is not your thing…
Try a French 75 with brandy. Brandy and Champagne go together like Valentine’s-Day procrastinators  and delis that haven’t run out of roses. The existence of many brandy-and-Champagne drinks (an ounce of brandy, a few dashes of this and/or that, four or five ounces of sparkling wine) indicates just how easy it would be for a person scrambling for a last-minute gift idea to invent a drink to suit the tastes of his inamorata. Look around the Internet for ideas. But don’t look too hard, lest you discover that someone already had yours.

If brandy is not your thing…
Remember that you can do the make-up-a-drink thing with any liquor using the likes of the French 75 and the tequila-based Mexico 70 as models. Sparkling cocktails accommodate variation and bastardization very handsomely. Just shake up an ounce or so of booze, a little sweetener (or a sweet liqueur), and a little citrus juice. Pour that into a tall glass with ice or a Champagne flute without, according to taste. Top with a sparkling wine that’s not too sweet. Garnish with a lemon peel or an orange peel or a grapefruit peel or, if it’s possible for anyone involved in the situation to lose his or virginity, a cherry.

If you and your date like rum….
Try the Air Mail, which tastes like a sparkling daiquiri and smells like a tropical promise. If you’re fooling around with mixing your own, start with a recipe that simply calls for rum, honey syrup, and lime juice but be aware that there are many variations on the drink. That there are many variations on the drink is, again, a testament to the fact that sparkling cocktails are very receptive to reinvention—and to the fact that reinventors get buzzed so fast they forget exactly what they did.

If all that is too complicated but you still need a fast way to make a memorable impression…
Make a basic Champagne cocktail: Soak a sugar cube with bitters. Toss the cube in a flute. Gently pour the Cava or Prosecco or something and watch the bubbles rise from the sugar to the surface like a stream of hormones or hopes.

If you want an unfinished sparkling wine to keep sparkling over night…
Stick a fork in it.
Good night and good luck.

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