5 Washington Wine Couples and Their Favorite Valentine’s Day Food & Wine Pairings

Wine and Dine (Photo credit: Structure Cellars)

Valentine’s Day may come across as gimmicky to some because of difficult-to-get restaurant reservations, pushy product marketing, and a sea of pink and red stuffed animals and treats. However, for many, it’s an opportunity to celebrate love. This time around, skip the crowds and sneak in an intimate evening with your loved one.

A candlelit, cozy dinner at home is a great way to bypass the long crowds. To score brownie points with your date, cook up a special meal, paired with some special wine. Wine and Valentine’s Day make for the best pair, indeed. You could cook a delicious meal, complete with wine pairings for your sweetheart. You could even cook the meal with your better half. Oysters, asparagus, scallops, strawberries, dark chocolate—it’s easy to get overwhelmed with choices and pairing it with the right wine. But there’s no need to go into a tizzy over it. Five power couples from the Washington wine scene are here to help, with delicious pairings for a five course meal. 

We spoke to couples of the wine world; in love with each other, and the fruit of the vine. With their expert advice, you can look forward to a soulful experience with your Valentine’s Day date. Each couple recommends a food and wine pairing, with two wines per course. It takes two to tango, and each partner recommends a different wine for the same dish, reflecting their individual personalities and preferences. You can choose whichever one you naturally gravitate to, or better yet, try both. To further sweeten the deal, these lovely couples share romantic snippets from their own stories.

Hors d’oeuvre

Steak crostini paired with: 

  • 2016 Armstrong Family Winery Merlot, Walla Walla Valley (Tim)
  • 2016 Armstrong Family Winery Fronk (Cabernet Franc), Columbia Valley (Jen)
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Tim and Jennifer Armstrong (Photo credit: Armstrong Winery)

Wine has been part of their life celebrations ever since Tim pulled out a bottle of wine and two glasses from his backpack on a canoeing trip on one of their very first dates back in 1999. As their relationship grew, so did their love of wine. 

While Tim had his “aha” wine experience before they met, Jen’s “aha” taste of wine was a cabernet franc. They bought their first case of wine that day (all cabernet franc), and every time they had a special meal, Jen would say, “let’s have Fronk.” Thus, the name Fronk was born.

Jen says, “As newlyweds in Chicago, we were getting serious about making wines of our own, but didn’t know where to move to begin that journey. One day, Tim picked up a bottle of Walla Walla merlot and it blew us away. That bottled turned our head toward Washington and we are thrilled to now be living on a vineyard in Walla Walla, building our dream at Armstrong Winery. The 2016 merlot is our first merlot to be release using 100% merlot fruit—just like the one that captured our attention so many years ago.”

2016 Armstrong Family Winery Merlot, Walla Walla Valley $44; 2016 Armstrong Family Winery Fronk (Cabernet Franc), Columbia Valley  $38

OUR REVIEWThe Armstrongs are all about keeping things classic on Valentine’s Day. Pairing steak crostini with merlot and cabernet franc are great choices. Easy to drink on its own, the Merlot is great for kickstarting a long, delicious dinner. The wine’s plummy flavor makes it exceptionally food-friendly. A steak crostini is a delicious, little starter but these wines are very versatile to pair with different kinds of Hors d’Oeuvres, like chile-lime shrimp or spinach-artichoke tarts. The hints of spices in the ‘Fronk’ liven up the palate. It is a layered, tannic wine that you just can’t go wrong with. With a lingering cinnamon finish, it contrasts well with the steak crostini’s robust flavors. 

Appetizer

Deep-sea scallops, seared, with a light citrus reduction paired with:

  • Long Shadows’ 2017 Poet’s Leap Riesling (Gilles)
  • Long Shadows’ 2017 Dance Chardonnay (Marie-Eve)
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Gilles Nicault with his wife Marie-Eve Gilla (Left) Also in the picture (right), Allen Shoup, Long Shadows founder with his wife Kathleen Shoup (Photo credit: Katie Sims)

Gilles Nicault (Long Shadows‘ director of winemaking and viticulture) and Marie-Eve Gilla (Valdemar Estates‘ head winemaker) share a love of wine and a common upbringing. Both were born and raised in France and traveled to Washington State in the early 1990s to make wine here. They met in Yakima in 1994 and married in 1999. It’s Washington wine that brought them together and kept them here, so it’s only natural they’d select two of their favorite Washington whites for this Valentine’s Day appetizer.

Gilles chose to pair this dish with Riesling, a wine he likes for its balance and lively acidity.  The Chardonnay harks back to their French roots; Marie-Eve was a master of fermentation in Burgundy before moving to Washington. Gilles says it was Marie-Eve’s influence that inspired him to explore the winemaking techniques behind making a world-class Chardonnay that ultimately led to Dance.

Poet’s Leap Riesling SRP $20; Dance Chardonnay SPR $42

OUR REVIEW—The Poet’s Leap Riesling is romantic-sounding even before you sip it. The wine is not overtly-sweet and is a crisp, delicious offset to a seafood appetizer, bringing out the natural sweetness in prawns, scallops and even fresh oysters. The wine has a vibrant, floral bouquet with notes of apple. While we love the idea of the deep-sea scallops pairing, we’d pair this romantic wine with Puget sound oysters too. Fun fact: Oysters are natural aphrodisiacs (Wink, wink). The chardonnay is aptly named Dance because it is an absolute party in your mouth. It is a drier accompaniment to the juicy scallops and would go perfectly well with Asian appetizers too – think coconut shrimp, spicy fried eggplant and Vietnamese spring rolls. 

Entrée

Beef short ribs with whipped mashed potatoes paired with:

  • 2018 Abeja Chardonnay, Washington State (Amy)
  • 2016 Abeja Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley (Dan)
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Winemakers Daniel Wampfler and Amy Alvarez-Wampfler (Photo credit: Abeja Winery)

Wine brought Dan Wampfler and Amy Alvarez-Wampfler together, quite literally. While working on Columbia Crest’s barrel-fermented chardonnay program, the couple met and fell in love, hence the necessity of a chardonnay on their Valentine’s Day dinner table. “Chardonnay brought us together,” Dan says, “but it’s our mutual love for cabernet sauvignon that keeps us together,” he says with a wink.

Since joining Abeja in January 2016, Dan and Amy have combined their formidable winemaking talents with their love for one another. Their goal is to create handcrafted wines that are the result of meticulous viticultural practices; customized, small lot fermentation and aging; and selective blending.

Abeja Chardonnay, Washington State SRP $45; Abeja Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley SRP $60

OUR REVIEW—The beef ribs with their fall-off-the-bone yumminess need full-bodied, complex wines to complement the rich meat. Red or white wine? ‘Both’ is a perfectly acceptable answer too! Both the citrusy chardonnay and the intense cabernet sauvignon offsets this meat-heavy entree beautifully. The chardonnay with its notes of green apple and tropical fruit is an unconventional but lovely choice. It cuts through the rich meal with its vibrant acidity. The tannins in the elegant Cabernet Sauvignon provide a great contrast to the delectable, fatty meat. The wine is powerful and bold with a herby finish—a great match for the juicy beef. 

Cheese Platter

  • A funky blue cheese with “Wallula Vineyard” Syrah (Brian)
  • Creamy camembert cheese and Italian Sottocenere cheese with “Foundation” Cab Franc (Brandee)
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Brian, Brandee and their adorable poochValentine! (Photo credit: Structure Cellars)

If you visit the Structure’s tasting room on a Saturday, you will likely encounter a room full of energy with lots of people and hip-hop music, just like “Wallula Vineyard” syrah and the blue cheese—intense and funky! Brandee recommends an earthy “Foundation” Cab Franc with a simple, creamy camembert. For those who like it fancy, she recommends an Italian sottocenere—a semi-soft cheese with specks of black truffles.

Wouldn’t living in a winery with your soulmate be as romantic as it can get? Brandee says, “Well, contrary to popular perception, it is not all a bed of roses. But we got through the first three years of our winemaking life doing just that—making wine in our house.”

Like their winery Structure Cellars, Brandee and Brian have a deeper, stronger structure to their life together. The strong foundation of their relationship goes beyond whispered sweet nothings. Sometimes romance comes in the form of getting through the challenging times and supporting each other’s dreams. But, as for Valentine’s Day romance, 12 years ago, Brian gave Brandee the best Valentine of all time—a beautiful Boston Terrier that remains their “winery dog” today. Her name? Valentine!

2017 “Wallula Vineyard” 100% Syrah $38; 2017 “Foundation” Cab Franc $40

OUR REVIEW—When it comes to romantic meals, it’s hard to beat a luxurious cheese course. This full-bodied syrah is supple, less tannic, and very fruit-forward. With its jammy notes and silky texture—it begs to be paired with a sharp blue cheese! The cabernet franc is spicy, earthy, and peppery. It would get along famously with some creamy camembert and truffle-speckled sottocenere. Truffles make everything better! We would bake the camembert with herbs and figs for some added pizzaz. Delicious. 

Dessert

Wild blackberry cobbler paired with:

  • 2017 Januik Bacchus Vineyard Riesling (Carolyn)
  • 2017 Novelty Hill Stillwater Creek Vineyard Late Harvest Semillon (Mike)
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Mike and Caroline Januik (Photo credit: The Januiks)

A family home on Puget Sound in Indianola is a special place for the Januiks, and one of their time-honored traditions there each summer is picking wild blackberries. Carolyn is famous for her cobbler, and it is a staple on Valentine’s Day, taking the couple back to some of their favorite shared memories of lazy summer evenings at the beach. 

In the late 1970s, Mike and Carolyn Januik owned a wine shop in Ashland, Oregon that piqued Mike’s interest in winemaking. The couple had two sons—Donald and Andrew—arriving soon after. By the time the Januiks started their own winery in 1999, the boys were in high school, working summers in the cellar. Carolyn has worked with Mike since the couple founded Januik Winery, two decades ago. “Carolyn has worn every hat here but winemaking,” Mike says. “She’s the one who keeps us on course.”

Januik Bacchus Vineyard Riesling SRP $20; Novelty Hill Stillwater Creek LH Semillon SRP $25/375 mL

OUR REVIEW—Who doesn’t love a good dessert and wine pairing? If paired well, the combination can be ambrosial. Move over chocolate-covered strawberries. This Valentine’s, make it a point to steer clear of cliches and go for the real thing. A decadent blackberry cobbler is yummy enough on its own—but when paired with a sweet riesling and a late harvest semillion, it becomes downright lip-smacking.

The riesling and the semillon are both excellent choices; juicy, sweet-ish with aromas of ripe white fruits. The riesling has notes of peaches, while the semillon has notes of apples, vanilla, and nutmeg. We like the semillon with its concentrated sweetness a tiny bit more. It’s like drinking your dessert, but when paired with an actual dessert, it’s wine and dessert nirvana! We’d add just a touch of sea salt to the cobbler. This salty, sweet, creamy and buttery will delight even the most discerning of gourmands. Pro-tip: For a quick sweet treat, these wines go splendidly with dark chocolate with sea salt and nuts too. 

Happy Valentine’s Day—uncork and unwind!