- By John Stark
We have Valentine’s Day in the bag for you. This is as simple and elegant as it gets, a combination of three essential elements for the perfect day: Champagne, chocolate and music. But nothing predictable or ordinary, mind you.
We asked wine expert Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl to tell us why Champagne is the ideal Valentine’s Day gift and beverage for the over-50 set. Then we turned to recipe developer and nutritionist Maureen Callahan, who writes many of our “Fiftysomething Diet" stories, to concoct a healthy-but-delicious dessert. She created a chocolate bark that contains age-enhancing ingredients. Finally, I came up with some music blasts from the past that will put any midlifer in the mood for love.
Dara's Champagne Tips
The happiest couple I know have been together for more than 50 years, and enjoy a devoted hobby: He hunts for special bottles of Champagne on wine auction sites and she loves sharing the spoils. They open a bottle every week. My husband and I, married a mere seven years, emulate them in a much more low-key fashion: On significant occasions, like our anniversary, he buys me Champagne, and I buy him single-malt Scotch. You’d think exchanging the same gift all the time would grow tiresome, but it never does. Champagne, I’d argue, is the perfect present for lasting love.
But focus on the real stuff, please. True Champagne, of course, is wine from the Champagne district of France, the chilly, gray and wet northeast corner of that great country, not too far from England and Belgium. Because it’s such a not-sunny place, wine made in Champagne relies not on the bolt-from-the-blue luck of a perfect vintage year, but on winemaking skills and the height of technology, circa 1850.
The blending of Champagne grapes is profound, a mix of various varietals that typically includes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Some wines might contain more than 100 base wines by the time the blending is complete. In addition, there is tinkering — leading the wine through an entirely human-controlled secondary fermentation (that’s where the bubbles come from.) All this attention and work is why real Champagne almost never costs less than $40 a bottle. But that’s also why it never falls below a quality threshold of pretty darn great — perfect for long-coupled couples.
(MORE: How to Retire With a Cellarful of $50 Wines)
My delight at receiving a bottle of Champagne tends to unspool in different ways. First, there’s the wine itself — it’s always good, but each bottle is slightly different. So I’m confronted with the easy task of either thrilling to a new discovery or rejoicing in the pleasures of revisiting an old friend. Open a bottle and you have a ready-made excuse to spend a few hours with your valentine. Champagne goes well with fireplaces, dinner, raspberries, buttery little cakes or just about anything. Above all, a flute of bubbly goes well with appreciating the moment, and each other, which is really what Valentine’s Day is all about.
5 Great Real Champagnes:
- Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Reserve Non-Vintage ($40): Real Champagne at a real-life price. Delicate and subtle, with a pretty almond quality and a lacy, slightly smoky finish.
- Henri Goutorbe Millésime Brut 2005 ($70) Haunting and sumptuous — a little tart, a little smoky, with a burnt lemon finish that's sexy and musky in the most subtle way. This 100 percent Grand Cru from Aÿ is captivating.
- Pehu-Simmonet Blanc de Noirs Brut Non-Vintage ($70) An oddball beauty from an idiosyncratic small grower in the Verzenay sub-district of Champagne, this bright pink sparkler is intensely tangy, with a cherry twang and a brandied cherry finish unlike any other wine in the world. It’s just striking and gorgeous.
- Pol Roger Vintage Brut 2000 ($100) Velvety, sumptuous and trilling with energy, Pol Roger always captures the true, you-can’t-pin-it-down spirit of Champagne. Mineral yet floral, forthright yet subtle, it is abundant with aromas but restrained and structured. Beautiful.
- Krug Brut Champagne Grande Cuvée Non-Vintage ($150) Blended from more than 200 base wines, this is as fine a wine as mankind knows how to make. It’s taut and lithe as a jaguar, fragrant with brioche and honeyed almonds — and it will floor you with its full-throttle power. Good stuff.
Maureen's Valentine’s Day Fruit and Nut Bark
How does our Valentine’s Day bark say I love you? Let us count the healthy ways: One, it uses dark chocolate, which contains antioxidants for heart health. Two, it has raspberries, which are loaded with anti-cancer phytonutrients. Three, it contains almonds, which are rich in Vitamin E that can lower “bad” cholesterol. Four, it incorporates ginger, which has anti-inflammatory compounds. Five, it's delicious.
(Makes 16 servings)
2 tablespoons chopped almonds
1/3 cup freeze-dried raspberries (like Just Raspberries)
4 three-ounce dark chocolate bars
2 teaspoons candied ginger, finely chopped
1. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper. Draw a 12×7-inch rectangle on one side of parchment with dark pencil; flip parchment over.
2. Heat a dry skillet over medium heat (do not add oil). Add almonds and cook 2 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring frequently; remove to bowl to cool.
3. Place raspberries in bowl; crush with hands into small pieces; combine with nuts.
4. Break up dark chocolate bars into small pieces and place in a 1-quart glass bowl. Microwave on high 1 minute; stir to mix. Microwave on high for 1 more minute or until chocolate melts, stirring every 30 seconds.
5. Stir in ginger and half of raspberry mixture; spread evenly into rectangle on parchment. Sprinkle remaining raspberry mixture evenly over chocolate, pressing lightly to adhere. Freeze 10 minutes. Break into 16 pieces and serve
John's Top Scores to Score By
Setting a romantic atmosphere on Valentine’s Day requires music, but not just any kind or genre. If you want to guarantee the perfect mood, play one or more of the movie soundtracks listed below — they complement Champagne, chocolate and love. Most are from our dating years and invoke golden (if not heated) memories. Even if more than a few years have gone by since you first heard these albums or saw the movies (with that special someone), don’t worry about a thing. Once the music starts playing, your woofers and tweeters will know what to do.
- A Summer Place, Victor Young.
- Body Heat, John Barry.
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Henry Mancini.
- Dirty Dancing, Various artists.
- Doctor Zhivago, Maurice Jarre.
- Goldfinger, John Barry.
- Love Story, Various artists.
- Out of Africa, John Barry.
- Pretty Woman, Various artists.
- Romeo and Juliet, Nino Roto.
- Summer of ’42, Michel Legrand.
- 10, Henry Mancini.
- The Bodyguard, Various artists.
- The English Patient, Garbriel Yared.
- The Mambo Kings, Tito Puente and others.
- The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Michel Legrand.
- The Way We Were, Marvin Hamlisch.
- Titanic, James Horner.
- West Side Story, Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim.
- Wild Is the Wind, Dimitri Tiomkin.
- Written on the Wind, Victor Young.