Wine and Dine Your Valentine


After New Year's Eve, Valentine's Day is the second worse night to dine out. Expectations are high, menus are fixed, everyone is rushed and stressed, and overall quality of food and experience is diminished. To make matters worse, this year it falls on a Saturday, already one of the busiest nights for many establishments. 

As the Beverage Director/Sommelier at Michael Mina's Aqua in San Francisco, I saw it all - celebrities, drunks, liars and cheats - along with genuinely nice, warm, and friendly guests. We were open for lunch and dinner, so I often pulled double shifts. I will never forget one Valentine's Day, when a winemaker had us put a ring in his then girlfriend's dessert. I was table-side when he proposed! Earlier that day, a regular business executive came in for lunch with his girlfriend. Then he came for dinner with his wife. Thankfully I didn't say, "So nice to see you again, sir."

Why deal with all of this chaos, mayhem, and madness? It is hard to relax, to slow down, to focus on each other with all this bad energy swirling around. What is a savvy somm or foodie to do? Stay in and prepare a sensual feast at home.

 Here are a few suggestions for a sensual feast at home.  


 Dress to Impress 

Wear fabrics that are soft to the touch, such as cashmere, lamb's wool, or silk. Don't overdo it with fragrance. The aromas of sensual foods mixed with your own natural pheromones should do the trick.

Set the Stage 

Use soft lighting and candlelight. Set out a single rose and a bowl of apples. Play soft, soothing romantic music from Chopin, Will Downing, Enya, Joao Gilberto, Diana Krall, Luis Miguel, or your favorite artist. Place large, overstuffed pillows in a semi-circle around platters of food and drink. 

Sensual Feast


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Origins of the Sommelier


The word “sommelier”, or wine waiter, may have stemmed from the old French words “sommerier”, “somier”, and “bête de somme”. In this old French language, a “bête de somme” was a “beast of burden” and the “sommelier” was its herdsman. Later, the word became more specialized and referred to the official responsible for the transport of the French Royalty's baggage when they traveled (1316). During the reign of Louis XIV, the sommelier was the official in charge of the transport of baggage when the court moved. In the household of a great lord, he was the official who chose the wines, table settings and desserts. The sommelier used his tastevin, a silver saucer on a thick silver chain worn around the neck, to check his lord’s wine for poison. He also checked the food. If the sommelier died, his Master would avoid the meal.

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Why Somms Love Pinot Noir


Pinot Noir, “peeno nwaahhr”, is a favorite of sommeliers and winemakers alike. Why? First of all, this noble red variety from France's Burgundy region makes an intensely flavored, complex, high acid wine with incredible longevity. As the climate gets warmer, the fruit becomes riper and more obvious, and the acid softens a bit. The net result in any case is a wine that will not overpower your meal. It is called the most sensuous of wines because of its enticing, sometimes earthy perfume and soft, round, silky, but still structured texture. 

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Champagne Lovers Have an Italian Alternative

Bottles of Bellavista Franciacorta Bellavista, the Crown Jewel of Franciacorta

Lights flashing on the catwalk, designers hobnobbing with the jet set, flutes overflowing with bubbly: it’s Fashion Week in Milan, and industry insiders are set to celebrate in style. But if Champagne is a given in Paris, Italians have their pride to consider. A French product? Never. Moscato d’Asti? Too frivolous. Prosecco? Too simple. Lambrusco? Out of the question. What about a sparkler that’s made by the méthode traditionnelle, fully effervescent, dry, yeasty, autolytic from extended lees contact— and Italian? Enter Bellavista, the crown jewel of Franciacorta, Italy’s first sparkling-wine Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG).

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Festive Spirits


Here are Planet Grape’s top spirit picks for this holiday season into the New Year:



Menage a Trois Berry Vodka 750 ml $29.95

 - This delicious, delicately raspberry-flavored vodka is a fine cocktail base or sipper with a splash of sparkling water.


Korbel 12 California Fine Aged Brandy 750ml $39.99

 - Aged for up to 17 years in charred Appalachian oak barrels, this ultra-premium brandy is smooth, elegant, rich, and nutty with a note of allspice.


John B Stetson Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey 750ml $27

 - Drink this warm, vanilla/caramel Bourbon neat or on the rocks. It is named after the man most well-known for his hat collection.



Dos Maderos Rum 5 + 3 750ml $32.99

  - Aged five years in oak casks in Guyana and Barbados in the Caribbean, this pecan pie and pineapple-like connoisseurs Rum is sailed to Spain for another three years of aging in old Sherry casks, making it the world’s only double cask-aged Rum.



The London N.1 Gin 750ml $46

 - Distilled in London, a rare breed these days, this quadruple pot-distilled, high strength, fragrant, and spicy gin is blue in color from its maceration with gardenia flowers.



The Irishman 12 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey 750 ml $69.99

 - One of a handful of triple-distilled single malts on the market, this small-batch Whiskey is ripe, fruity and peppery with notes of vanilla, caramel and cocoa from extended aging in first fill flame charred Bourbon barrels.



Frapin Chateau de Fontpinot XO Cognac Grande Champagne 750ml $129.99

 - This elegant Cognac with notes of toasted almonds and dried apricots is made with organically farmed Ugni Blanc which is then double-distilled in Charentes copper stills and aged 18-20 years in Limousin oak casks, well beyond the 61/2 year minimum required by law for XO status.



Alexander Grappolo Grappa 750 ml $105

 - Produced by Distilleria Bottega in the Veneto’s Conegliano region, this fine Prosecco grape Grappa is double-distilled in copper steam alembic stills and packaged in hand-blown glass bottles created at the distillery’s glass making facility in the same method used since the 1400’s.



Gonzalez Byass Nectar Sherry Pedro Ximinez Dulce 750 ml $29.99

 - While not a spirit, this dessert Sherry is ideal for any holiday table with its crowd pleasing notes of dark bitter and sweet milk chocolate, hazelnut chocolate spread, and vanilla.


Grand Duque d’Alba Brandy de Jerez Solera Grand Reserva Especial 750ml $44.99

 - After 18 years in Sherry-infused American oak this velvety Brandy has a Spanish feistiness as compared to the more understated French Cognac. It is also very well-priced.


The Master’s Selection London Dry Gin 750ml $32

 - Triple-pot distilled and flavored with macerations of sweet Valencia and bitter Seville oranges, this crisp, tangy Spanish Gin is unique and flavorful.


Germany -

The Bitter Truth Cocktail Bitters Travelers Kit $20

  - While cedar bitters are trending in the US, this set of 5 x 20ml classic Bavarian bitters, including Celery, Old Time Aromatic, Creole, Orange, and Jerry Thomas’ Own Decanter Bitters is a nice way to experiment with your favorite cocktails, create something new, and the cool retro packaging is actually able to be carried on board a flight!


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How to Improve Your Perception of a Wine's Minerality

San Francisco Wine School - a Minerality in Wine tastingGet to Know the Different Tastes of Mineral Water

One of the more confounding elements in wine is minerality. Even in the more comprehensive, advanced-level wine tasting classes I often see blank stares when it comes to this topic. Minerality is not something as easy to import into one’s wine lexicon as lemon, cherry, crushed basil or cinnamon. For most folks, fruits, herbs and spices are fairly familiar and if they haven’t actually tasted them, they have heard of them. But what about minerals? Think about salt for a moment. This is a good starting point. Take a pinch of salt and add it to some tap water. Taste this. Now take two pinches. What is different about the smell, taste, and texture of the water?

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The Truth Behind Bev Mo's 5 Cent Sale

planet grape® Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis

Buy one bottle, get one for 5 cents. That sounds like a great deal and an excuse to stock up, right? I hear this all the time, from consumers to students of wine. They assume they are getting deals and are shocked when I explain this reality to them.

Here is an example.

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Fun, Festive Thanksgiving Wines

Festive wines and decorative table spread, for Thanksgiving, on a


Enjoy any of these all-American selections with your friends and family this holiday! Sparkling, Whites, Reds, a Sweet Wine, and a Brandy!



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Four Red Wines from Spain - Just in Time for #TempranilloDay

Four from Spain - Just in Time for #TempranilloDay
  • 2008 Bordon Rioja Reserva Spain $18
  • 2011 Bodega Balbas "18" Ribera del Duero Crianza Spain $15 
  • 2010 Condado de Haza Ribera del Duero Crianza Spain $28
  • 2011 Bodega Rento Ribera del Duero Spain $65

a planet grape® wine review: 


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Post Election Day Pinots


Now that Election Day and Halloween are over, sit back, relax, and enjoy a big, bowl-shaped glass of one of these saucy sirens.

- Limited small-production wines, Contact the wineries directly to order. -


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