We’ve all been there: wandering the wine aisle on V-Day, searching for just the right bottle—something impressive and romantic, yet understated and elegant. To stave off buyer’s remorse, we asked Sunset wine editor, Sara Schneider, to search out a few bottles she might serve a sweetie tonight.

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We’ve all been there: wandering the wine aisle on V-Day, searching for just the right bottle—something impressive and romantic, yet understated and elegant. To stave off buyer’s remorse, we asked Sunset wine editor, Sara Schneider, to search out a few bottles she might serve a sweetie tonight.

“Bubbles are for Tuesdays and lush reds, like cabs or Syrahs, are so clichéd on Valentine’s Day. Sure, they’re sexy but too heavy and serious,” she says. “I’d go with Pinot Noir. It’s sensuous and kind of a tease, a mixture of haunting, warm spices like cloves and cinnamon with loamy forest floor.”

Shopping tip: “Even supermarket Pinot isn’t cheap, so expect to pay about $25 for a nice, romance-worthy wine,” she says. “And for Pinot, hedge your bets by sticking with bigger, tried-and-true producers—it’s easy to go astray fast.”

Pairing tips: “Pinot is great with mushrooms, a known aphrodisiac,” says Sara. “It’s also a good foil for exotic spices: cloves, cinnamon, cumin. Try them on duck or lamb chops.”

Sara’s wine-aisle Pinot picks:

2011 La Crema (Sonoma Coast), $25

“This is your all-purpose Valentine’s Day Pinot,” she says. “It’s ubiquitous (anybody and their mother could find it) and totally solid. It’s a little on the lush side with a lot of generous fruit. I’d pair it with duck.”

2010 Laetitia, $30

“A lively, fun wine. It sort of dances between dark fruit, exotic spice, and earth, but is balanced by a vibrant acidity. It has a musky nose and an intense cherry, berry flavor,” she says. “The juiciness would work well with a rare rack of lamb—I can picture it marinated in balsamic and warm spices, then roasted and served with fresh, spring veggies.”

2010 Gallo, $35

“This is winemaker Gina Gallo’s new baby—I like her wines a lot. It’s a bigger wine, a crowd-pleaser, with the name and pedigree to match,” says Sara. “It’s approachably fruity, but keeps the dark soul you want in a Pinot, and fits the idea of celebrating love because it engages both my heart and my head—it has a big yum factor, but I want to think about it too. With its exotic spices and plenty of body, you could go with a beef or pork dish with Asian or Indian spices.”

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