Best of February, recommending five Champagnes to toast Valentine's Day and the year beyond

Ask anyone who has ever put proverbial pen to paper writing about wine here, and you'll be vociferously encouraged to drink more Champagne. It's celebratory, to be sure, but it's also quite well suited to adding texture before, during or after a meal, or to drink on its own. We're celebrating Wine:Thirty Flight's third Valentine's Day with our best wines of February - five bottles of Champagne to pop open with the love of your life, or whoever you find yourself sipping with this fourteenth of February. 

Further reading: Best of January: Explore great wines to drink when the weather gets cold

Liz put together a great Lover's Guide to Champagne this time last year. Suffice it to say we're focused here not on sparkling wine in general, but Champagne in particular, which is characterized by sparkling wine made in the Traditional Method in the region of Champagne, France. As you'll see in our tasting notes, Champagnes tend to express notes of toasty brioche and juicy apple, while the great ones pull in wonderful sensations that are all over the map. You'll ready below about toffee, pie, wet brick, and cashews. Wine is at its best when it delights our senses with the unexpected.

Further reading: A Lover's Guide to Champagne

We tried these five incredible Champagnes with our friends at The Vineyard, our favorite Washington, DC area wine shop in McLean, Virginia. Seek them out there, or at whichever fine wine merchant is local to you.

2004 Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Brut

Blanc de Blancs is always such a fine expression of what Chardonnay can do when made as a Champagne. The Dom Ruinart was no different. Overwhelming toffee notes in the nose make this bottle incredible from the start. A mouthfeel of very fluffy bread backed by palate notes of Portuguese sweet bread make it luxurious. Summer berry fruit make it fun. This was one of our favorite Champagnes of the evening.

NV Jean Milan Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru d'Oger Extra Brut

This Blanc de Blancs took us in a completely different direction, with apple juice elements in the nose that were sweet, but not overly so. The palate is strikingly crisp, big and bold, with no bread or toast elements at all (really). It presents like the most luxurious freshly pressed apple juice you have ever had. It's approachable nature makes this Champagne an excellent candidate for a toast with your closest friends, for it's something that everyone can enjoy!

2013 Leclerc Briant Champagne Brut La Croisette

One of our favorites shared with us by our friends at The Vineyard in McLean, Virginia last night, the La Croisette is our actual honest-to-God Champagne offering on our list this month, made in from 100% Chardonnay grown on a small 1.5 acre vineyard in Épernay, France. The incredibly expressive nose -- I'll call it "transportive", for it really moves your senses to a different moment and place -- throws notes of fresh apple pie and cinnamon which, though quite refined, evokes that gooey goodness that anyone whose celebrated an American Thanksgiving will find all too familiar. Meghan and Kathleen debated the presence of "a candy from our youth" before arriving on sweet tarts as the likely comparison. The fresh -- oh my this feels fresh -- apple pie continues robustly through the palate. Really phenomenal!

2008 Veuve Clicquot Vintage

This is not your run of the mill Veuve, rather, it's the famous Champagne house's "Vintage" edition from 2008. Far more nuanced and refined than their (admittedly tasty, but quite mainstream) non-vintage bottle, the nose of the 2008 is at once floral and smoky like an honest-to-God fire (I believe our reaction when we tasted this was akin to, "WTF, did they char this oak barrel?"). We also found notes of old, wet brick that alumni of The College of William and Mary (Kathleen and Andrew) will remember all-too-well. The moment when you have your nose in the glass and take your first taste is reminiscent of the telltale green flash of the sunset's penultimate moment… it really sings. There's lots of and lots of brioche toast in the mouth, buttered, with mild jam.

2008 Lacourte Godbillon Champagne Brut Millésimé

Wonderfully nuanced, this bottle threw up a unique nose of cool menthol and peanut butter. The nuttiness continued through the palate in a completely mouthcoating way, actually like a peanut -- or, we think more accurately, cashew -- butter. Cider elements push through at the end. Our confession on this wine is that, at its climactic moment, we overheard someone across the tasting room comparing a completely different wine to the sensation of "sucking on a bus exhaust", whereupon we totally cracked up and missed what we think was likely this bottle's tasting apex. Justice was not done to the wine, but we laughed hysterically. It was truly delicious, though.