St. Valentine’s Day! What an exploited occasion! Since Chaucer wrote:
“For this was on St. Volantynys Day, Whan eury bryd comyth there to chese his make” (For this was on St. Valentine’s day, when every bird comes to choose his mate)
Love and mating have been synonymous with February 14th. The nineteenth century saw pretty, sentimental cards, the mid twentieth saw funny ones – immortalised in song, but now the day is an excuse for tawdry window displays of tasteless gifts, overpriced restaurant “special menus” and over- promoted wine, especially Champagne.
Unless one chooses a very special restaurant is a crowded place with schmaltzy music and predictable menus the place for a romantic trysts? It is also the occasion for wine merchants and supermarkets to unload left over stock from Christmas and the New Year.
Over the years I have been asked to advise on wine for the day. I wrote a piece on these pages last year and I could easily repeat it here, but I won’t. Given my “grumpy old man” prejudices I will try to make a few sensible suggestions. Why Champagne? It is fun, it gives a sense of occasion. It is either expensive or, if cheap, disappointing. Try a Cremant de Limoux – Waitrose have a god one. I can never understand the fashion for Pink Champagne. If you must have pink fizz try one from Australia or, better still, the one from our almost local Chapel Down.
It is pale salmon pink and goes well with that fish, even smoked salmon.
If you decide to have your romantic meal at home what do you have? As an aperitif why not try a cocktail I discovered in a Lyon “bouchon” Chill a champagne flute, put a small measure of vodka in the bottom, add the sparkling wine of your choice, but don’t fill, and then top with a spoonful of passion-fruit sorbet. Delicious and appropriate. What to eat and drink?
Oysters are supposed to be an aphrodisiac but unless you can get them locally and are expert at shelling them I would not bother. Fresh Prawns.Lobster or Smoked Halibut are a better bet, and for those without scruples Foie Gras with a glass of Late Harvest Riesling from Alsace. Main courses are difficult. My wife remembers that many years ago, before we were married, I cooked her trout with almonds and we drank Sancerre. Retro food for the twenty-first century, but good nonetheless. You could always copy the famous scene in “Tom Jones” and eat a roast chicken in your fingers, face to face across the table. An unoaked Chardonnay would go well.
I the middle ages Venison was the traditional Valentine’s meat. A St. Emillion such as Chateau Corbin 2005 you can find it, would go well, or a more robust Australian Cabernet Sauvignon from the Coonawarra. A friend of mine cooked braise Sheep’s Heart served with a Crozes-Hermitage from Chapoutier, but think that is taking the theme a little too far.
Dessert is a matter of choice. Chocolate is favourite but hard to match with wine. A Moscatel do Setubal from Portugal or a Boal Madeira would do. Or, perhaps, another cocktail as at the beginning, with a little less vodka and a little more sorbet.
But then, you don’t need to wait for February 14th, for for a meal à deux.