Beyond Pink – Valentines Day Wines

Valentine’s Day is at last upon us, and after almost a month of having to hack your way through the layers of pink cards, pink bows, pink and satin boxes of chocolates and of course, the almost ocean-like walls of pink wines that miraculously appear for the 14th of February, no one who has ventured from their home can legitimately say they did not realise it was happening.

So by the end of today, the object of your affection is likely to be festooned, along with the rest of the country with chocolates, red roses, pink wine and of course a well crafted or well chosen card.

Such is the effort put in by all of our retailers that not buying into this orgy of very conspicuous consumption is going to have to be supported by very convincing explanations.

And frankly if you are going to survive romantically at all, you will have to show that your rejection of the Pink Orgy of Valentine’s Day is philosophical and not just laziness or evidence of joyless rejection of all frivolity.

It certainly is not necessary to reject Valentine’s Day on monetary grounds, a hand written declaration of love, or breakfast in bed, or even a planned romantic stroll signal effort and intent that will usually be understood and well received. Though for completeness no wine lover should miss the opportunity of sharing a well chosen glass of wine with the object of your love and affection.

One of the absolutely central joys of wine is sharing, it is what separates it from a galaxy of chocolates that urge you to hide the treat away and enjoy it in secrecy on your own. No, wine loves company and it is one of the reasons why it has become a central part of the modern Valentine’s Day experience. An experience with a very direct and physical connection for Ireland as we shall see.

The Valentine’s Day Myths

The first myth is that Valentine’s Day is a myth invented by greetings card manufacturers in the 19th century.

This is not true, there is clear evidence that Valentine’s Day has been a day on which to celebrate love, before Valentine even entered into the collective consciousness.

Most ancient societies, particularly those with strong agrarian roots, have religious festivals which are a celebration of the annual rebirth of the plants and crops of the earth. These fertility rituals occur in the northern hemisphere in February and March. These festivals early in the year are to encourage and celebrate fertility. A second set of festivals occur in the autumn to give thanks for the bounty of that fertility, harvest festivals.

Where as the autumn festivals concentrate on the produce, the early spring festivals always had a more earthy obsession with reproduction, orgies encouraged by wine drinking which was though by the Greeks for example to be given by the god Bacchus for this specific purpose took place.

In Roman society this eventually became a formal, more sedate annual week long festival called Lupercalia, it began on the 15th of February. Fraternising by young men and women was not just permitted during this period, but actively encouraged.

So far there is little controversy in this, such festivals and rituals were common place.

However, sometime around the 3rd century AD, the Catholic Church, just as it had done for the 24th of December, hijacked these older pagan festivals and dropped in artificial replacements for those festivals and rituals.

The replacement for the potential lewdness of former Roman fertility festivals became a chaste and religious event brought about by the martyrdom of a Saint called Valentine.

There are several potential candidates for whom St. Valentine was including an early bishop. The current church view to be found in the Catholic Encyclopaedia 1967 and offered by the Carmelite Order in Ireland which has a very close link to St. Valentine, is that Valentine was a priest who helped young Romans marry during a ban on marriages by crazed Emperor Claudius. Claudius thought love and marriage was sapping his men of their will to fight.

Valentine was eventually caught and sentenced to death which took place in and around 14th February 269 AD, happily just a day before Lupercalia.

It was 200 years later before Valentine’s Day was formally set as the 14th of February. By that stage, the connection between martyrdom, marriage and loyalty to the faith celebrated on the 14th of February was set. And yet, it is not until the 18th century that we have any regular mentions of declarations of love on the 14th of February.

St. Valentine, A Dub At Heart

The connection between Ireland and St. Valentine is very strong and unusual.

The Heart, some blood stained vessels and some small other body parts, the relics of St. Valentine, now rest in the Carmelite Church on Whitefriars Street, in Dublin city centre.

They were transported there in 1836, at the direction of Pope Gregory XVI, as a gift to a leading Irish Carmelite.

Today in the Carmelite Church on Whitefriars Street, St. Valentine’s relics will be moved, as they are every year, in a sealed wooden box, from his reliquary on the right hand side of the Church and placed on the main altar, in celebrayion of his martyrdom all those centuries ago for preserving and marrying secret lovers behind the Roman authorities back.

That, is essentially the connection with was previously the central idea of Valentine’s Day, a time for revealing a secret love, often in verse.

So, although the greetings card industry has of course built the day into an annual postal Tsunami to rival Christmas, there was some, patchy underlying historical precedent.

And, although like the card manufactures, wine producers and retailers do exploit the event for their own purposes, specifically selling a great deal of pink wine, Wine too has always been at the heart of the spring festivals that Valentine’s Day now echoes.

So by giving wine, wine lovers are tapping into the ancient wine consuming past, where the key idea is good wine to share and not the passing fad of wine of any particular hue.

Romantic Valentine Wine Selections

There are two approaches here and really this will have to be a personal choice that the wine lover makes about their amour, conformist pink or radical red and white.

It is so obvious that you could forget the central truth a bout why rose or pink wines are such a feature of Valentine’s Day. They are wines chosen for their looks, their beautiful appearance, rather than their underlying or innate virtues.

To me that speaks volumes about the whole exercise.

Of course just as with people, so with wines. We should not condemn a wine simply because it looks gorgeous, there are happily for the world, many people who are also rounded, witty, virtuous and wise, as well as physically beautiful.

In wine this tends to occur in some of the world’s best and oldest rose wines and in sparkling wine, rather than in the more confected pink wines that grace our wine shelves.

Conformist Selection – Some Fine Wine that is Rose

Tavel in the southern Rhone is a small but not quite beautiful town not far from the clearly beautiful Avignon. Tavel makes a very unique rose wine, that is not pink, but rather has a soft orange hue, with gentle rose coloured edges.

The Appellation Controllee Tavel is also unique in that it only allows rose wines to be made, so the wine here is not a by-product of blending red and white wine or saignee the French method of making rose, by bleeding off light red juice from vats of red wine in order to concentrate the red wine that is left in the bottom of the vat. It is a bit like pouring out water from a cup of tea when the teabag is till in, the lower volume of water will eventually brew into a darker tea. In this process the bled juice is sold, often as an after thought as a rose wine.

Another outstanding rose wine are the sun drenched wines of AC Bandol, the costal wine region on the Mediterranean shore between Marseilles and Nice. Good examples are the nearest thing to renaissance scientist and philosopher Galileo’s saying that wine, was sunlight, held together by water.

Meanwhile in the Loire Valley the rose wines frequently made from Cabernet Franc also share the mark with Tavel and Bandol of high quality wines that just happen to be rose wines.

Rose D’Anjou from the Loire like Tavel and Bandol, are essentially dry wines, this is also what tends to disappoint those wine lovers who first tasted them on holidays. In the summer, with deep blue skies and dusty scorching roads, our taste buds pick every nuance of the refreshing wine, often fooling the palate into thinking it is a sweeter, fruitier wine than it is. In fact the wines tend to be light, quite austere and even crisp.

The other source of very high quality rose wines tends to be the sparkling wine segment. Here Champagne does seem to be out in front of its sparkling rivals, with New World Spain’s Cava and Italy’s Prosecco following closely behind.

There are exceptions, Chateau de Sours’s Sparkling Rose is a delicious, slightly sweeter, but still essentially off dry offering, while

The Big Gesture

Champagne Billecart-Salmon Rose NV (93) around €67

Champagne Veuve Clicquot Vintage Rose 2002 (92) around €64
Champagne Bollinger Rose NV (91) around €75
Champagne Laurent Perrier Rose Brut NV (91) around €85

Champagne Taittinger Rose NV (91) around €55

Champagne Perrier Jouet Blason Rose NV (91) around €56

The Comfortable Traditionalist

Champagne Montaudon Grande Rose NV (91) around €34
Champagne Beaumont des Crayeres Brut Rose NV (90) around €33.95
Champagne Moet & Chandon Brut Rose NV (91) around €47

The Savvy Operator

Champagne Cattier 1er Cru Brut Rose NV (90) around €33
Champagne H.Blin Brut Rose, NV (90) around €30.99 – on sale in Superquinn at €23 until 23rd of February

The Rebel Heart

Chateau de Sours, Sparkling Rose, Bordeaux NV (90) around €15

Langlois Cremant de Loire Sparkling Brut Rose NV (90) around €18.95
Jacobs Creek Sparkling Rose, Australia, NV (89) around €16 – on sale in Superquinn at €14.09 until 23rd February
Beringer Sparkling Zinfandel Rose, California, NV (88) around €13.99
Freixenet Rose Cava, Spain NV (89) around €16.99
Sachetto Pinot Rose Frizzante, Italy NV (87) around €10.99

The Zen Warrior of Stillness

Rose de Tourelles Longueville, AC Bordeaux 2006 (90) around €14.95

-Rose wine of classed growth, Chateau Pichon Longueville
Rizzardi Rosa Rosae IGT 2007 (88) around €12.45

Chateau de Sours Bordeaux Rose 2006 (91) around €13
Gran Feudo Rose 2007 (88) around €10.50

Radical Valentine’s Day Selection – Great Sexy Wines, Bought On Their Ability, Not Their Looks

The Big Gesture

Champagne Pol Roger NV (93) around €52

Champagne Taittinger Brut Reserve NV (92) 53.00

The Comfortable Traditionalist

Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvee, NV (92) around €45 in Tesco

Champagne Montaudon Brut Reserve Premiere NV (91) around €34

The Savvy Operator

Tesco Blanc De Noirs Champagne NV (90) around €27.25

Bisol, Jeio, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene NV (89) around €18.75

The Rebel Heart – Really Perfect for chocolates

Chateau Dereszla, Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos 2003 (91) around €29.95

Kracher, Trockbeerenauslese NV (9) around €14

The Zen Warrior of Stillness

Domain Olivier Leflaive AC Puligny Montrachet 2006 (92) around €39.85

Glaetzer, Bishops Shiraz, Barossa Valley, Australia 2007 (93) around €26

Widely available at Independent Off Licences and wine shops such as Searsons Wine Merchants, Monkstown Crescent, Blackrock, County Dublin; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer Street, Dublin 2; Redmonds Of Ranelagh, Ranelagh, Dublin 6; 64 Wines, 64, Glasthule Road, Sandycove, Co Dublin; Sweeney’s, 6 Finglas Road, Harts Corner, Glasnevin, Dublin 11; Greenacres, Selskar, Wexford, Co. Wexford; Cases Wine Warehouse, Riverside Commercial Estate, Tuam Road, Galway and the O’Donovan’s Wines chain throughout Cork County and city as well as O’Briens Wines, nationwide.

Email the wine column at