Tony Eklof, originally from New England, has settled in Clonakilty after a career as a librarian at University College Dublin. His knowledge and passion for wine has been inspired by frequent visits to the wine growing regions of the continent, particularly Italy and France.
Valentine’s Day is nearly upon us. These days it is celebrated, as a day of cards, chocolates, wine and perhaps a special dinner. But what of its origins? Well, the one thing that can be said with certainty is that the evolution of Valentine’s Day is shrouded in myth and mystery.
Consider this extract from the New York Times as far back as 1853.
‘It is one of those mysterious historical or antiquarian problems, which are doomed never to be solved, as to what the unhappy Saint Valentine had to do with February 14, and all its symbols and paraphernalia of Cupids, hearts, and love-letters.’
The confusion starts when we ask who exactly was Saint Valentine? It appears we are celebrating two different Saints who became a composite character over the centuries, Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni. Relics of the former are found at the Carmelite Church, Whitefriar Street, Dublin.
There are many legends surrounding Saint Valentine including that he wore a ring of amethyst with an engraving of Cupid, even in Roman times a symbol of love. Amethyst subsequently became the birthstone of February. Some historians trace the connection of Valentine’s and romantic love to the poets Chaucer, John Donne and Shakespeare.
In England, the introduction of the postage stamp in England in 1840 led to a reduction of postage expense and a huge boost to the practice of sending Valentine’s cards anonymously. In the United States, the first mass-produced cards can be traced to one Esther Howland of Worcester Massachusetts (my home State!) who from 1847 sold ‘elaborate creations of real lace, ribbons, and colorful pictures.’
From these humble and mysterious beginnings what is undeniable is that modern Valentine’s Day is a big deal. It is estimated that Americans alone spend something close to 19 billion on candy, flowers, cards, and fancy dinners. And the wine to go with the fancy dinner? Well, I love this quote from Hugh Johnson, ‘With very special bottles the wine guides the choice of food rather than the other way around.’
Two very contrasting reds.
If you like soft, light, wine with hints of cherry – Les Coteaux des Anges, Bourgogne, Pinot Noir, 2013, 12.5 per cent. SuperValu, Clonakilty only, on special at €8. Great value.
Much more full-bodied, Visan, L’Enclave Nord, ‘La Souco’, from the Southern Rhone. 2015, best drunk young. 13.5 pc. On special in Dunnes Stores at €12, excellent value.
Expression Limoux, (white). 13%, Chardonnay from the Languedoc, very classy, attracting rave reviews in the press. LIDL, €14.99.