By Cathy Henton, the Loire Wine Lady of Le Tasting room
Whether you’re planning to pop the question, spend an evening with friends or snuggle up in front of the fire with a loved one – Valentine’s Day is a great excuse to crack open a bottle of something delicious.
I hate to think of sparkling wine being saved for ‘special occasions’. After all there’s a fizz to suit every pocket so price should not put you off from enjoying the fun of bubbles on regular occasions. Many of us will reach for a bottle on Valentine’s Day – it can’t be denied that a little sparkle does us the world of good from time to time.
Champagne is a real treat but you don’t need to break the bank to find a quality sparkling wine. Look for the words ‘methode traditionelle’ on the bottle as this means the wine has been made in exactly the same way.
The Loire valley is the second biggest producer of sparkling wine in France and millions of bottles rest quietly in the miles of limestone tunnels quarried long ago to provide stone for building the famous chateaux of the region. One of my favorite producers is Langlois Chateau – owned by the famous Champagne house Bollinger. It’s the smallest of the big sparkling houses in Saumur, producing around one million bottles each year. The top cuvée Quadrille is a blend of 4 different grape varieties (Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc & Cabernet Sauvignon). Aged for six years on its yeasty deposit, it has a lovely toasty aroma and would make a wonderful partner to smoked salmon or oysters, often called the food of love. Guaranteed to get you in the mood!
What wine do I drink with chocolate?
Chocolate can be tricky when it comes to wine. Something with lots of fruit or a hint of sweetness often works well so why not try a sparkling red? Made in the same way as other sparkling wines but using back grape varieties such as Cabernet Franc here in the Loire, these wines are great fun. The combination of rich, spicy fruit, a little sweetness and a tiny hint of tannin works really well with a dark chocolate tart or rich chocolate truffle. Other wines that work well are the fortified wines of Maury and Banyuls from the south of France. These Grenache based wines are partially fermented and then have a small quantity of grape spirit added to them that stops the fermentation and leaves them sweet. Sometimes the wines are then aged, leaving them port-like – rich, sweet and delicious.
Perfect wine for a romantic buffet
If relaxing in front of a log fire is more your thing then what could be nicer than choosing a few delicious treats and settling in with a bottle of great French red wine. A few morsels of cheese (Comté, Gruyère, Cheddar), a selection of charcuterie (jambon de bayonne, saucisson, rossette) some fresh crusty bread combine it with the right wine et voila – perfection. Of course if you really want to push the boat out you could make up the perfect cheeseboard as put together by France’s top cheesemonger! Choose a wine that is not too tannic or you’ll need to get back in the kitchen cooking a steak. Something mellow and if possible with a little age is what you’re after. A Chinon 1998 from Charles Joguet springs to mind. It’s full of smokey fruit and fine velvety tannins. Something from 2003 or 2005 would be nice too – vintages full of sunshine so the wines are full of fruit and tannins that have had time to mellow.
Thinking about cooking something special? I have a couple of very French ideas. How about making a little Coeur à la Crème? Traditional in the Loire valley, this dessert is so simple that anyone can do it. I’ll definitely be making a tarte aux praline roses – it is simple and quick to make but looks very pretty and romantic. It’s one of those dishes that doesn’t leave you looking hot and flustered for your special meal together, but it does look special!
Both these desserts would be great with a Muscat de Beaumes de Venise from the South of France. The fruity Muscat grape is beautifully complementary to the almonds and summer fruits. A rich Coteaux du Layon would also be a great match but make sure it’s on the high side of sweet as this dessert is for those with a seriously sweet tooth.
So, set the table, light the candles, pop the cork, and enjoy a glass of something delicious wherever you are in the world.
Happy Valentine’s Day!