It’s February already! Which means that the Super Bowl has just been won (and lost) for another year, the Oscars are just around the corner … and we’re on an unavoidable collision course with that most ‘romantic’ of day’s mid-month, Valentine’s Day.
Granted, all the Hallmark cards, red roses and ‘I ♥ U’ balloons may reek of commercialism, but dig a little and there are some rather heartwarming stories and traditions to warm even the coldest hearts of the more cynical amongst us. Many of which involve wine, hooray!
After all, it’s easy to forget that there really was a Saint Valentine, a 3rd century saint martyred and buried near Rome on the 14th of February, around 270 AD. He would become one of the world’s most recognized saints; the patron saint of love and happy marriages, (as well as bee-keepers, epilepsy, fainting and the plague), yet there’s sadly precious little known about him.
We do know the whereabouts of his relics, however. They are scattered throughout the Christian world; from Rome to Dublin and Prague … and the French village of Roquemaure. Found on the banks of the mighty Rhône River, across from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the vineyards of Roquemaure were, like much of the wine world, devastated by phylloxera in the 19th century. A local landowner made a pilgrimage to Rome, returning with relics of Saint Valentine to help in the fight against the destructive louse. Today the (again thriving) vines of Roquemaure fall under the renowned Rhône appellation Lirac and the Vignerons de Roquemaure commemorate their savior saint by producing a Cuvée Saint Valentin, a romantic blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, in his honour.
In fact, the French have wholeheartedly embraced this patron saint of love, rather fitting for a country so synonymous with romance. In the Loire valley, the village of Saint-Valentin may not produce wine itself, but the neighbouring vineyards of Reuilly are some of the region’s best kept secrets. A Reuilly Blanc, made from Sauvignon Blanc, is a great value alternative to the more famous Sancerre and the appellation is also renowned for their distinctive rosés and quality red’s, made from Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir respectively.
The most romantic of French appellations, however, is found in one of the country’s most misunderstood wine regions: Beaujolais. Yes, we all have our opinion on how good Beaujolais Nouveau actually is (and we usually all agree that the answer is not that good), but the region has so much more to offer than the hastily made and heavily marketed vin de primeur celebrated every third Thursday of November.
In fact, there are ten cru villages of Beaujolais, who, using the same soils (gravel) and grape variety (Gamay), create world-class wines which bear no resemblance to the under-ripe, fruit bomb concoctions we all love to hate. Each of these villages boast their own appellation, none of which mentions the dreaded ‘B’ word in their name, and carry such evocative names as Fleury, Moulin à Vent, Chiroubles, Chénas, and Saint-Amour!
Named for Saint-Amateur, a Roman soldier who converted to Christianity and founded a monastery overlooking the River Saône, the village of St-Amour-Bellevue is at the northern tip of the region and the vineyards surrounding it produce a wine which flies off the shelves come February! A bottle of Saint-Amour is the perfect mid-winter treat, offering luscious red fruit and floral aromas, and like the sweetest love, only gets better with age!
Saint-Amour image credit Yquem45