Celebrating Valentines Day has been something that we have done from an early age. I remember receiving those little ‘Be My Valentine’ notes in primary school. We even had postboxes outside our classrooms which of course made it much easier to stay anonymous. As we grow older, the anonymity of it all might have shifted, but hopefully not the celebration. Most of us have now chosen our lifelong Valentines and we get to celebrate with that special person. Yet how do we set the scene and make it as exciting as in those primary school days where you tried to decipher the handwriting on the notes that inevitably was written by someone else. You create an experience with music, food, your valentine and wine.
The Many Faces of St Valentine
The history and origin of the celebration of Valentines Day are surely shrouded in mystery. As with most celebrations, there is possibly a little bit of truth in most of these. According to the most well-known story around the origin of Valentines Day is a man called Saint Valentine or Valentina. Perhaps I should say a few versions of this man.
Although there are two versions, one of a Roman priest and the other of an Italian bishop, the storylines are very similar. The Catholic Church recognises at least 3 Saint Valentines. All of whom were martyred. A specific legend takes us back to a priest in the third century in Rome. Emperor Claudius II realised that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and subsequent families. He, therefore, outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine saw the injustice in this and carried on performing, now illegal, marriages. He was found out by Claudius II and subsequently beheaded. Similarly, another version of the legend refers to a bishop in Terni who was also beheaded by Claudius II outside Rome.
Other stories suggest that Saint Valentine helped prisoners escape from the harsh Roman prisons where they were often treated very badly. One version of this sees St Valentine falling in love with a girl (possibly the jailor’s daughter) who visited him in prison. Before his death, he sent her a letter signing it off with the now well-known ‘your Valentine’
It is therefore believed that our celebration commemorates the death or burial of this man. Whichever version of the story might be the true one. The date would have been around A.D. 270.
Yet another angle to this famous man and well-celebrated occasion involves the poet Geoffrey Chaucer.
A festival of fertility and agriculture
Others believe that the Christian church put the celebration in the middle of February to Christianise the pagan festival, Lupercalia. It was celebrated on the ides of February or around the 15th of February. Lupercalia was a festival of fertility. Dedicated to Faunus the Roman god of agriculture and the Roman founders, Romelus and Remus. The festival started with the slaughter of a goat for fertility and a dog for purification. Members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests went to the sacred cave where they believed Romelus and Remus were cared for by the she-wolf or Lupa.
They would strip the goat’s hide into strips and dunk it into the sacrificial blood. They walked through the streets lightly slapping the women and crops with the hide to improve fertility. The festival ended with the women adding their names to an urn and the bachelors of the city would pick one. They were then paired for a year. Often ending in marriage.
This festival was outlawed at the end of the 5th century when Pope Gelasius declared 14 February as St Valentines Day. It was only with the poem, “Parliament of Foules” by Geoffrey Chaucer in 1375 that romance was officially associated with this day. He wrote: “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.” You can read this 700 line poem here.
Celebrating Valentines and Wine
Honouring our connection to the stories that make us and our connection to the earth, perhaps we should celebrate all versions of this. Whether a festival of fertility or a martyred romantic, let us celebrate valentines day, wine and food by spending time with those we love. Preparing food together and pairing for another year of highs and lows.
Your menu for celebrating Valentines Day and our Valentine Wine Pairing of Beau Joubert, The Ambassador.
The Ambassador is a classic blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, all matured for 24 months in new small French oak barrels, is Beau Joubert’s flagship selection. Black currant and red cherries infuse elegantly with plum, mint and fruitcake flavours. Lingering on the back palate are subtle mint, leather and smoky pencil shaving flavours. The stern oak maturation lends firm, yet smooth, tannins and excellent structure to this wine.
The intense fruit, grippy tannins and balanced acid make this extremely complex wine wonderfully accessible now but also allow for 10 years of cellaring.
Other great additions to add to your Valentines Day celebrations:
Main Course paired with The Ambassador, Beau Joubert
Roast Lamb with Green Olive Potatoes
- 1 rack of lamb (6 bones is ideal)
- 25g butter
- 1 onion, finely sliced
- Garlic clove, crushed
- 1 anchovy, crushed using a pestle and mortar (optional)
- small handful of rosemary springs,roughly chopped
- 500g Maris Piper or King Edward potatoes, finely sliced (use a mandoline if you have one)
- 10 pitted green olives, chopped
- 100ml chicken or lamb stock
- Heat the oven to 210C/190C fan/gas 7. Generously season the lamb all over and heat the butter in a large ovenproof frying pan over a medium heat. Brown the lamb all over for 10-15 mins, especially the fat side. Remove and set aside on a plate.
- Put the pan back on the heat and fry the onion for 5-7 mins until softened, then add the garlic, anchovy (if using) and rosemary, and fry for 2 mins more. Carefully arrange the potatoes in the pan with the olives, season, then turn them over so they’re fully coated in the mixture, then spread out in an even layer. Pour over the stock, then put in the oven for 30 mins until the potatoes start to crisp at the edges.
- Sit the lamb on top of the potatoes, fat-side up, and drizzle over any of the juices from the plate. Put the pan back in the oven for 20 mins for lamb that’s rare, 25 mins for lamb that’s pink but cooked through, and 30 mins for well done. When the lamb is done to your liking, lift onto a carving board and leave to rest for 10 mins. During this time, put the potatoes back in the oven to make them extra crisp. Cut the lamb into chops and serve with the potatoes, the cavolo nero and parsley & caper dressing.
Stuffed Butternut (vegan)
- 2 medium zice Butternut
- 150g black rice
- 1 Aubergine
- 250g Mushrooms
- 1 onion, chopped
- Tomato, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 cloves garlic, grated
- Fresh parsley, finely chopped
- Thyme, finely chopped
- Vegan cheese, grated
- Olive oil
- Rinse the rice well with water, then simmer with 530ml water on low heat until cooked.
- Chargrilled the aubergine and chopped small
- Chop the mushrooms into small cubes
- Heat some olive oil in another pan and add chopped onion, garlic, aubergine, mushrooms and tomato paste. Now add the chopped tomato and the herbs, remove from the heat and mix with the cooked rice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Cut the butternut lengthwise in half and remove the seeds to make room for the filling. Bake the butternut for 30min. Now add the rice filling and spread the grated vegan cheese on top. Bake for another 30 minutes at 200C until the butternut is fork-tender.
Dessert paired with The Ambassador, Beau Joubert
Chocolate & Pomegranate Torte
- 225g unsalted butter , plus extra for greasing
- 250g dark chocolate (70% cocoa), broken into squares
- 5 large eggs
- 225g light muscovado sugar , squished through your fingers to remove any lumps
- 85g ground almond
- 50g plain flour , plus an extra 1 tbsp
- For the topping
- 150ml double cream
- 100g bar dark chocolate (70% cocoa), roughly chopped
- 1 tbsp icing sugar , sifted
- handful pomegranate seeds
- Generously grease a 23cm springform tin, then line the base with parchment. Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Put the butter and chocolate in a medium bowl and gently melt together, either over a pan of simmering water or in the microwave. Stir until smooth, then set aside.
- Crack the eggs into a large bowl, add the sugar, then whisk for 5-8 mins with electric hand beaters until thick, mousse-like and doubled in volume. Pour the chocolate mix around the edge of the bowl, then fold together using a large metal spoon until the batter is evenly brown with the odd ribbon of chocolate appearing. Don’t rush this bit, it’s important to preserve the bubbles you’ve so carefully made. Sift over the almonds, flour and ¼ tsp salt, then fold in until even. Slowly pour the batter into the tin, then use a spatula to get every last bit from the bowl. Bake on a middle shelf for 30-35 mins, or until the cake is risen and set on top. Cool the cake in its tin on a rack. The torte may sink and crack a little, which is fine.
- For the topping, bring the cream to the boil. Put the chocolate in a bowl with the icing sugar, then tip the hot cream over it. Leave for a few mins, stir until smooth, then let it cool and thicken for 10 mins. Carefully remove the torte from its tin onto a plate, then spread the icing over the top, letting it drip down the sides. Leave to set for a few mins, then scatter with the pomegranate seeds and either chill for a few hours, or serve straight away.
Vegan Chocolate Mousse
- Aquafaba (the liquid from a 400g can of chickpeas) and
- 150g dark chocolate bar1
- Break the chocolate into pieces and heat in a saucepan or metal bowl in a water bath until melted. Set aside to cool.
- Meanwhile, beat the aquafaba with a mixer for at least 7 minutes.
- Once the chocolate has cooled down, carefully fold it in the foam (it needs to cool down as the foam collapses when it hits the hot mass).
- Pour the mixture into small bowls or glasses, or leave in a large bowl. Then put your bowls in the fridge and let it cool down and set.
- Serve with berries and cocoa dusting to decorate.
- Not only is this dessert extremely easy, it’s also really delicious and incredibly easy to make. If you like, you can of course refine this basic recipe to taste and add things like vanilla extract, nut butter or caramel syrup.
Whichever version of the Valentines story you think is the true one, make sure to spoil your valentine this year. As we move into warmer months in the northern hemisphere and the harvests for the next wine season is happening in the southern hemisphere, we also send out our wishes for a fertile time.