Sunday, February 14, 2010

Saint Valentine's Day? French Champagne, German Sekt or Virginia Sparkler!!

Picture: NV Taittinger Brut

What to drink on Valentine's Day? Champagne!

Saint Valentine's Day is an annual holiday held on February 14 celebrating love and affection between lovers. The holiday is named after one or more early Christian martyrs named Valentine and was established by Pope Gelasius I in 496 AD. The holiday first became associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished.

Who was Saint Valentine? Today, the Catholic Church recognizes several different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred.

One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were often beaten and tortured.

According to one legend, Valentine actually sent the first 'valentine' greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl — who may have been his jailor's daughter — who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter, which he signed 'From your Valentine,' an expression that is still in use today. T

These stories certainly emphasize Saint Valentine's appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and, most importantly, romantic figure. It's no surprise that by the Middle Ages, Valentine was one of the most popular saints in England and France.

How to celebrate Saint Valentine’s Day? Of course, with a bottle of Champagne!!

Large Champagne Houses

I would suggest an entry level sparkler of one of the big Champagne Houses, like Taittinger, Bollinger or Veuve Cliquot. If you have higher aspirations, here are last year's top 10 Champagnes of the Fine Champagne magazine, the only international publication devoted to Champagne and a renowned authority on the industry. The first-place finisher was Armand de Brignac Brut Gold.

Grower Champagnes and Cremants

Grower-champagnes, the sparklers of smaller Champagne Houses who grow their fruit themselves and do not purchase the grapes on the market, have become more popular in the US in recent years and have become more widely available, although they are still difficult to find. Outside of the Champagne region, there is also a wealth of sparkling wines available, such as the Cremant d'Alsace. I recently had the Cremant d'Alsace from Paul Blank, which was excellent. See here.

Germany's Excellent Sekts

Of course, Germany offers a large choice of sparklers, although this is not really well known in the US. Germany is one of the largest sparkling wine markets in the world. Germans drink lot of sparkling wines, although in general less quality-conscious than the French. One out of four bottles of sparkling wine is consumed in Germany, roughly 500 million bottles. Sekt is made in all German wine regions, both in the méthode traditionnelle and charmat method. There are three groups of Sekt makers: (i) large and (ii) smaller Sekt houses, who only make Sekt and (iii) winemakers, who make predominantly wine, but complement their wine selection by a few Sekts. For more on German Sekt see here.

One of my favorites from the third group is Volker Raumland in Rheinhessen. Raumland makes a bit of still wine but is clearly focusing on his world class Sekts. The Raumland Sekts are like Champagnes, without copying them, said the Eichelmann 2010 Wine Guide. See here. His wines are imported by Rudi Wiest.

A Sparkler from Virginia?!

Finally, why not follow the recommendation of President Obama? His recent State Dinner in honor of Prime Minster Singh of India was finished with a sparkler from the Monticello district near Charlottesville in Virginia, a Thibaut-Janisson. This is an French-French joint venture and up-and-coming specialist in fine sparkling wine in Virginia. Winemaker Claude Thibaut is convinced that Virginia has the climate and terroir to produce excellent bubbly – and evidently the president agrees.

Born and raised in the Champagne/France, this worldly winemaker left his family’s vineyard in France to study oenology in Reims and then spent years creating award-winners in Australia and California. About seven years ago, billionaire-bubbly-bottler Patricia Kluge entreated Thibaut to add sparkle to her cellar. When he approached 50, he launched his own winery, together with Frenchman Manuel Janisson, dedicated exclusively to producing sparkling wines from Virginia grapes.

Schiller Wine - Related Postings

Wine region: Champagne

In the Glass: Volker Raumland Sekt Estate - Eichelmann 2010 Discovery of the Year.

Wine Event: Wines Served at President Obama's State Dinner in Honor of Prime Minister Singh of India

German Wine Basics: Sekt

German Wine Makers in the World: Eduard Werle - Owner of the Veuve Cliquot Champagne House

1 comment:

  1. French Champagne would make a perfect gift for Valentine's Day :)