Valentine’s Day– a tale of blind dates, aphrodisiac wine, high heels, forks and ice cream.

Moscatel and strawberries laced with chocolate. (photo:Hiroshi Shoji)

Valentine’s Day in Japan used be shocking. Women giving ‘obligation chocolate’ to male bosses and co-workers.  Recently, the pendulum is swinging back to Valentine’s Day, as a day for ‘the ladies’. However, instead many Japanese women are giving not giving Valentine’s Day chocolate and wine to males, but instead their female friends.

Long ago, in the misty past February 15, was the Roman’s highly honored festival of Lupercalia. Luper means wolf, and rituals were held possibly honoring Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome who legend says were suckled by a she-wolf.

The festival included a lottery where young men drew the names of unmarried women from jars. During the festival the blind dates got intimately acquainted over feasts of food and wine. Were these the origins of Valentine’s Day messages?  As Rome spread its empire to Gaul and Britain, so were its customs.

The patron saint of love, St. Valentine, true dentity unknown.
Was he a Christian martyr, executed on February 14, 269, who left friendship note for his jailer’s blind daughter, signed “Love from your Valentine”.

Or was he was a priest, sentenced to death on February 14th for secretly marrying soldiers banned from wedded bliss by the Emperor Claudius II who believed soldiers’ only love should be the Roman Empire.

The history of love has not been easy, as love was considered an out of control emotion and definitely not a sane feeling. For most of history, marriage was to gain land and wealth.

Our next patron of love was Catherine de’ Medici.
A wealthy 14 year old Florentine teenager, she was sent to marry the Duke of Orleans, France’s future king Henry II in 1533. Catherine decided to wow France’s medieval court with Italian graceful living.  It seemed that the French court’s idea of a glamorous banquet was baked boar preserved from spoilage with Asian spices and eaten with a dagger.

Catherine’s power-dowry included the best of Venice.  Glittering mirrors and glass wine goblets, along with gold cutlery including a shocking new instrument for carrying food to mouth, the fork.

Her entourage included poets spinning tales of romance and chefs bringing Italian fresh herbs and fruits, and full-bodied wines. The chefs also brought the secret of making a magical treat, ice cream.

Catherine, extremely plain and short, worked with an unknown shoemaker to enable her to tower seductively over her subjects, creating Europe’s first high-heels.

Until the late 1900’s a Parisian aphrodisiac rage was drinking Champagne from a high-heeled slipper. Today, the aphrodisiac of choice for most women is chocolate, and wines that just make a sensual match.

STAR PICKS- Sweets for my Sweet:

Gaspar Florido Jerez, Moscatel, Vine Dulce Natural Y Varietal, Pedro Romero, Spain, available at Nissin, Tokyo

Amber colored with a hint of pink, made from Muscat grapes, probably the first domesticated eating and wine grape, originally from the Middle East. The nose has hints of raisins, rose petal jam, maple syrup and brandied blood oranges.

Deviation, Quady, Madera, California, available at Nissin, Tokyo.

Andrew Quady is the master of unique dessert wines. He says Deviation is a love potion, as it includes Domiana, which was used since Mayan times in Central and South America as an aphrodisiac. Orange Muscat wine is infused with leaved from Scented Geranium leaves along with dried leaves and flowers from Damiana, (aromatized wines have flowers herbs or spices seeped in the wine to draw out their flavors, scents or medicinal properties)  Can be used in cocktails or as a dessert wine. Heavenly scents of carnations, lavender, sage, a bit of anise and plums.

 

 

Cline Ancient Vine Mourvedre, Cline Cellars, Contra Costa County, 2008, N.California. available at Hotei Wines.


Mourvedre originally known as Mataro was from Spain before it crept up the Mediterranean coast to southern Rhone where is it is used in S.Rhone reds wines. In California it is one of the grapes used by wine makers near San Francisco, known as the ‘Rhone Rangers’. Fred Cline’s Oakley Ranch is 40 miles east of San Francisco and Cline has some of the oldest vines in California.

Old vines while producing few bunches of grapes, produce intensely rich flavors. Cline wines are value for money, and get high Parker Points.  A rich, but dry red wine with nuances of baked meats, black leather, raisins in chocolate, bitter cherries, and lush black fruit. Fantastically versatile with grilled meat or chocolate cake.  The Jarviar Bardem & Penelope Cruz of wines.

Banyuls Rouge ‘Cuvée Joseph Géraud’,  Banyuls, France. Berry Bros & Rudd, Japan.

Banyuls is France’s most southerly appellation near its border with Spain, right on the Mediterranean. Wines are traditionally made from red Grenache grapes. While the wine is still on its skins, grape spirits are added which kills of the yeast, and keeps a higher level of grape sugars in the wine. The wines are aged in older oak barrels left in the sun. This baking during the day, and cooling at night increases the wine’s capability to age and adds layers of complexity. A tawny beauty with a nose and palate of Black Okinawan Sugar, caramel, bitter chocolate, Chinese tea and Christmas pudding.

Dorrien Estate The Old Contemptibles Very Old Tawny, Barossa, South Australia, available at Village Cellars, Japan.

Barossa’s history is full of long aged dessert or sticky wines that have no problem aging 20-80 years. The name, ‘The Old Contemptibles’ comes from a story about the British Expeditionary Force, regular army group of soldiers serving under General Sir Horace Lockwood Smith-Dorrien. The soldiers stopped the German Army at Le Cateau in 1914, supposedly earning the wrath of Kaiser Wilhelm who called them a ‘contemptible little army’.

Dorrien Estate specializes in making wine in small batches, and is the only certified organic winery in the Barossa. This tawny port-style wine is a  blend of  Cabernet and Shiraz.  Aged in wood so that oxidization lets the wine breath while the color turns from red to a rich tawny-amber color. Excellent with walnuts dipped in chocolate.

Copyright: Sandra Shoji,  サンドラ ショージ

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