Christine Austin, just possibly dropping a few hints, comes up with wines for the perfect Valentine’s Day meal.
How is the temperature at the breakfast table this morning? I’m not talking about whether there is hot tea in the pot, or if your eggs are still runny. No, it is the degree of frostiness from your partner. Just look at the date on this page and have a think. It is Valentine’s Day, and while your long-term relationship may have slipped into the zone of’ “we don’t really need to make a fuss about that”, just think how the chill might thaw if you just make a little effort today. I am addressing this column to the male of the species, since in my experience it is they who need a nudge of the elbow to acknowledge this annual celebration of love and affection, and no, finding last year’s card and handing it over again just won’t do.
You have probably left it too late to book a restaurant, and frankly those over-crowded, candlelit, glasses of cheap fizz and steak dinners are rather predictable, so why not throw caution to the wind and do something different? A dozen red roses might do the job, although they are eye-wateringly expensive at this time of year and they will probably have dropped their petals by Monday.
Much better is a simple meal, a bottle of something nice, and chocolate to round off the evening.
So here’s the plan.
Supermarkets have done such a terrific job in pre-preparing dinners for two that there really isn’t any point in trying to cobble a meal together unless you have strong culinary talents. If your skills amount to switching on the oven and taking the cardboard sleeve off a meal for two, then head for Marks & Spencer, Waitrose or Sainsbury and choose something that just needs 30 minutes or so in the oven. Try not to select a microwave meal. The insistent ping of the microwave is not the kind of music you need this evening.
Now find some pre-dinner nibbles such as smoked salmon, king prawns, some Parma ham or even paté to spread on toast. Small and delicious is the watchword here so a packet of crisps won’t do. This is where you need your first bottle of wine and fizz is a must for these occasions. Still wine is good, but it just doesn’t have the “ooh” factor that bubbles can bring and when you are eating at home you can splash out on luxury cuvées that get priced beyond belief on restaurant lists.
The pop of the cork and the whoosh of bubbles add excitement to the occasion and those bubbles don’t have to come from Champagne. Prosecco provides all the fizz, flavour and fun you need, and it is a lot more economical than champagne. However you mustn’t think that this is a cheaper option. It just reallocates some money for that present you will invest in this afternoon.Try Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Conegliano Prosecco for its soft, rounded, floral notes and it is on special offer until the end of today down to £7.50 from £10. If you happen to be in Waitrose, then Italia Collezione Prosecco Brut is down to £7.99 from £11.99 until the middle of next week and has ripe apple and pear notes and a frothy, fruity style.
While all bubbles are good, pink bubbles are even better. Pink fizz has such a delicate colour and taste that it automatically makes a girl smile, whatever her age. But it isn’t just for the girlies. Real men can drink pink fizz for the extra flavour that comes from the splash of red wine in the blend.
At the less expensive end of the shelves, head for Graham Beck Sparkling Brut Rosé, South Africa (down from £15 to £13 until 2 March) for its elegant, rounded, red berry fruit. Or move just a little further along the shelves at M&S and try their Oudinot Brut Rosé Champagne, currently down from £27 to £22. This is a delightful pink champagne with strawberry fruit, a rounded creamy texture and a pure, clean elegant finish. If you really want to push the boat out then Waitrose has the precise, redcurrants and clean freshness of Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut, down from £57.99 to £42.99, or try the bigger, more positive flavours of Bollinger Rosé Brut, also on offer at Waitrose down from £54.99 to £43.99. My current favourite rosé Champagne is Billecart-Salmon Rosé Brut, available at Field and Fawcett in York at £59.95, for its sheer, delicate style and persistence of flavour.
So that’s the aperitif over with – what about the main course? Whatever is gently sizzling in the oven, avoid a big, heavy wine that will dominate the proceedings. Instead head for a good Pinot Noir for is soft, gentle fruit and the way it complements all kinds of foods from baked fish to grilled chicken and even a shop-bought, slow-cooked lamb shank.
Although it is exceptionally good value for money, Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Noir 2013 (Asda £7.50) is more of a weekday wine, so instead head to Latitude in The Calls, Leeds and Tin Pot Hut Pinot Noir 2013 from New Zealand. Made by Scottish-born, New Zealand-raised winemaker Fiona Turner this gathers together deep cherry fruit, a light dusting of spice and a wonderful length of finish. At £14.99 it is well worth the money and I have enjoyed it teamed with a wide variety of dishes. If Majestic is closer then try the terrific fruit and gentle flavours of The Ned Pinot Noir 2013 from Marlborough, New Zealand at just £9.99 on multibuy.
And as a finale to your Valentine’s evening there has to be chocolate. Buy a small box of the most expensive chocolates you can find such as the delicious high-cocoa selection from Betty’s and settle down with a small glass of chocolate-friendly wine. Taylors’ Late Bottled Vintage Port 2009 (£14.99 Majestic) is packed with red and black berry fruit and a hint of chocolate.
Once opened, this style of port will keep for several weeks, so you can get into the habit of buying nice chocolate for your Valentine and maybe breakfast will never be frosty again.