If you’re partnered up on Valentine’s Day, you can set the mood with the right sparkles. Though don't despair if you’re alone: that’s a whole bottle to yourself. It’s win-win, says Terry Kirby
At an often gloomy time of year, when spring still seems a long way off, Valentine’s Day is a good excuse for a little celebration – a nice home cooked dinner for two perhaps, avoiding the awfully twee and overpriced “special Valentine’s meals” that many restaurants churn out, regardless of quality. And it is important that good wine is involved here – Bacchus is the god of both wine and fertility. Bit of a connection there.
So, what sparkling wines can enhance our Valentine’s celebrations and be easily tracked down between now and Wednesday? And we are looking for wines of elegance and style, that might serve the romantic agenda...
There are of course, at this time of year, a great many invitations to buy the classic Champagne marques, which are all mostly very fine and familiar, but since readers of this column ought by nature be independent minded, let’s look a little further:
Both Waitrose and Marks & Spencer have excellent ranges of English sparkling, which should now be accepted as a fabulous alternative to traditional champagne. Among the more recent arrivals on the scene is the Balfour Brut Leslie’s Reserve (£24.99 waitrosecellar.com). From an ancient Kent estate that made its name with upmarket, excellent pink sparklers, the classic champagne grape trio of pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay here combine to create flavours of brioche, apple and red fruits. Named, in a clearly romantic gesture, after the winemaker’s partner, this is elegant and enlivening; the ideal partner to canapés, oysters or other shellfish. Waitrose are also offering an excellent discount on both the Nyetimber Classic Cuvee NV (£25.99; normally £34.99 waitrose.com) from one of the pioneers of English sparkling and a very traditional champagne style: creamy and toasty, with a citrus lift as well as the Nyetimber Rose NV (£29.99; normally £39.99 waitrose.com) brimming with elegant red fruits. Stylish, refined, both bottles and the wines inside.
At M&S, they have the Camel Valley Classic Cuvee, (£28 marksandspencer.com ) another of the earliest English wine makers from deep in the heart of Cornwall: fresh as a sea breeze on the palate, rich as a Cornish cream tea on the finish. Also from the south-west is Dorset’s Langham Classic Cuvee 2014 (£25 marksandspencer.com) seriously toasty with great depth of flavour. Both would be great partners for both smoked West Country fish starters or for luscious fruit based desserts.
If you really are determined to look to France for your sparklers, the best value can often be found beyond champagne in the sparkling wines in the regions. From the Loire, try the exceptional Château de l’Aulée Crémant de Loire ‘Cuvée Jeanne d’Arc’ NV (£13.50 Oddbins) made on an historic estate by a former Bollinger winemaker from chenin blanc grapes and dedicated to the memory of the saint, a romantic heroine. Sparkling wines are much less common in the south of France, although the Limoux has some terrific ones, but for something really special, seek out the gorgeously bottled Chateau Leoube Organic Sparkling Rose (£30 Ocado.com) from the Provencal estate owned by the English family behind the Daylesford organic farmshops: sprightly pink bubbles, red fruits with a real smack of warm, herb strewn hillsides, perfect to accompany lobster or grilled prawns. Still rose is not my personal preference at this time of year – its really a summer tipple for me – but if you must follow the pink path, there are a lot of elegant Provencal roses around and the one of the best is Chateau d’Esclans Whispering Angel (£16.99 waitrosecellar.com; £24.99 majestic.co.uk) crisp, light and ethereal and again perfect with any seafood or just to accompany whispering sweet nothings. And enjoy your evening...