Friday, 6 February 2009

What's love got to do with it? Fizz for Valentine's Day

I seem to recall from my younger days that St Valentine’s Day was all about getting a card (or not, in which case cue moodiness and feelings of desolation) from a mystery admirer on 14th February. In other words, it was a day for the free and single, whether young or not. Now, however, it seems to have turned into something that involves couples celebrating their togetherness, to the exclusion of all the singletons. It’s one of the busiest nights of the year for the restaurant trade (not to mention the rose sellers), as couples across the land pay through the nose to eat a special “valentine’s menu”, surrounded by other couples all doing the same.

Frankly I’d rather stick needles in my eyes, so, as usual, I’ll be marking the event by staying home. With more and more of us having to count the pennies, maybe you will be joining me – so to speak.

One of the joys of staying in for Valentine’s Day is that you can splash out on special food – and wine of course – and know that you’ll still be hard-pressed to spend a fraction of what it would cost you to go out.

If you want to make someone feel special, then what can say it better that something sparkling? Champagne is top of the list, if your budget stretches to it – and pink champagne seems to have become de rigueur in recent years.

Laurent-Perrier Rosé NV (£79.99 for a single bottle from Wine Rack, or £59.99 if you buy 3; £62.99 from Oddbins, or check on-line at for independent stockists from around £44)
This is the classic pink fizz lover’s fizz. Unlike many rosé champagnes its pink colour comes from letting the skins of the pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes stay in contact with the grape juice – rather than just mixing in a little red wine to a regular champagne. It’s got delicious, crisp, aromatic red fruit – and it’s not cheap.

For cash-strapped romantics you can’t do better than Lindauer Brut Special Reserve NV (£11.99 each or £7.99 if you buy 3 from Wine Rack; £9.99 from Waitrose and Oddbins; £9.99 at Majestic, down to £7.49 if you buy two). Technically not a rosé, but it does have a delicious hint of salmon pink from the high proportion of pinot noir in the blend. The quality of the New Zealand fruit shines through, giving strawberry and cream hints to the nose, but a thoroughly grown-up, savoury palate to follow – great as an aperitif or with smoked salmon and the like.

Of course fizz doesn’t have to be pink, so here are a couple of recommendations that I find give reliable value for money.

Taittinger Brut Réserve NV has a higher than normal amount of chardonnay in its blend, which gives it extra elegance and poise. This champagne is fairly widely available, but for the best prices at the moment head to Majestic, who have it for £36.65 or £27.49 if you buy two bottles; or Waitrose, where you can buy a single bottle for £25.59.

If you’re looking for a sparkling bargain, it’s probably best to avoid the very cheapest champagne, which you can pick up for say £11-12. While it may live up to “cheap”, it is likely to throw in “nasty” for good measure. It’s better to spend your money on a decent New World interpretation of champagne, or a French crémant – made in the same way as champagne, but outside the Champagne region.

Green Point Brut Vintage 2004 gives a hint of champagne style and substance – it is Moet & Chandon’s Australian operation after all. Pick it up at Majestic for £19.49 a bottle, or just £12.99 if you buy two.

From France you could give Cuvée Royale Crémant de Limoux Brut NV a whirl. At £6.36 on offer from Waitrose, it’s money well-spent.

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