Valentine’s Day – that most romantic day of the year when one has the chance to show their loved one just how much they care. Or, if you are sane, a trumped up, transparently cynical opportunity to delude the gullible and benefit florists, greeting card companies, chocolatiers and second-rate restaurateurs who think sticking a paper rose in the breadstick jar allows them the privilege of doubling the bill.
Words by drinks writer, Ken Gargett
Oh, the bitter and twisted, you say. Fair enough, you might be right, but remember, this is a day by which 80% of New Year’s resolutions have been abandoned. In other words, a day representing human failure. A day on which the entire world seems to think that saccharine PDAs are compulsory, not gross.
The origins of V Day are somewhat fuzzy, but it has been with us for a long time. Shakespeare has Ophelia mention it in Hamlet – that could have gone better.
There have been disasters aplenty on the day. For one, whatever possessed a mate (well, acquaintance) to think that Valentine’s Day was the perfect time to confess to his wife as to the long-term affair he had been carrying on (no, he is not named Barnaby). Or the ‘awkward’ moment when a mate took his new bride for a romantic dinner on their first V Day together, only to discover that their waiter was her heartbroken ex. Though even that was probably less traumatic than the famous Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago by Al Capone’s men.
Even worse, and why I have never had a moment for V Day ever again, I take you back in time, several decades, to when I was doing the overseas thing; I had studied in London and just joined a large law firm there. This is not a story I have often told, but as we now live in an era where one is apparently supposed to document one’s every thought, no matter how banal, so it may wander in the ether for all eternity, here goes.
I was coming to the end of my first week at the new firm when the bloke in the next room (still a close friend, all these years later) stuck his head around the door and said that he and some friends were off to the Dolomites at the end of the following week for a skiing holiday. Was I interested? Pope, Catholic, bears, woods. But there was a problem, I said. I really doubted that my new employers would be handing me two weeks holiday after I had only been there two weeks. Don’t worry, he assured me, all taken care of. I came to learn that two weeks on, two weeks off, was pretty much standard for London lawyers in those days.
A fantastic holiday was had by all, and our final day was to be spent in Venice – it just happened to be V Day. I’d been to Venice before and loved the place. If you are going, winter is perfect (and this was a perfect winter’s day). Cool, crisp, clean, the canals are devoid of the fetid clogging rubbish that seems compulsory in summer.
Now, and here is where it gets a bit weird, one sleeps well after a week or two on the slopes, even with the excitement of Venice to tease us, however, that evening, I had the most vivid dreams and I still remember them. I was told in this dream (and no, I do not think I was visited by any religious invention) that as soon I got to Venice, I must go straight to the Bridge of Sighs, where I would meet the love of my life. And yes, I am all too aware of the irony of mentioning the deluded and gullible.
We arrived around 9-ish that morning. Troops went off in different directions, while I hightailed it for the Bridge of Sighs, the words of the dream still fresh in my mind. I forget if I had a map or just asked directions (most likely the latter – rookie mistake, and a costly one).
Gradually, I got closer and closer to the bridge, until finally, I thought I could see it in the distance. I was really starting to get quite excited. After all, it is not every day one meets the love of his life. I started to wonder whether she would be a local girl, from another part of Italy or possibly a tourist.
As I approached the Bridge, I could hear noise from the other side. A party? I wondered if this was perhaps a hens party gone long and she would be a lonely bridesmaid. One can’t quite see what is over the other side of the bridge, even if one can hear it – yes, I realise now that this is not the actual Bridge of Sighs, but where were you all those years ago to tell me that?
I could hear those on the other side, a party still in full swing, walking up to the crest. I did the same from my side. We were about to meet.
This is the moment where, if anyone ever doubted it before, I can reveal that the divinities really do have a sense of humour and even more so, they really do enjoy messing with us.
So, what are you thinking? Well, it was worse. The supposed love of my life?
We reached the crest of the bridge together. Myself and a Welsh rugby team on their end-of-season tour. And yes, their party had been going non-stop for about three days. I may have expressed my disappointment, or possibly had a Wallabies cap on (this was back in the days when Wallaby supporters were not considered as the lower forms of life), as they picked me for an Aussie immediately.
Say what you like about the Welsh, and I have a good dollop of Welsh in me, they are wonderfully hospitable and know how to enjoy themselves. A can of lager was shoved into my hand and the singing started up again. Off we went to explore Venice, although by this stage a fair few of them were falling by the way.
I did take one last look around to see if there were any supermodels, standing off to the side, looking as though they were waiting for someone, alas, it would have helped to be at the right bridge!
So, feel free to join me in completely ignoring this concocted catastrophe. If, however, you must succumb, here are my five V Day drinks recommendations.
Yes, this is a bit of a no-brainer and one does not need to be the proverbial Rhodes Scholar to come up with this recommendation. Champagne is the absolute perfect match for such a day. The better the champagne, well…
This, however, does not extend to Champagne cocktails, which are a perversion and an abhorrence to be avoided at all costs, as a senseless waste of glorious elixir. If you must go this route, cheaper sparklers are acceptable.
FOUR ROSES BOURBON
Okay, you forgot the roses on the way home or the florists have sold out. What to do? Well, this is a very fine and highly respected producer of bourbon and, being ‘four roses’, all you really need is three bottles for a dozen. Not only that, you get the bourbon as a bonus. You may need it if you try this.
CHAMBOLLE-MUSIGNY ‘LES AMOUREUSES’
The famous Burgundian sub-region of Chambolle Musigny has two grand crus – Bonnes Mares and the sublime Musigny – and two dozen premier crus, the most revered being ‘Les Amoureuses’, which most critics agree really should have grand cru status (it certainly has grand cru pricing, with some producers looking for nearly $3k per bottle). It is a very small appellation, so bottles are rare, but highly desired.
Les Amoureuses means ‘the lovers’, though no one knows why (a couple of vineyard workers caught under the vines?). What could be more romantic than a wine, a superb one as well, called ‘the lovers’?
SOME YOUNG PUNKS ‘PASSION HAS RED LIPS’
This Clare Valley operation has taken the name of this wine from an old pulp fiction novel, Sin on Wheels. A shiraz cabernet, suffice to say that cracking a bottle of this wine on V Day will be about as subtle as a train wreck, but then, not everything needs to be subtle.
Well, why not. If your V Day goes the way most of mine do, settle back with your favourite rugby team and enjoy their lager. There are worse things…