The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Toasting the Origins of Valentine’s Day

Posted on | February 11, 2015 | Written by Camacho Vidal | No Comments

lupercalia2 I’ve been preparing for IWM NYC’s Valentine’s Day wine lunch this coming Saturday. I love a good story and although I’m confident our wine selections and pairing will be spectacular I wanted to add a bit of info on the day itself.

We know Valentine’s Day to be a day for lovers and would be lovers to exchange flowers and candy and love notes. But if you look back to the origins of Valentine’s Day, you will find it incorporates legends, religious myth and pagan festivals. Valentine’s Day as we know it contains bits of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition, and that’s where the wine comes in.

Rome legalized Christianity and made it the Empire’s official religion around 1313AD, but some pagans didn’t totally abandon the traditions and practices that they held before they converted. One tradition in particular that was adopted by the church is said to be the fertility celebration known as the Lupercalia, celebrated from February 13th through the 15th.

lupercalia2Lupercalia involved sacrificing a goat and a dog; after then the young nobles would run naked through the city, striking women they met with the hides. Young women would line up for the men to hit them, believing this would make them fertile. After, Romans would drink, feast, and participate in a sort of lottery where young men drew the names of women from a jar. The couple would then be matched up and lived in intimacy for a year. Apparently, many of these matches later married and lived happily ever after. In the 5th century, Pope Gelasius deemed the rites un-Christian and some historians suggest that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to Christianize the pagan celebration of Lupercalia.

Some historians also believe that people in the Middle Ages believed that mid-February signaled the beginning of mating season for birds. This added to the idea that the middle of Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance. Which leads us to the next question: who was St Valentine?

san-valentino-umbriaNo one really knows. There were several, which Saint Valentine is attached to the holiday is unclear. One of my favorite legends about St. Valentine concerns Emperor Claudius II, who persecuted the Christians. Claudius II believed that unmarried soldiers fought better than married soldiers because married soldiers would be afraid of what might happen to them or their families if they died. Because of this theory, he made it illegal to marry young people or soldiers. This did not sit well with the Bishop of Turin, later one of the many Saint Valentines, who supported the idea of encouraging marriage within the Christian church. Valentino started to secretly perform marriage ceremonies; he was caught, thrown in prison, and tortured for performing marriage ceremonies. You would think the story ends there but more legends arise while he was in prison.

Valentino was sentenced to a three-part execution of a beating, stoning, and finally decapitation. One popular myth says that when Valentino was in jail, a blind girl would sneak him messages and flowers from children and lovers. He was supposed to have prayed that her sight would return, and it did; he healed the young girl with such astonishing effect that his jailors converted to Christianity. The story continues that the last words he wrote were in a note to the young girl he healed. He inspired today’s romantic missives by signing it, “from your Valentine.” There is another story that involves the Bishop releasing pigeons to help break up an argument between a young couple giving us the term lovebirds.

You can pick and choose from the many origins of Valentine’s Day. All are intriguing and each has its own message. Because my favorite origin is that of the martyrdom of the Turin bishop, I decided that a Valentine’s Day lunch must have some wine from Umbria. What better wine than Paolo Bea’s San Valentino Umbria Rosso? I feel this big red represents the Bishop, the region he was from, and his love for love.

Paolo Bea Umbria Rosso Vigna San Valentino 2009 $34.99

Paolo Bea sources this wine from the San Valentino vineyard in Montefalco, whose soil is made up of mostly clay. The vineyard lies about 1300 feet above sea level. It is made with 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino and 15% Montepulciano, all from a 50-year old vineyard; the wine usually macerates for approximately 30 days aged for 3 years in stainless steel and an additional 4 to 12 months in bottle before release.

This has a great, earthy nose and you can smell Umbria in it. The earthy aromas all blend in perfect harmony with some tobacco, mushroom tending to truffle, and bright red fruits. On the palate, you get nice fresh acidity and notable minerality. The three grapes in this blend work together like ménage à trois of red fruits, offering distinct flavors that complement each other, just as caring lovers would.

 

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