"The days of wine and roses laugh and run away like a child at play"
Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini
By Doc Lawrence
February - Wine, Feasts and Love
February features Valentine’s Day, our gentle ritual, at midpoint. For now, even dreams seem delicious. Tradition strongly suggests red roses, chocolates, candlelit dining and a card with a personal proclamation of love. Wine fits here like a hand in glove.
Not just any wine, mind you. Nothing falls flatter that the wrong wine. A dusty bottle from the supermarket bottom shelf doesn’t say “I love you.” There’s an old French saying that the best use for bad wine is to drive away poor relations.
Champagne or a fine bottle of domestic sparkling rosé is de reguer. Saint-Amour, a Cru Beaujolais, will not be easy to find, but with a label perfect for Valentine’s, like the promise of new love, it’s worth the effort.
The feast is a centerpiece of the celebration of love, honoring intimate relationships from first date to 50th anniversary. Dine beneath Venetian chandeliers in The Olde Pink House in lovely Savannah, the hometown of “my huckleberry friend,” Johnny Mercer, and begin everything with a Low Country staple, She Crab Soup (after tossing in a jigger of Sherry). Originally made by a Charleston chef for George Washington’s first inaugural party, the soup has a magic ingredient, crab roe. Consume enough Champagne, locals say, and you can hear a distant piano playing “Moon River.”
Now long gone, Corrine Dunbar’s was in a lovely Victorian home on St. Charles in New Orleans’ fabled Garden District. Many diners arrived by streetcar. There was no menu and courses with paired wines were set in advance, served family style. Cocktails were served in the parlor before dinner. The fairy tale-like feast began with a fruit dish, then a soup, followed by Dunbar's famous specialty, Oysters and Artichokes. The main course was accompanied by fresh vegetables and passed hot biscuits. Then came the goûté, a "small touch of sweet,” ending with a demitasse. Marriage proposals were not unusual at Dunbar’s.
The French Quarter epicurean shrine, Brennan’s on Royal Street, serves a February brunch like no other. It’s the home of classics like Banana Foster and Crepes Suzette where the great Harry Hall, despite the loss of more than 30,000 bottles of rare wines during Katrina, oversees one of the planet’s finest wine cellars.
One of the country’s most romantic restaurants is Robert’s of Charleston, an elegant by the harbor dining experience featuring fine wine, upscale cuisine, and music that stirs the soul and touches the heart. Enjoying rack of lamb with a bottle of Gervey-Chambertin while Robert Dickson, chef, owner, and resident baritone sings “Some Enchanted Evening,” provides enough stardust to launch a love affair.
Giving someone you love a product that’s good for the body, good for the soul, and good for the planet sends a positive message about the giver. Véronique Raskin's family-owned Organic Wine Company has been green decades before green was cool. Her ancestors began growing grapes in the south of France in the late 1700's where their 50-acre family estate, Château Bousquette, became a working winery. The vineyards drape over the craggy hillsides of a small town of Cessenon, only 30 miles inland from the Mediterranean. Bousquette is a simple family estate nestled in pine trees, lavender and thyme, overlooking miles of vineyards stretching all the way to the foot of the Cévennes Mountains
The vineyards are moderated by the cooling breezes from the sea, giving the grapes a long, even growing season. In 1993 Véronique's brother and Bousquette's winemaker, decided to bottle a wine in honor of Véronique's pioneering efforts to promote organically grown wine in the United States. The result is the 2007 Coteaux du Languedoc Chateau Veronique, a dry, medium-bodied wine with balance found in a promising relationship. If you are cooking Valentine’s dinner, think about a nice Julia Child recipe hearty stew to harmonize with this.
Celebrate love often enough and it might become a habit. Amorous moments are precious and good wine with a romantic dinner comes close to bringing everything sensuous together.
So pour the Saint-Amour and toast: “Tu es ma joie de vivre.”