Passionate wines' love chemicals stir Valentine’s romance
By John H. Isacs
Valentine’s is a stressful day. The contrived commercialism and oft-unrealistic expectations of romance as often lead to abject misery as they do to blissful love. How many modern-day revelers of this celebration even know its origins?
Historically Valentine’s Day celebrates both fertility and the trials and tribulations of ancient lovers. In ancient Rome the Lupercalia festival of fertility was held in mid-February.
With the advent of Christianity, the church sought to replace this pagan festival that was replete with animal sacrifice and overt sexual displays with a more sedate Christian observance. In the 5th century, Pope Gelasius proclaimed February 14 as Valentine’s Day. But who was this legendary saint of love?
The Catholic church recognizes three saints by the Roman name Valentinus or Valentine in modern English. How he actually became the patron saint of lovers is somewhat murky, but two tales may hold the answer.
The first claims Valentine was an early priest who defied the ban on marriage by Emperor Claudius II who believed that single men made better soldiers for his legions. In this tale Valentine was put to death for secretly marrying lovers.
A second popular account of the origin of Valentine claims he was imprisoned for helping persecuted Christians escape tyrannical Roman overlords. In prison he fell in love with his jailor’s daughter and just before he was executed he wrote her a note signed, “From your Valentine.”
We may not know the definitive origin of Valentine’s Day, but we know it’s traditionally a day to honor true lovers throughout history. So amid the crass commercialism of the modern Valentine’s Day, how can we truly be romantic?
The obligatory nature of being romantic on Valentine’s Day actually makes real romance more difficult. The days of just buying a box of chocolate and a dinner at an overcrowded restaurant are long gone.
To truly be romantic in 21st century Shanghai takes creativity, effort and communication. Thank god, or rather thank Valentine, that the true art of wining and dining provides several solutions.
As I have written in the past, the relationship between wine and romance is not purely fanciful, there’s actual science behind it.
In the book “Scents and Sensuality,” author Dr Max Lake explains how wine aromas replicate human pheromones that help stimulate feelings of attraction in the brain. He further notes that the earthy, leathery and musky scent of oak-aged red wines most closely resemble male pheromones while the lighter, fresher and subtly yeasty notes of white and sparkling wines resemble female pheromones.
Because other scientists concur with Dr Lake’s finding it’s probably a good idea to have both white and red wines to ensure both genders are equally aroused.
While wine doesn’t actually warm your body temperate, the alcohol causes blood vessels to dilate and move blood flow to the surface, giving sensations of warmth.
In addition to aromatic stimulation and sensations of warmth, wine also provides a healthy dose of antioxidants that benefit your health. A sick date is hardly romantic. Finally, the effect of lowering of inhibitions can also increase the probability of a truly romantic evening.
Wine shouldn’t be the only facilitator in successful romancing, the right foods can also do wonders. This isn’t as easy as you think because most Western restaurants in Shanghai and elsewhere only offer uninspired Valentine’s Day set menus designed with the lowest common denominator of diners in mind.
Insipid menus intended to accommodate overworked kitchens and service staff aren’t romantic. In fact, many food and beverage professionals derogatorily refer to Valentine’s Day as amateurs’ night out as the serious gourmets find other venues to satiate their palates.
Regardless, most readers will dine out so it’s best to find restaurants that have dishes with ingredients that will embellish, not dampen romantic tendencies.
High on this list are oysters, lobster, asparagus, almonds, vanilla, honey and of course chocolate. All have historically been considered aphrodisiacs that not only taste great but also heighten physical arousal.
Intimate gestures can also help turn a common meal into something special. As the evening enters its final moments and the last sweet morsels of fruit, cookies or chocolate adorn the table, use your hand to feed your partner select piecess of their favorite foods.
This physical intimacy, along with the gentle inebriating effects of fine wine, will surely amplify romantic tendencies.
Wines, like good lovers, communicate something special. They are not merely a product; rather they reflect history, culture or a special human narrative. Therefore, I suggest the wine you pick this Valentine’s Day be one that somehow conveys a meaningful and romantic story.
As you savor these delightful wines, look deeply into your lover’s eyes and enlighten him or her with the compelling and emotional tales of these wines. Not only will your lover revel in the tale, but the wine will actually taste better.
Pick wines from Veneto, Italy, because they come from the same place as Romeo and Juliet, two of the world’s most famous lovers.
Prosecco sparkling wines are the perfect start to your dinner as they pair well with oysters and other seafood, and bubbles are always emotionally uplifting.
Then move on to a big and sensual Amarone red wine.
Made with semi-dried Corvina grapes with some Rondinella and Molinara blended in, these are some of Italy’s best red wines with super ripe, slightly sweet cherry and plum flavors and velvety tannins.
Another option is to show your lover that you love her or him over all other processions by serving Chateau Calon Segur, a third growth from Saint Estephe in Bordeaux.
Not only is this a superb, typically hearty Saint Estephe red wine, but it also has a great story.
In the early to mid-18th century, a noble gentleman named Nicolas Alexander, Marquis de Segur, was fortunate enough to own three of the most famous Pauillac chateaux, namely Lafite, Latour and Mouton.
Despite possessing these most august of chateaux, Nicolas Alexander proclaimed, “My heart is with Segur,” so to this day a big heart adorns every label of Chateau Calon Segur.
And if your date doesn’t appreciate the sublime dark fruit and rich tannins of this third-growth wine, he or she will certainly appreciate the label and story. Just remember to say that just like Calon Segur, you prize your lover more than the world’s most famous wines.