Assign a phone number to every Christian martyr named Valentine, and you'd have enough material for a book. Those guys were all over the place in Italy before A.D. 500 and even held some sway through most of the 20th century—the Roman Catholic Church formally recognized 14 Valentine's Days until 1969. The Holy See's housecleaning yielded only two figureheads, both of whom now rake in the props every Feb. 14. The cooler legend belongs to Valentinus of Rome, a priest imprisoned for performing marriage rites on the sly. He reportedly fell in love with his jailer's daughter, whom, lore has it, returned the favor. Aw-wwwwww.
Things didn't work out so well for Val, who was smoked around A.D. 270. On the assumption that you're a lot more even-tempered than his smokers, you may want to offer up a thought for our boy as you celebrate the big day. And you may want to do it over a bottle of Epicuro Aglianico, out of Southern Italy's Beneventano region. The red Aglianico grape has been around for centuries, but for some reason, it's rarely grown, and that's too bad. There's something heavy and almost oaky about the nice berry aftertaste, highly unexpected from a red whose color isn't all that deep. And if you're into bubbles, you may think you've uncorked some Champagne by mistake. For a wine, this thing effervesces pretty insistently after the pour, which only means it's breathing as it should. It's great with pastas and all your favorite cheeses, and the coolest thing is it's only $12.99 at Trader Joe's and elsewhere.
The Beneventano area isn't that far from Rome, Val's old haunt—and that's worth noting. Give him a bottle of Aglianico and take away the cell, and who knows how he and that impetuous little gal of his might've marked the day. Maybe it's best we don't think about it, at least not for very long.