This year was the hottest Memorial Day weekend anyone could remember, with a welcome 80 degree Sunday (at least in Ocean City, MD, where I spent it) made for casual day drinking. Luckily, I planned ahead with a delicious Albariño, the crisp, saline, minerally Spanish white that’s the symbol of summer to me. A wine like this is made to pair with a beach read—a juicy novel to get lost in as the sun drones along. Inevitably, “beach read” makes me think of Sweetbitter, a book I devoured in a single, sunny, summer day in 2016 not long after it debuted. Laying on my dock, I ravenously tore through the book almost without getting up, so in love with it I didn’t want to move.
Sweetbitter follows Tess, a pretty, blonde, Midwestern 22-year-old who transplants to New York and manages to score a job at one of the city’s best restaurants—a thinly veiled version of Danny Meyer’s famed Union Square Cafe. (One of my all-time favorite spots.) She falls hard into the decadent, hedonistic world of New York fine dining—the wine, the amazing foods, the late nights at the divey bar nearby where she and coworkers do coke in the bathroom and stay out until sunrise. I loved it for the accurate portrayal of that hard partying, high stakes culture, which I know well from half a life of working in service, and for the sensory writing—author Stephanie Danler (who got her MFA from the New School just before I did) has a great talent for invoking taste, smell, touch, sound, & feel, sometimes all at once.
The immediate instinct with a wine for this book would be a French red, perhaps Bordeaux or Burgundy, as the book’s characters conduct wine tastings and nerd out about wines like that. But the image that I loved most in this book is when Tess is fed her first oyster, so sexually, by love interest Jake in a walk-in freezer. It slips down her throat, so briny and sensual, and I’ve always thought of that scene as one that got sex appeal (and sex-and-food triggers) really right. But with oysters, you must have a crisp, refreshing white wine. My preferred is Albariño, and the grape is best from the Rías Baixas, in Galician, Spain, an area known for whites like this. This style from Bodegas Fulcro has the hallmarks of the style—fresh, tart, saline—but also contains a bone-dry pucker and sharp acidity and some herbaceous roundness that give it much more oomph than your typical Albariño; it almost reminded me of a French wine, perhaps Muscadet. It was just what I wanted to spend my hot Memorial Day weekend with, and I did, going through the bottle quickly while praying for a tan to appear.
I didn’t manage to have oysters this weekend but I did pick crabs—my seafood indulgence—and sipped this wine and thought about the pleasures of long weekends, time stretching out before you, lazy with possibility for a whole book in one sitting.
I held off pairing Circe with a wine for a long time; as one of the best books I’ve ever read, what wine could stand up? But when I opened this white Cab Franc (?!) that I'd been saving and said "HOLY SHIT" at the first sip, I knew.
Circe is a retelling of the life of the famous nymph-witch from the Odyssey who turned men, including Odysseus's, into pigs. Reduced through history to a misogynist figure, here Miller, a classical scholar, gives her agency, heart, and a story all her own. She imagines the circumstances that got the young immortal (Circe is a nymph, the daughter of Helios, the sun, and the ocean nymph Perse) exiled onto the tiny paradisal island of Aiaia, giving her powers, strength, vigor, a horrible family, a fantastic sex life, and far more credit than history ever has. Slowly, in isolation, she develops her powers as a sorceress but only uses them for self-defense when she has to, instead becoming a “good witch” figure that modern culture embraces wholeheartedly. With the ever-fascinating politics & affairs of Greek gods/goddesses woven in, there's a reason it‘s still on the New York Times best-seller list a year after its debut. I fell so deeply for this book & Circe; I couldn’t have dreamed up a more empathetic and thrilling heroine.
And what a match in this white Cabernet Franc! Made by badass vitner Leah Jørgensen, a Loire-style expert in the Willamette Valley since 2011, this wine is like nothing I've ever tasted. It’s actually the first commercially produced still white wine from Cabernet Franc grapes, the jucie of which is immediately bled off the skins to eliminate tannin and color. Bursting with sharp, tangy green peppercorn, it mimics the bite of red Cab Franc but with this tactile, herby quality I couldn't quite place at first; it almost overwhelms in flavor (but in a terrific way). When it opened up, it called to mind the feasts that Circe sets for her visiting sailors: An aroma of cured meats, rich & tangy, a taste of salted cheeses or anchovies & Meyer Lemon all covered in fresh-from-the-witch's-garden herbs. I imagined Circe brewed this up with her powers of herbology, something lighter than the god's typical mead, perfect for a verdant mountainous island surrounded by the sea. With high acid, medium-light body, & structure despite the flavor burst, it's one of the best wines I've ever tasted. And it doesn't hurt that the label features a goddess of a woman, holding wine & grapes, surrounded by flora.
I had been saving this wine since the fall, interested in tasting it but truly unable to imagine what it would taste like (and therefore unsure of when to open it). But it turns out I waited until just the perfect moment. This was great for late spring; after winter’s comfortable reds & reads, I want some sharp women & sharp wine in my life again. These two do it. #booksnbottles#thebuzzedword
Book: Circe by Madeline Miller
Bottle: Leah Jørgensen Cellars Blanc de Cab Franc
Region: Willamette Valley, OR
Grape: Cabernet Franc
Imported by Vos Selections and Five Grapes
Found at Crystal City Wineshop (D.C.) and The Corkery (NYC)
Imagine you’re a 21-year-old college student having an affair with a married man. Actually, your best friend is kind of having one with his wife too. But no one knows about you and him. And you’re all at a rich woman’s house in France with all these other adults playing at this art-person lifestyle, and it’s really not your scene, but you’re kind of into it. It’s decadent and weird and almost too much. So you drink a lot of the rich woman’s white wine, whole bottles, sitting around her table staring at these people, wondering what your life even is.
Ok so that’s a big part of Conversations With Friends, Sally Rooney’s amazing debut novel about two girl friends who get embroiled with a rich older couple. (Rooney is my age, and her novels are perfect portraits of millennial youth—more to come on her.) I’ve always wanted to be invited to someone’s villa to drink wine and have affairs (don’t we all?) so I lived vicariously through this book while drinking this stony white wine (the beverage of choice for Frances, the narrator), which I picked out by going to my wine store and asking for “something a rich white woman would have, but more interesting.”
The obvious choice was Sancerre but it can be overpriced. This version—which is 100% Sauvignon Blanc, as all Sancerres are—is made almost entirely with grapes that don’t leave the region; that is, they’re grown and drank primarily by the French locals of the Saint Bris region, which was exiled from Chablis in the late 1800s phylloxera plague. But that worked out because now they can plant whatever they want, using the chalk, stony soils for things like this fantastic Sauv Blanc (instead of only Chablis Chardonnay). This is a lovely, bright, citrusy Sauv, elegant but unfussy, unpretentious, and very drinkable. Which is definitely what a 21-yr-old in the throes of a passionate affair wants to drown her sorrows, and also what I want when I’m on my couch but imagining a dream life on the coast of France.
"Holy shit" books are ones that you want to immediately read again the second you turn the last page. That linger with you. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata is 100% a holy shit book.
Originally published in 2016 where it won the Akutagawa Prize (Japan's highest literary honor) and sold half a million+ copies, this book is real good. It follows Keiko, a kind of odd woman—she doesn't relate well to people at all and basically learns to live in society by emulating others in order to seem human. In college, she gets a job at a Smile Mart convenience store, a place that sounds like a Japanese 7/11. And she never leaves. Obsessed with making the store perfect and emblematic of the diligent Japanese worker bee, she finds comfort in the sameness: the daily rushes, the regulars, the prepackaged foods and drinks, the standardized greetings and uniforms. But she never desires to become a manager—or to do/be anything at all. No love interest, nothing in her apartment, forced socialization with grade school friends. But she's not a robot, and the book takes some interesting twists as she tries to get a different job and be a different person. Murata has written an endlessly fascinating person with hauntingly tight prose; I was so fully in this world while reading it that I’m still not sure I’ve gotten over it yet.
This might have been an impossible paring to do if I didn't happen upon this delightful dark rosé. Mostly Gamay with some Cab Franc and Cab Sauv, it tastes like straight Jolly Ranchers—a mixture of Cherry and Watermelon to be precise. It's so tart yet so juicy (and not at all sweet, to be clear) with some puckering acid and a cool finish. Its bright, almost artificial-looking pinkness borders on fuschia, and I thought YES when I drank it. A natural wine that tastes like convenience store candy without the sugar? Sign me up every single day. Like Keiko, I find comfort in certain samenesses; mine just happens to be dark rosés with high acid and a lot of cranberry, aka this exact wine. So like Keiko loudly and proudly yelling “Irasshaimasé!” (welcome/come on it) to every entering customer, I’ll proclaim my love for this style of wine until the end of time.
Book: Convenience Store Woman, Sayaka Murata
🍷: Phillipe Chevrain La Decrué Rose 2017
🍇: 70% Gamay, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc
🇫🇷: Loire, France
Imported by Louis Dressner Selections
Found at Vine Wine
Imagine a seaside makeout: Salty kisses and sharp little lip bites, hands in tangled hair, sitting on black rocks as the salt air sprays around you, feeling buttery and flush in someone's arms. That's what this wine tastes like, and it's also half the plot of The Pisces, Melissa Broder's funny, whip-smart, very modern novel. .
The Pisces follows a Sappho scholar named Lucy, fresh off a breakup that caused a mental breakdown, as she moves to her sister's beachside Venice, CA home to dog-sit and get her shit together... where she meets and falls in love with a merman. She struggles with her feelings for him, the insanity of the situation, and her own addictions, self-destruction, selfishness, and misplaced love. While at face-value it's a romance, it’s really about self-love. Lucy Tinders to find random men to make out with, hoping it will make her feel better. (It doesn't.) When she's disappointed, she curls up with the dog, swathed in soft white blankets and self-pity. She’s forced into a group therapy for women with love/ relationship issues, befriends one, and regrets it when the woman ends up hospitalized for suicide, seeing in her the worst of Lucy’s own demons. The love affair with the merman is passionate, the sex raw (it is often on a jetty) and actually very well-written (sex writing is so hard y'all). But its dangerous, and you keep page-turning knowing something bad is going to happen.
For a wine, I wanted something saline, mineral AND funky, a hard combo. When I saw this baby, I knew. A razor-sharp Chenin Blanc from a 💯 natural producer in the Loire, the Minéral+ earns its name. Dry and stony from the limestone it’s grown in, with lovely notes of whole lemon rounding out the body, it’s exactly what I pictured for that “making out with a merman on rocks” thing. I’m not normally a big Chenin drinker, but the almost tart dryness here suckered me in. It also makes me think of a wine Lucy might have drank in that gorgeous Venice house as the sun was setting, warm light playing over the sparkling ocean out the windows. They’re perfect examples of modern, unconventional prose and winemaking, and I guarantee you’ll have a passionate love affair with both.
Ultra drinkable wines deserve ultra readable books. But "readable" and "drinkable" can be taken as not smart or complex, aka boring, aka safe. That is 1000% not the case with either this book or this bottle, neither of which I could put down.
L'Excentrique! reads the label on this ultra drinkable vin de France, and what a perfect adjective for a writer like Samantha Hunt. I've featured her before, for her out of this world novel The Seas, and am obsessed with her prose: simple, yet electrifying. The Dark Dark is a collection of short stories, all snapshots of very brief moments—a fragment of a day in most—of seemingly normal peoples’ lives. But there's always something unusual: A husband's unknown sister who shows up with the same name as his wife; a woman who turns into a deer at night; a dog who comes back to life after a car accident. Weird things that are just close enough to the realm of the possible to make these stories super eerie, as well as super human. I devoured the book in 24 hours, having other obligations but not wanting to put it down.
That is very much how this wine was. I admit: I bought it for the label (and because I trust wines imported by Zev Rovine implicitly), expecting something glou-glou and fun. But it's way more than that. A blend of Merlot and Grenache, classic grapes that here do much more. It smells like crushed cherries, but something slightly sour—you know this won't be a regular table wine. And it tastes like rich dark fruit that someone's exploded and used to power a steam engine. I always think of Merlot as having a soft power, like you don't expect it to be so elegant, or with this undercurrent of ripeness and boldness just waiting to be noticed. But because it's typical French, the fruit isn't overwhelming. It's chilled out, it's laisse-faire, and it's going to stick in your brain. You'll have a really had time not going for another glass, just like you'll have a hard time putting down Hunt's book.
Ever get something in your head and decide you just have to do it/have it RIGHT NOW? That’s how I felt about reading We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson. It was just time.
Luckily, right when I was having this hankering, I found this great cut-paper copy of the seminal semi-horror novel in Copperfields Books in Petaluma in January. I waited until I had a free weekend, then devoured it straight in two nights. It’s an American classic: The story of the two Blackwood sisters, whose entire family is dead from poisoning (by probably one of their hands), living hermetic lives in their manor house above the village that hates them. Spooky, suspenseful, and the kind of book where you can’t turn the pages fast enough, it’s also exemplary of Jackson’s meticulously wrought prose, filled with life-giving detail but also leaving your imagination plenty of room to go wild. (The imagination is a dark place, which Jackson knew and played to with aplomb.)
To pair, I knew I needed something dark and musty, but not too much of either; this book is not a horror story, and Jackson is not a heavy-handed writer, and I wanted something as fun to drink as this was to read. So I delighted finding this spare-looking, almost-black bottle (when it’s filled with wine...) of the Portuguese grape Baga, a medium-bodied, tannic, and acidic wine that hooked me on the Cherry-Vanilla Dr. Pepper nose and kept me with it’s surprising drinkability. It’s kind of earthy, tobacco-y, plum-ish—one of those wines that tastes way different than it smells. It’s definitely a food wine, and would go marvelous with the pork chops and fruit pies Connie Blackwood is always cheffing up in the book. I even loved how the clean bottle mimics Jackson’s simple, but impactful, prose. I finished off this while enjoying the last pages of Castle, and it was sublime. Musty but fun, creepy but can’t-stop, these two are made for each other.
📘: We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson
🍷: Casa de Saima “Tonel 10” Bairrada 2017
🇵🇹: Bairrada, Portugal
Imported by Savio Soares Selections. Found at Vine Wine.
Want to get a little wild? Good. Because these 2 very modernized classics will blow your mind.
Things that are as old as time: the story of Noah’s ark, and Georgian wine, specifically Rkatsiteli. “Rkat-what?” you say? A dry white wine grape that’s often expressed as orange, Rkatsiteli is one of the most ancient strains of Vinus Vinifera (the Latin name for wine-making grapes, keep up). While many other strains have likely mutated from it (fun fact, most grapes are mutations or hybrids), Rkatsiteli has stayed the same and been produced in the exact same way for thousands of years: the Georgians (who invented wine)(really, they did) take the whole grapes—skins, juice, stems, and all—and bury them in earthenware jugs to ferment for a couple months. So there’s a lot of skin contact! Hence the orange. This technique is called Qvervi and makes rich, earthy, medium- to full-bodied, aromatic wines; aka some of the all time best.
This Rkat is a little different, because it’s from... Virginia. Really! VA is a legit wine-growing region in the U.S., known for French blends of Chard, Viognier, Merlot, or Cab, but I’d never heard of a VA Rkat. (U.S. Rkatsiteli is usually from the Finger Lakes.) This bottle, the aptly-named Wildkat from Stinson Vineyard in Crozet, is like mead from the gods. Smooth and supple thanks to Malolactic fermentation, it smells like honeysuckle without actually tasting sweet and has a tiny bit of oak that actually balances the earthy grape very well; as someone who LOVES Rkat and orange wines (and does not like a lot of oak), I had so much fun drinking this, seeing it change as it opened up. .
An old-made-new story had to go with it. Namaah was Noah’s wife, and this electric debut tells the famed ark tale from her perspective. Sarah Blake’s voice is so fresh, unlike anyone out there; this isn’t just a story, but an experience. (Like the Wildkat!) Retelling fables is kind of a literary no-no, but this book succeeds where many fail. Look for it in April, and open your eyes to some VA wine. With both, you’ll be taken for a ride.
📕: Namaah, Sarah Blake
🍷: Stinson Wildkat Rkatsiteli 2015
🇺🇸: Crozet, VA
Found at @cc_wineshop; available for shipping through Stinson’s website.
I found out soon after starting Donna Tartt’s The Secret History that it’s literally everyone’s secret favorite book. A friend told me to read it forever ago, and I am so sad it took me years to get around to it—mostly because of snobbery around The Goldfinch, which she also wrote and had just come out when it was recommended. I haven’t read that, but from all accounts Secret History is way better. What a BOOK. Set in a remote Vermont liberal-arts college in the 1980s, it follows a group of Greek studies undergraduates who area a little too close, and all have their secrets—not the least of which is they’ve all killed someone. It has a plot like nothing you’ve ever read, SO suspenseful and funny and intensely smart and such a perfect satire in some places; I’ve never wanted to be the person who wrote a book more.
The main characters in this book have fantastic names and backgrounds that skewer ‘80s liberal-arts elites perfectly: Narrator Richard Papan, pretending to be as moneyed as his friends; Henry Winter, the ringleader genius; secretive blonde orphan twins Camilla and Charles MacCauley; Francis Abernathy, the eccentric gay; and Bunny Corcoran, the broke-rich boy New Englander. They all study with the same professor for all classes, only interact with one another, and drink themselves into stupors while discussing classics. They’re intriguing in their own way, and they rope in Richard—a transplant from California who just wants to fit in—with their quirks and flair and drama that quickly darkens as the schoolyear goes on. I won’t give anyhting away, but the twists in this book make it hard to even try, it’s that well-wrought.
To pair, I knew I needed a dark, complex, elegant but not easy wine—no juice here. Then I stumbled upon the Béton by a favorite winery, Division in Portland, Oregon. (Their very elegant Pinot Noir is one of my faves.). A blend of mostly Cab Franc, some Gamay Noir, and a teeny bit of Côt and Pinot, it’s meant to be a Loire-style bistro wine: Peppery and deep with lusciousness, perfect to pair with French food. But something happened in the growing of the Cab Franc: The southern Oregon wildfires. The smoke penetrated the grapes, and the wine tastes like a husky cherry wine bonfire, smoky as Mezcal, rich in black fruit, with gravelly minerality. I thought immediately of The Secret History’s characters, drinking straight from the bottle and trying to mimic pagan rituals around bonfires in the Vermont woods.
Unfortunately, this vintage is all sold out. But the Béton on its own is a decadent and beautiful wine—look for the 2018 next year, and perhaps a wisp of that ethereal night fire taste. And 1000% go buy The Secret History. Don’t be like me and wait a bunch of years. It’s going to be your maybe not-so-secret favorite, too.
It was a dark and stormy night...
The intro to a story you know is gonna be moody, broody, and probably thrilling. Also the time to open a bottle of equally-thrilling red wine and hole up... probably with said book. I couldn’t think of a better match for that scenario than Donkey & Goat’s Grenache Noir and Samantha Hunt’s modern, neo-noir, magic realism, coming-of-age cum romance novel The Seas (I know that’s a lot of descriptors, stay with me).
The Seas was first published in 2004 but has since gained a new following, and was reissued with a new forward by none other than goddess Maggie Nelson. It had been hyped up by a few friends, and I was excited to begin it. When I started, I naturally imagined pairing it with something saline and minerally. But once I got into it, I knew there was no way that would be right. The book is set in the Pacific Northwest, in an unnamed, dead-end town “built on a steep and rocky coast so that the weathered houses are stacked like shingles, or like the rows of razor wire in a prison, one on top of the other up the hill,” noted for being the highest per-capita alcoholics in the country. It follows an also-unnamed narrator, a girl with a missing father who believes she’s a mermaid. For years, she’s been in love with Jude, an Iraq war vet with PTSD thirteen years older her senior, and the novel tracks her obsession with him, their abnormal non-consummated love affair. As they flit from his apartment to the multi-story, clittered home she share swith her mother and grandfather, the town begins to drives them into a state of delusion and love-driven insanity (her) and depression (him). “There is little else to do here besides get drunk,” she says, “and it seems to make what is small, us, part of something that is drowned and large, something like the bottom of the sea, something like outer space. Drinking helps us continue living in remote places because, thankfully, here there is no one to tell us just how swallowed we are.”
Ending with a murder and a twist so satisfying and beautiful that I cried, this might be one of the best books I’ve ever read, certainly a favorite of this year; I completely understand why Nelson, in her forward, said she read it three times straight in a row. But after finishing it, I knew a light and bright white—the kind you’d normally describe as oceanic—would never do. I need something darker, dank, complicated, like their isolated fisherman’s village but light as Hunt’s deft and contemporary voice.
Enter Donkey & Goat! This natural California producer, run by a husband-and-wife team, is one of my favorites, and I was fortunate enough to visit their tasting room in Berkeley while out west (and while reading The Seas!) and try a bunch of their wines I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to find or afford in a New York. The Grenache Noir was an instant standout; Grenache is one of my favorite grapes as it is, and D&G’s expression proves that there can be so much more to this wine than the light- to -medium bodied, easy-drinking reds that people tend to associate with the grape. It’s dark ruby, earning the “noir” label, and musty, like wet leather and potpourri and maybe some of those strawberry candies with the red and green foil that grandmas always have. (I love those candies.) But it’s not heavy; the tannins have just a bit of grip, and the acidity is high enough to keep this from feeling overburdened in any way. Parallel image to this wine: The protagonist of The Seas eating wild strawberries in the dark like an animal, juice running all over her face, not stopping to wash off the dirt, as thunderheads loom over the dark ocean and the moon rises. I have to thank this wine, as well as Martha Stoumen’s “Post-Flirtation”, for getting me on my current California wine kick.
Don’t get me wrong—you don’t have to enjoy this wine on a dark night. It would be nice with a light chill, for an afternoon cheese plate, or at dinner with a nice piece of pork. And this book isn’t depressing as it sounds; it’s terribly engaging, the kind of story that you’ll never forget and want to return to over and over. Coincidentally, The Seas was published in 2004, the same year Jared and Tracey Brandt founded Donkey and Goat; I’m not sure what that says about 2004, but I do know that both this book and this bottle will be long time favorites, ones I’ll return to when I want comfort on a dark night… or to be properly thrilled.
Here's a mood: You're a teen out to make some bad decisions with your friends. You're drinking blackberry wine, or blackberry schnapps, or something dark and fruity. You're buzzed on cigs that you don't really know how to smoke, trading them with your best friend, laughing, falling over one another, in that full-on youthful world of your own where everything spins around you like a carnival ride you never want to get off. That is what this red blend, the Le Telquel, reminds me of.
That’s a lot! You might be thinking. But the wine isn’t really, it’s just so eminently drinkable and luscious. It’s the blackberry taste in it that really got me, see—it made me think of tumbling through briars, maybe because you’re making out with someone, maybe because you’re goofing off with your friend in that weird pre-teen way where every interaction could turn vaguely sexual because there are so many haywire emotions. This red is chiefly made of Gamay, but doesn’t smart of it so much thanks to the addition of Grolleau, a fruity, acidic wine often blended with Gamay to make these drink-’em-young French reds, and a bit of Pineau D'Aunis. On the nose, it’s earthy, with dark cherry and tobacco; it smells like your friend’s parents’ basement where you tried something (weed or whiskey or whatever your poison was) for the first time. But on the palate, it’s uplifting, an explosion of those darkly decadent berries, tart and acidic and juicy as all get out, with a lingering kiss of tannin to leave you desperate for more. Despite all of that, it’s most definitely not a heavy red. Light to medium bodied, it’s excellent with a slight chill. I had seen it at the wine store for a long time before eventually buying it, even though it was very highly recommended, and I can't believe it took me so long to get there.
It also took me a very long time to pair it with a book. "What goes with tumbling through (or making out in) bushes like you're a reckless teen?" I wondered. The answer is most definitely Marlena, Julie Buntin's electric sort-of-coming-of-age debut novel that I devoured in two days last summer. Set in a very rural, dead-end town in Michigan, it follows the course of an intoxicating (and toxic) friendship between the narrator, Cat, and the entirely unwholesome girl next door, Marlena. Now 30 years old and living in Brooklyn with a drinking problem and a boyfriend, Cat tells us at the outset that within a year of her meeting Marlena, her friend drowns. The death, and the friendship, have clearly taken an immeasurable toll on her, and we read on to find out how and why. A perfect tale of the thrills and dangers, as well as the heady highs, of an all-encompassing friendship where eventually both parties become bad influences, I couldn't have loved it more. Nothing is more apt than a darkly delicious yet not-heavy Vin de France, the kind of sexy-juicy thing you want to clutch while powering through a story like this. Go get both ASAP.
Book: Marlena, Julie Buntin
Bottle: Le Telquel vin de France; imported by Louis/Dressner; bought at Uva Wines
Viva la rom-com! And viva succulent, sultry reds to guzzle with them! That's the essence of this book + bottle pairing today. Because what is more fun than popping a bottle of something fun and juicy to splash into a glass with a friend while indulging in some classical meet-cute romantics?
People have been decrying the death of the romcom for years, and with reason: The form as it once existed (blockbuster, mainstream) is in a pretty clear decline, at least on the screen. But of course, a book can be a romcom, too; all movies had to be written first, after all. And Camille Perri's delightful new novel, When Katie Met Cassidy, most deliberately is.
I saw Perri read from and present this book a few weeks ago at Books Are Magic in Brooklyn, and while I hadn't heard of her before, I was immediately smitten. An elfin woman who was formerly the books editor of Cosmopolitan and Esquire and author of the also-acclaimed novel The Assistants, she spoke to wanting to see the kind of cheesy/cute romance long afforded to hetero couples for a female-female romance. It's no surprise that her icon is Nora Ephron, and it shows in the book. The basic plot: The day after being dumped by her fiancé, the traditional blonde-and-beautiful 28-yr-old Katie Daniels, a lawyer in New York, meets the enigmatic, sharp, arresting Cassidy Price at a client negotiation meeting. Energy flies across the table, and a whirlwind romance begins. The standard romcom structure is there: An obvious meet-cute, romancing, fight/climax, and, well, I won't give away the ending. But the whole book is fun, funny, sexy, sweet, and totally different from anything I've ever read while also so familiar; I blew through it in 24 hours, staying up WAY past my bedtime because I just couldn't put it down, and everyone I know who's read it said the same thing.
It was serendipitous that I had purchased this bottle just before starting this book. Recommended highly, it's a one-off collaboration between two well-known vitners who wanted to make a warm-weather red for those who don't always stick to whites when it's hot out; think of this as a barbecue red, a summer-dinner-party red. Hence the little pink pigs on the poppy label. (The name is a double kind of pun. "L'art des choix" means the art of choice. "Lard" means lard; the meat of choice.) My first thought was "Oooh, smoky! Sultry! Steamy!" So, uh, pretty perfect for a book about two women who can't keep their hands off one another. I poured a glass to sit with at my kitchen counter as I ate a late afternoon weekend snack-dinner of figs/bread/prosciutto (because pig on the label!) and open this book, and, well, I didn't put either down for a long time.
Even a day or two after opening, this wine is excellent. I recommend it lightly chilled, but not cold. While it drinks like a light red (say, a pale-red Gamay or Pinot Noir), and it was recommended to me when I said I wanted a chillable light red, it's technically not. It's a Southern Rhone blend, much darker in color and fruit than you would get from one of those. Think biting into a very ripe, almost black cherry at the height of summer that's just been pulled out of the fridge. Sweetness fills your mouth, but very quickly there's a lip-smacking tartness to cut it, and as soon as it's down you want another, and another. There's a little currant in here too, and something like the whiff of tobacco; like making out with someone who's had red wine and a cigarette a few hours ago, feeling all that flavor and sensuality mix together in a need-more-want-more mouthful. I've been drinking much more red wine this summer than I normally do, and this one was a pleasant surprise after going through bottle after bottle of crisp white.
So surprisingly refreshing, different from their usual forms, this book and bottle are possible one of my favorite pairings. I'll be certainly seeking out the bottle again to pair with maybe When Harry Met Sally. The book, unfortunately, I've already lent out—I'm spreading the joy of Camille Perri everywhere I can.
Here is the recipe for a perfect weekend day: An interesting but easy-drinking wine, a new favorite author to pore over, and some kind of baked good to snack on while you fall in love with both.
Let's get one thing out of the way: Lorrie Moore is a legend, and I am late to the party. A master of the darkly funny but not really funny story, it is surprising it took me so long to get around to her. But then, there are too many books in the world to ever try to get to all of them so I don’t feel that guilty. Similarly, given my penchant for dry, aromatic, minerally white wines, it’s surprising that it took me this long to discover moschofilero, the Greek grape that meets all of those criteria.
The moschofilero grape is the Greek equivalent of a Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris: Light, dry, medium acidity, and with some lovely floral notes and a bit of spice that give it character. I’d argue, in fact, that it’s better than your average Pinot Grigio because it’s also got some minerality by nature of the rocky Greek soil. That’s all to say: This is a great grape! Not super well known yet, but hot damn, it should be. I’ve found myself turning to it quite a bit lately, and this bottle, from Troupis winery in the Peloponnese mountains, is a total rock star. Salty, minerally, plus some deep pear and citrus for a little brightness—like the ocean crashing over the rocks below a verdant cliff where beautiful fragrant gardenias and wildflowers are growing, the sun glinting off the waves and the air thick with perfume. That's how I like to imagine the Peloponnese, anyway, since I've never been. This bottle isn't quite as kick-backable as those other light whites I compared it to, either; you’ll be able to sit with this, though it’s so good I don’t know how slowly you’re gonna drink it. Also: It's not expensive! Retails for around $15. That is a DEAL.
Maybe you’re thinking: Salty, Greek, why pair this with an American writer’s book from the mid-80s? Shouldn’t that go with Chardonnay? The answer is no, because Lorrie Moore is not smooth and round. Lorrie Moore’s command of language is light, bright, quick, and clever. It’s not at all what you’d expect; there are turns of phrase everywhere that make it a joy to read, and that enliven the sometimes heavy-ish themes of the stories. Divorce, unhappy marriages, failures at everything. Her protagonists are largely women, largely white upper-middle class, and largely suffering from the kind of unfulfilled life ennui that populates ‘80s fiction. It’s not new territory, but the way Moore spins it, it feels like it—she was one of the popularizers of this form, after all. Relatable and mesmerizing, the stories of Self Help will draw you in and keep you there… much like moschofilero will surely do.
A wine and a writer that, once you’ve discovered them, you’ll come back to over and over again, and that will stick with you long after you’ve put them down.
An epic Greek poem deserves an epic Greek wine. Like a sparkling deep orange wine the color of the sky when the sun’s just fallen below the horizon. Right? Right.
Not familiar with orange wines? Or Greek wines, for that matter? Well. You are in for a treat. This lil urn-like bottle holds a fuzzy, fizzy semi-sparkling orange from Ioannina that’s deep and full and tastes of baking spices; uncapping it is like discovering some secret fall-themed Olympian mead—maybe Demeter's, goddess of the harvest and the very first fall-loving basic bitch. Except this is anything but basic. It's nearly rust-colored, one of the darkest oranges I've seen thanks to a lil red grape action in there (most oranges are just white grapes that have been left with their skins on for a bit of time). But don't let the color fool you; it's not heavy at all. This wine is a lot in terms of flavor, but unlike many orange natural wines, it’s not funky. It’s deliciously clean in fact, much like Emily Wilson’s translation of Homer’s famous epic.
You might be wondering why anyone would want to re-read The Odyssey. Chances are you read it in high school, part of the required English lit curriculum of classic books. Maybe you liked it; maybe you thought it was unnecessarily boring to read something so old; maybe you Sparknoted the whole thing and barely remember it. In any case, this newest translation, the first ever by a woman, is more intuitive, intelligently wrought, and the words more thoughtfully chosen (perhaps because it’s by a woman) than whatever you read back then. Consider her telling, in the New York Times magazine, of how to translate the very first adjective in the poem, landing on “complicated” to describe the hero—making him not the glorified hero that prior (male) translators did, nor a passive actor in the midst of turbulence that he simply had to weather, but a not entirely good man with his own flaws. This refusal to capitulate to heroic tropes rings true throughout the poem, making it radically different from any prior translation, made for people who love considering the power in the meaning of singular words, the implications of a sentence, and the history in ancient texts.
Neither of these should be taken lightly, but neither are too heavy handed or highfallutin to enjoy.
"This wine is like a Georgia O'Keefe flower," I said somewhat tipsily to my roommate after drinking many glasses of the Troupis Hoof & Lur skin-contact moschofilero. Meaning: it's tight, round, full, and voluptuous. (The peachy hue helps, too.) A sensual but not self-serious wine, tongue-in-cheek, like "oh, you thought you were getting a regular Greek white? Honey, I'm about to blow your mind." Think honeysuckle flowers and tangerine slices that have been warming in the sun at a picnic and maybe a very light, sunstruck honey mead. But also crisp! And so clean! Light, too, as the moschofilero grape tends to be, even though it's wild fermented and unfiltered and has some body from the skin contact. This wine instantly became one of my absolute favorites, and was a fantastic expression of what real moschofilero can be when left to do its thing. That's the point, actually. The Troupis family made this particular bottle to emulate an ancient style of moschofilero—aka unfiltered and as wild as the Greek mountains it comes from.
Admittedly, I was not reading Valley of the Dolls when I first drank this wine. BUT! In thinking of what could go with it, I spied the classic novel on my shelf and thought, "Of course." While the pretty matching pinks certainly help (hey, I'm not above aesthetics), what could be more appropriate than a novel that's so deliciously transgressive? Filled with drama, sex, drugs, and divas, but also illuminating the struggles of women attempting to live up to the impossible societal standards of beauty, there's a lot going on in this book. Torrid love affairs, mental breakdowns—it's reality TV tropes in a groundbreaking novel. It unfurls and draws you in and will stick with you long after you've finished, an instant and forever favorite—just like the Hoof & Lur. And, lest you think this is drivel, the book is one of the best-selling of all time; it was the highest-selling in the year of its publication, 1966, and broke the record for most copies ever sold (17 million) in 1974. To date, it's sold 31 million copies, and the 1967 movie adaptation made $41 million, which is $307 million today.
A book and a bottle about feeling good and feeling yourself, for sure.