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.