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.