Who doesn’t love a tell-all memoir? Especially when it’s one that spills a bunch of literary tea. I recently went on a spree of buying biographies/memoirs of famous, fabulous women—Zelda Fitzgerald, Frida Kahlo, Catharine The Great, Empress Cixi, and more. Minor Characters is the first one I read, Joyce Johnson’s account of a few years in the late ‘50s when she dated Jack Kerouac and ran with him, Allen Ginsberg, Hettie Jones, and the rest of the Beats. She tells of growing up on the Upper West Side, near Columbia—where Kerouac and co were turning into the people they’d become known for—a good little Jewish girl who one day decided to hop the bus to the Village and shortly after became not such a good little Jewish girl. Unlike accounts of, say, the ‘60s, this is romanticized at all. Johnson is in the middle of the “Beat generation,” and she saw it for what it was: People who, though brilliant and total forces of culture and nature, had a very hard time growing up and got lost in themselves, in the scene they’d defined. It’s fascinating to see a woman’s perspective on it all, especially a woman who was slowly writing her first novel while working in offices, caring for men who romanticized giving up everything yet looked to her for stability. Johnson is a total hero, her writing smooth yet so sharp and visceral; I can’t wait to pick up one of her novels.
This pairing came easily, with one sip of the Sword Fight, a collaboration between Washington winemakers El Corazón, who brought their gorgeous Syrah (grown in Walla Walla, the place in Washington for Syrah), and Rotie Cellars, who added earthy Mourvèdre. The result is an absolutely stunning bottle, totally velvety, as smooth and cool as a disaffected Beat poet, but deep—almost black, peppery with hints of cocoa and plum. I was honestly floored by how elegant it was, given that these grapes are usually really BIG; kind of how I felt about Johnson’s book, which I had no expectations or assumptions about. Mourvèdre is quickly becoming one of my favorite grapes to see in a blend; originally a Spanish grape, very old, it tends to mellow out Syrahs and Cabs, and is a favorite mixer in the Rhone. Here, it’s deliciously cool (as in not warm) thanks to Washington’s climate; I’ve found that French-style wines from Oregon and Washington are often more enjoyable than the ones they mimic.
The perfect winter wine to sit and sip while you hole up with a juicy book—there’s your next weekend plan right there.
Book: Minor Characters, Joyce Johnson
Bottle: El Corazón Sword Fight 2016