Lit Wine

Once upon a time, I was mostly a food writer. Well, also sketch comedy, but approximately zero people get paid for that until they are on SNL. At any rate, one of my food writer gigs was as “The Book Cook” a Hello Giggles column. While it eventually became a cookbook review column, at its nascence, "The Book Cook" looked at food as it appeared in books that WEREN’T cookbooks, then recreated and/or paid homage to the foodstuffs mentioned in them. The first "Book Cook"? I created a recipe inspired by the mush mentioned in GOODNIGHT MOON. I still cannot fathom how or why a bunny would go to sleep with a bowl of mush on their bedside table. And yet I figured out what that mush would be. I must have been avoiding something to prioritize mush like that. I’ve graduated to wine writing, but in the spirit of being the Book Cook, can I be the Book Boozer? The Book Spine Wine? The Bibliophile Oenophile? Novels for Tavels? I rounded up both some lesser-known favorite books, plus some classics, where wine made enough of an appearance that I thought adding a glass of wine to your reading experience would be fun. Literature has always immersed me by itself. Add more sensory intel via tastebuds and, whoaaaa…who needs to leave the house if you are rich in both books and libations? Read and drink on. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1. KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST BY J. RYAN STRADAL KITCHENS is one of my favorite books ever. Top three. I feel somewhat dorky saying this, as after reading it, I got to talk about it in person with J. Ryan, and it only made me MORE of a fan of his. Good words, good stories, good person. The story follows Eva in her journey towards becoming an enigmatic superstar chef, starting with her food-obsessed chef father plotting menus to introduce his baby to foods, all the way up to her putting on the most sought-after tasting dinners. There are SO many wine references in this tale, but I am going to recommend the wine that inadvertently gave Eva entrée into the restaurant world. She’s a teenager having a fancypants dinner date, and the chef overhears her saying that the walleye has a touch too much rosemary. He explains it was made to pair with Sauvignon Blanc , and wonders how to tailor the dish to non-wine drinkers. Food talk ensues, and the chef recognizes her culinary acumen and well…you will have to read the book. If it weren’t for Sauvignon Blanc, would the trajectory of her life been the same? Hard to say, but maybe we should all drink more of it. In the name of the unexpected, I’m going to recommend a Sauvignon Blanc from Italy. 2019 Attems Venezia Giulia Sauvignon Blanc There’s a lovely balance of stone fruit and greenery going on here, polished by a citrus lift. It’s wild herbs plus bay leaf that keep essences of dried apricot and pineapple from feeling heavy. Super fun. Probably pairs well with rosemary-ed walleye? Definitely pairs well with this book. And if you are tired of wine, there’s always Stradal’s next book—THE LAGER QUEEN OF MINNESOTA. The pairing is in the title. 2. THE CASK OF AMONTILLADO BY EDGAR ALLEN POE I thought I should maybe list this first as it plays into my macabre-loving goth vibrations, but I don’t love being predictable. So anyway. This story. It’s another buried alive scenario. Poe had a thing for them. Some of his most popular stories are built around the same storyline, and the public doesn’t seem to mind; it’s like he had that Star Wars magic before the more recent Star Wars. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Anyway, my choice for this is obvious, and quite frankly even if I weren’t a Poe-loving goth, I might include this as an excuse for amontillado. It’s my favorite style of sherry. Aside from Palo Cortado. Don’t wall me in. Gonzalez Byass “Viña AB” Amontillado It’s pretty classic amontillado—the aromas that come from being aged both under flor and oxidatively (if you need more information on what that means, check out my Sherry article ) play in equal parts. Citrus, salinity and hay play nicely with bitter almonds, toasty walnuts, and perhaps a bit of dried apple and cedar. Every sip begs attention. Goodness I love amontillado. 3. THE GREAT GATSBY BY F. SCOTT FITZGERALD I usually reread this approximately every two or three summers. This isn’t a wine-centric book so much as an illegal-booze-intended-to-get-tragic-and-toxic-people-trashed one. What makes it compelling? I argue with myself about this. The characters are in trouble. Emotionally and who knows wtf else. Bootleggin’ and world series riggin’ would get anyone consternated—add to that romantic frustration and what’s a person to do but smuggle some more booze to drink, and lure an earnest young man into reconnecting you with your former flame? Read the damn book. As for what to drink with it, Champagne (served in glasses “bigger than finger-bowls”!) plays a big role. There are lots of nebulous cocktails referenced. Daisy recalls being lit on Sauternes when she nearly called off her marriage to Tom. We hear of highballs and gin rickeys. There was the mint julep intended to make everyone behave on a brutally hot day (probably not the best intention for a drink that is mostly whiskey), and Chartreuse get called out to boot. But what, if rereading this on a hot summer day so that I can get to my favorite sentence, “So we drove on toward death through the cooling twilight”—what WOULD I pair? A champagne cocktail. It’s a bit of a basic b, but it means you can use…not champagne, which is handy. Save the pricy bubbles to drink neat. Add less pricy bubbles a bitters-soaked sugar cube. Garnish with a lemon twist. It’s a classic for a reason. So is THE GREAT GATSBY. 4. JEKYLL AND HYDE The references to wine in this book surprised me; wine was mentioned enough to draw my attention to it, albeit a specific wine is never named. Rather, wine in relation to a person’s character, and how wine affects mood was the important factor. For instance, one character is described as “eminently human” when “the wine was to his taste”. Whereas at home he drinks gin to “mortify a taste for vintages.” Another character who hosts dinners whose guests are “all intelligent men, and all good judges of wine”. There is another reference to a vintage wine being drunk appropriately out of distance from the fire, after having been properly aged out of the light, and how the wine could “disperse the fogs of London”. Fine wine, aged wine, or wine to soothe jangled nerves—all seemed like good pairing options. But I settled on Late Bottled Vintage Port. I wanted to use vintage Port as it is fine, hopefully aged (don’t drink it too young), and the level of alcohol and warming spicy nature definitely would soothe one. But I’m on a writer budget so went with… 2016 Dow’s Late Bottled Vintage Port LBV wines are from one year but…less fancy than the grapes used for a true vintage and aged longer before bottling so unlike vintage port, which requires long bottle aging, you can get into it right away. This one sang of so many colors of fruit, plus hints of chocolate liqueur and jam and a whiff of violet. It’s heady. 5. THE VINTNER’S DAUGHTER KRISTEN HARNISCH A tale of two wineries! So, this book gets two wines. Set in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s, protagonist Sara Thibault’s family vineyard is in Vouvray. Her small family winery struggles against phylloxera and villainous member of the bourgeois who threatens to more or less ruin them. Circumstances involving love and murder (not really a spoiler alert, so don’t worry) lead Sara over to Napa! To be specific, to Carneros, where Philippe, who also left his family back in Vouvray, wishes to form a Carneros co-op since the Napa one is too big to get things done. Put two frustrated vignerons in a room together and you get seismic activity. Literally and figuratively. Cali had some quakes of note around that time. 2018 Florent Cosme “La Motte” Vouvray For the Vouvray I went the dry Chenin Blanc route. The nose has an intriguing bitter nature, like...raw walnuts? AM I imagining that? Raw walnuts and fresh granny smith apples and a whiff of, okay, this is weird, but like if marzipan were not sweet? Anyway. The palate made me say YES. Granted, dry Vouvray of even middling quality tends to get me enthused, but I did really enjoy this one. It's spritely; beyond apples, I get citrus and the lanolin lick characteristic of the variety. Yay. On to the Cali wine. 2018 Bouchaine “Estate” Carneros Chardonnay This is a wine with enough layers to pass as the surprisingly deep and thoughtful winemaker Phillipe turns out to be. Rife with yellow apples and kisses (this is somewhat of a romance novel) of butterscotch, there is also a totally fun and surprising mineral smoky gunflint streak running through this. And what if I could take a wine AND a book into the shower? This seems like a Belle from Beauty and the Beast situation; that b@#ch def bathes with literature. What would I pick? It has to be the Champagne cocktail and THE GREAT GATSBY. It’s an unhinged enough activity to suit the characters in the book. There are quite a few other books I’d like to pair with wine. Recurring column? Let me know. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Want to read more from Ellen? Check out her recent articles: Perfect Pie Pairings Samhain Sips Goth Rosé From Lalaland to Languedoc Ellen in Lalaland: Return of the Bar Covell You can also listen to Ellen's podcast , The Wine Situation here . Check out her recent transcripts of the Final Five questions: Wine Situation Final Five! With Anush O’Connor Wine Situation Final Five! With John Michael Morcilio

Gonzalez Byass

Viña AB 12 Años Amontillado Jerez-Xérès-Sherry Palomino Fino

Yes all Amontillado. Maybe not all of it I dunno but I don’t know that I’ve had one I didn’t like. Saline n citrus with bitter almonds and dried apples and all the stuff that of flor and oxidative aging. — 2 years ago

Josh, Shawn and 11 others liked this


Venezia Giulia Sauvignon Blanc 2019

Lively and polished—nice play between stone fruit and greens with a little citrus in the mix. Really veers from dried apricot and pineapple to herbs and back that keeps me going. — 2 years ago

Joshua, Josh and 11 others liked this


Late Bottled Vintage Porto 2016

It is a shy violet or rather there are shy notes of violet? It smells of jam and chocolate liqueur and the body…it is like hi alcohol but keep it in mind and the ripeness of blue and black amd also so (little) red so this is heady with balance.
If we could only.
Really though there is a chocolate and MULTI-FRUIT thing happening. So fun. I should add more now but I’m a smidge intoxicated with this elixir
— 2 years ago

Severn, Eric and 13 others liked this


Always the most interesting notes! You have a way with words. Cheers!🍷
Ellen Clifford

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@Trixie thank you so much!

Florent Cosme Vigneron

La Motte Vouvray Chenin Blanc 2018

Intriguingly bitter. I like bitter. This has a walnut-like bitterness. And also there’s the snazzy green Apple notes and…marzipan if it were not sweet? — 2 years ago

Steve, Joshua and 19 others liked this


Estate Vineyard Carneros Chardonnay 2018

Woo-eeee does this ever smell like California Chardonnay—I was worried my delicate sensibilities might take umbrage, but my senses adjusted (maybe I’ve just been drinking weakling wines) and on the palate this wine is less an overly enthusiastic suitor and much more a gentleman who actually reads—more beneath the surface than I expected based on smell and soon we were holding hands and I was flirtatiously fidgeting with my necklace, and and wondering if we’d kiss at the end of the bottle (probably don’t pick a mate that way though their smell when you meet them is kinda important methinks). Anyway, what did this wine (I’ve decided is Ryan Gosling type) have to say? A lot! But fortunately I don’t mind a wine with more to say than me. Butterscotch and yellow apple, and most intriguingly both up front and on the finish I get that gunflint-y smoky minerality I adore and it finishes with citrus peel, creme, and browned butter. Glad I gave it a chance. — 2 years ago

Joshua, Trixie and 17 others liked this
Shawn Thompson

Shawn Thompson

Outstanding and fun review. Thank you.
Ellen Clifford

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Aw thanks @Shawn Thompson ! Cheers 🥂