Wine opinion, stories can teach in intriguing manner
C ountless books about wine and food continually flood the market. Most cover well-trodden turf with regional atlases, producer profiles, travel tips and advice on food and wine pairings.
While gaining new information never wastes time, firing the imagination for truly enjoying food and wine requires more. Such inspiration only strikes when the author has a refreshing, authentic voice.
Two books — James Salter's fictional “A Sport and a Pastime” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; $13) and the essay collection “M.F.K. Fisher: Musings on Wine and Other Libations” (Sterling Epicure, $18.95) — hit the mark. Neither represents a conventional wine book, but both evoke indelible, compelling experiences — especially of Burgundy's rich wine and food traditions.
Salter's story introduces a writer spending an extended off season in Autun, an ancient Roman road town in the heart of rural Burgundy. Sequestered in provincial solitude, the novel's protagonist describes —and perhaps invents — his friendship with a young American expatriate, Phillip Dean. He chronicles Dean's blossoming passionate relationship with Anne-Marie, a young French woman.
The vivid tale unfolds, in part, over many a languorous meal in bistros, brasseries and restaurants. Salter captures the essence of a quiet French bistro off-season meal in prose.
He writes: “Long unhurried hours of evening, the car parked outside where light from the entrance falls on it, people pausing to look, the winter coming on. Plates being silently removed, the taste of food lingering. The immortal procession of a French meal. We've finished the wine.”
Later, Dean and Anne-Marie travel to Troyes, another provincial town:
“They have dinner in the Brasserie Lorraine. An old dachshund, his paws turned white, sits by the bar. Sometimes he wanders among the tables or goes to the door and barks to go out. A waiter opens it for him. When he comes in again, he lies down with moans. Hesitations. At the end, a sigh. One can hear him breathing.
“In every respect a wonderful dinner. She is talkative and happy. The food seems spread around her like vegetables to a roast. She is simply the living portion of the meal, and she smiles at his appetite which embraces her with glances. Outside the night is hung with the thinnest of rains. They sit in silence, waiting for the check. Finally it arrives, the last obstacle removed.”
Modern American health inspectors would object to a dog in a restaurant, but the nuanced passage artfully captures the timeless romantic spirit and emotions of young love intertwined with the simple, yet compelling, act of sharing food and wine.
As a young writer, M.F.K. Fisher's Burgundy dining experiences led to the charming story, “Long Ago in France.” Her first taste of classic Burgundy cuisine and wine occurred at Racouchot's Les Trois Faisans — The Three Pheasants — a bygone Dijon restaurant.
Knowing little about French cuisine, she and her husband commit themselves for guidance from the waiter, Charles, “a small bright-eyed man with his thinning hair waxed into a rococo curlicue on his forehead.” Instead of overwhelming the couple with the voluminous wine list, Charles recommends simple carafes of wines that complemented the large meal perfectly.
She writes: “Everything that was brought to the table was so new, so wonderfully cooked. … I don't know now what we ate, but it was the sort of rich winy spiced cuisine that is typical of Burgundy with many dark sauces and gamey meats … we ate slowly and happily, watched over by little Charles, and the wine kept things from being gross and heavy inside us. When we finally went home, to unlock the little door for the first time … to our own rooms, we wove a bit perhaps. But we felt as if we had seen the far shores of another world.”
Experiencing such feelings over food and wine creates vivid memories of well-lived moments. Asking for more misses the point.
When reading these beautiful works, enjoy the 2009 Marie-Pierre Germain Bourgogne Rouge, France (Luxury 36284; $22.99), a delicious red Burgundy perfect with stews such as Coq au Vin and Bœuf Bourguignon .
Using a blend of handpicked, de-classified grapes from Chambolle-Musigny, Nuits-Saint-Georges and Pommard, the wine's pure red and black fruits balance elegantly with subtle earthiness, lovely acidity and refined tannins. Highly recommended.
Dave DeSimone writes about wine for Trib Total media. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers’ backups Archer, Harris ready to run
- Pitt plays best game of the season in rout of Kansas State
- Comeau’s hat trick leads Penguins; Crosby reaches career points
- Pregnant woman struck by van in North Side dies; doctors save baby
- Steelers notebook: Roethlisberger says Saints game is ‘must win’
- Fatal crash closes Flight 93 chapel in Somerset County
- Starkey: Rutherford will add when timing’s right
- Pirates notebook: Autographs to come at a cost at PirateFest
- Protesters won’t be thanking Wal-Mart
- PIT wants non-passengers allowed past security to shop
- Pittsburgh restaurants deliver the art of charcuterie