But of course it is the French, with their unparalleled tradition of wine making and their glorious history of great writing which, since Rabelais, has always combined that love of books with the mastery of the grape. This combination was enough for me to leave England at an early age and move into the French countryside of south-west France where my wife and I spent the next few years raising children, drinking Bordeaux wines and immersing ourselves in every writer from Balzac and Flaubert to Rimbaud and Baudelaire.
Ironically, my favorite French writer preferred beer to wine and would even phone the Ritz hotel at any hour of the day or night to order a cold bottle to be delivered to his apartment. Nonetheless Marcel Proust still wrote a wonderful description of his young hero drinking seven or eight glasses of port wine to give himself courage to invite a young lady for an amorous assignation. By the time he had drunk enough to make his proposal, the young lady declined. Possibly because he had consumed too much port wine, or because she had not consumed any.
If Marcel Proust was a wine, I think he would be a Gewurztraminer from Alsace. Despite the wine’s underlying acidity, its sharpness and acuity is hidden behind a rich, floral bouquet that charms with a mellifluous harmony that simply overwhelms the senses. In the same way, Proust, the writer, hides his sharp and extremely comic insights into human nature behind a screen of poetically seductive images. The first taste from a glass of Gewurztraminer or a random passage read from ‘In Search of Lost Time’ leaves us standing alone in ecstasy, inhaling through the rain, the lingering scent of invisible lilacs.
Over the years, as I have become more familiar with my favorite authors and have become better acquainted with a wide selection of different grapes, I often find myself pairing wines with writers. In Chapter Six – Varietals, I have therefore described several different grapes in terms of novelists who share similar characteristics with the wine. A literary wine-pairing.
Sixty-five years after my first glass, I have become ever more set in my ways and now I am never happier than with a glass of wine in one hand and a good book in the other.