Authors: Jay McInerney
THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK
PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF
Copyright © 2012 by Bright Lights, Big City, Inc.
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Essays contained in this book were previously published in the following publications:
House & Garden:
“Aged Effervescence: 1996 Champagne,” “Better Late Than Never: Ridge,” “Big Aussie Monsters,” “German Made Simple,” “Jacques’s Domaine,” “Location, Location, Location,” “Old World Head, New World Body: The Reds of Priorat,” “Swashbuckling Dandy: Talbott,” “A Tuscan in the House: Julian Niccolini and the Four Seasons,” “Way Down South: The Great Whites, and Reds, of Hamilton Russell,” “The Whole Spice Rack: Old-School Rioja,” and “The Woman with All the Toys”;
“His Magnum Is Bigger Than Yours”;
The New York Times Book Review:
“The Founding Wine Geek”;
The New Yorker:
“Mondavi on Mondavi”;
The Ritz-Carlton Magazine:
“Blending Their Way to an Identity: Paso Robles,” “Pop Pop, Fizz Fizz!” (originally titled “Champagne Don’t Make Me Crazy”), and “Reasons to Be Cheerful: Barolo and Barbaresco”;
“What to Drink with Thirty-Seven Courses: El Bulli”;
The Wall Street Journal:
“A Debilitating Pleasure: Tavel,” “A Grace Kelly of Wine: Puligny-Montrachet,” “A Towering Red: Château Latour,” “Barbera: Piedmont’s Everyday Red,” “Becky Wasserman: The American Godmother of Burgundy,” “Blood, Sweat, and Leaps of Faith,” “Cold Heaven, Hot Mama,” “Does Bordeaux Still Matter?,” “The Exquisite Sisters of Margaux,” “Finally Fashionable: Rosé from Provence to Long Island,” “Is Biodynamics a Hoax?,” “Is Cornas Finally Having Its Moment?,” “Kiwi Reds from Craggy Range,” “Lean and Fleshy: The Paradox of Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay,” “The Modigliani of Healdsburg,” “My Kind of Cellar: Ted Conklin and the American Hotel,” “The Retro Dudes of Napa,” “The Rock Stars of Pinot Noir,” “Not Just Mario’s Partner: Joe ‘Vino’ Bastianich Breaks Out,” “The Odd Couple,” “Off the Main Drag: Savigny-lès-Beaune,” “Oh No! Not Pinot Grigio!,” “Peasants and Plutocrats: La Paulée de New York,” “Rosé Champagne: Not Just for Stage Door Johnnies,” “The Salesman with the Golden Palate,” “Secrets of Meursault,” “Spanish Olympian,” “Starchild and the Marquis: Earthiness Meets Refinement in Volnay,” “White Wine on the Rocks: Chablis,” “The Wild Wizard of the Loire,” “Writer, Importer, Gentleman Spy,” and “Zowie!”
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The juice : vinous veritas / by Jay McInerney. — First edition.
1. Wine and wine making. I. Title.
2012 641.2′2—dc23 2011046974
Front-of-jacket photograph by Geoff Spear
Jacket design by Chip Kidd
Robert Bohr, Richard Breitkreutz, Lacey Burke, Belinda Chang, Stefane Colling, Thomas Combescot-Lepère, Michel Couvreux, Kenneth Eberle, Dana Farner, Jerusha Frost, Paul Grieco, Daniel Johnnes, Jordan Lari, Richard Luftig, Jean-Luc Le Dû, David Lynch, Michael Madrigale, Greg Majors, Gérard Margeon, Blue Pilkington, Jeffrey Porter, John Ragan, David Ridgway, Carla Rzeszewski, Jordan Salcito, John Slover, Mark Smith, Aldo Sohm, Bernie Sun, Raj Vaidya,
and all the other sommeliers who have educated and indulged me over the years.
What is better than to sit at the table at the end of the day and drink wine with friends, or substitutes for friends?
It all began with Hemingway, as so many things do. Specifically with
The Sun Also Rises
, or, as the Brits call it,
. The latter title being apposite, because part of what I carried away from that book in my youth was the sense that drinking wine was cool and sophisticated. And let’s face it, this is one of the reasons we read books, especially in our youth, particularly books by Hemingway and Kerouac and Lawrence Durrell: to find out how to live and how to pose and where to travel and what to eat and drink and smoke along the way. Everybody in Hemingway’s first novel is drinking wine. Not long after my vicarious adventures in Pamplona, this sense of wine as an appurtenance of the well-lived life was reinforced by Evelyn Waugh’s
, with Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte picturesquely draining the cellar at that estate over the course of a summer. I was so fixated on the wine and the scenery that I don’t think I bothered to grasp the nature of their friendship. Not very Hemingwayesque, but again, for some reason I remember the wine …
The fact that wine had no place on my parents’ suburban dining table seemed to confirm its consumption as a mark of sophistication. They and their friends drank cocktails—martinis, Manhattans, old-fashioneds, and stingers. And when they drank enough of them, they behaved badly, especially when they were in their stingers period, though this didn’t strike me as romantic or chic. Much later I realized they were acting like the people in John Cheever’s stories, once I finally got around to reading them; in
fact it took me years to appreciate his writing, in part because his characters resembled my parents and their friends.
Hemingway was a great fan of Spanish
, which might be why, on my very first date, at the age of sixteen, I ordered a bottle of Mateus rosé, the spritzy Portuguese pink that came in a Buddha-shaped bottle. Never have I felt quite so worldly as I did that night at the Log Cabin Restaurant in Lenox, Massachusetts, as I sniffed the cork and nodded to the waiter. Many of my college romances were initiated over a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the only red wine whose name I could remember, but while lurching toward adulthood, I preferred quicker fixes, partly in the semiconscious belief, suggested by so much of my reading, that the road of excess would lead to the palace of wisdom, that the pursuit of an artistic career as a writer required a strictly Dionysian regimen. Manhattan in the early eighties was a congenial venue for this aesthetic program, especially if your role models included Baudelaire, Dylan Thomas, Keith Richards, and Tom Verlaine. I worked at menial editorial jobs and, briefly, as a fact-checker for
The New Yorker
as I did my best to infiltrate the downtown nightclub scene, which I imagined to be the contemporary equivalent of Isherwood’s Berlin or Lautrec’s Montmartre.
Not long after I was fired by
The New Yorker
, I was awakened at the crack of 2:00 p.m. by a call from my best friend, who informed me that Raymond Carver was en route to my apartment. You could have knocked me over with a rolled-up twenty-dollar bill, several of which were lying on my bedside table.
Raymond Carver on my doorstep? Granted, there was some context here: my best friend, Gary Fisketjon, a junior editor at Random House, had reviewed a chapbook by Carver for
The Village Voice
and, through his legendary champion Gordon Lish, had gotten to know him. (He would later become Carver’s editor, as well as my own.) Some years before, when we were at Williams College, I lent Gary a book called
Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?
and since then we’d both been passionate Carver fans. Now Gary was returning the favor with interest. They’d had lunch together, and Carver had nothing to do until his reading at Columbia that evening, so Gary volunteered my services as a tour guide for the afternoon, assuming that I would be thrilled. Which I was, despite an apocalyptic headache. The buzzer rang, an indistinct mumble came through the intercom—and then the doorway was filled by this hulking, slouching bear whom I ushered in to a tiny Greenwich Village apartment that showed all the signs of an arduous, recently terminated binge. We never got around to touring the city and instead talked for four or five hours, mostly about writing, until it was well past time to get Carver to his reading. At some point he said, almost apologetically, “I don’t know, the life you’re living here doesn’t seem exactly conducive to writing.” While it didn’t take a master storyteller to make this observation, from him it sounded like an epiphany. Carver knew whereof he spoke, a devotee of Alcoholics Anonymous who credited that organization with saving his life. Six months later I moved to Syracuse to study with Ray and clean up my act.
Having heard nutritionists distinguish between good fats and bad fats, I would propose a similar dichotomy for intoxicants. Certainly this was the opinion of Thomas Jefferson, the nation’s first wine geek. “No nation is drunken where wine is cheap,” he declared, “and none sober where the dearness of wine substitutes ardent spirits as the common beverage. It is, in truth, the only antidote to the bane of whiskey.” Or vodka, I might add. One can’t help but wonder how different Russia’s history might have been if the country was warm enough for viticulture. “Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world,” Hemingway wrote in
Death in the Afternoon
, “and one of the natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.” Not his greatest prose, perhaps, and like
so many encomiums to wine—the earnest Jefferson’s springs to mind—it leaves out the buzz factor. (They don’t, for example, call them winos for nothing.) Still, it impressed me at the time, especially since I’d discovered that the bane of whiskey and the road of excess hadn’t led me to any palaces at all.