“Book club” isn’t necessarily euphemism for “wine club,” but in some cases, it certainly can be. While book club members may spar on heroes and villains, predictable plots and character flaws, everyone can agree that bringing some wine to the table is generally a welcome gesture.
Below I paired some of my recent reads by female authors with apropos wines that should be book club tested, book club approved.
The Winemaker’s Wife by Kristin Harmel Based on the title alone, this was an obvious choice. I just finished this book and am still recovering from the sleepless nights I spent reading “one more chapter.” The novel unfolds in the Champagne region of France. Two story lines, one that takes place during World War II and the other in the present, intersect around Michel and Inés Chauveau of the champagne house Maison Chauveau, their winemaker Theo Laurent and his wife Céline, and Inés’s dearest friend Edith Thierry and her husband Edouard who run a brasserie in the nearby city of Reims. Though the story is fictional, it’s based on the real life experiences of the “Champenois” – the people of Champagne, who almost worked exclusively in the wine business, most for generations. I learned that during the Nazi occupation, hundreds of thousands of bottles of champagne were requisitioned and sent back to Berlin (particularly the best vintages), as were the best wines in Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Loire Valley and other winemaking regions of France. Real life Nazi Otto Klaebisch, who appears in the book, was the “weinführer” of the Champagne region whose sole job was to supply the Third Reich with wine from the various champagne houses. He infamously took up residence at the château of Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin. Many of the winegrowers, cellar masters and champagne house families were part of the French Resistance, which brings us back to the plot of The Winemaker’s Wife, where characters are forced to make unimaginable decisions amid unimaginable circumstances. A story of love, loss, regret and redemption, The Winemaker’s Wife is a page-turner for any fan of historical fiction.
Pair this read with (the biggest splurge of this list): Moët & Chandon Impérial Brut Champagne
Created in 1869, Moët Impérial is the house’s iconic champagne, embodying a “bright fruitiness, seductive palate and elegant maturity.” True story: during WWII, the Champagne region’s Resistance was led by Count Robert-Jean de Vogüé, the managing director of Moët & Chandon. He was arrested by the Gestapo in November 1943 and sent to a German labor camp until it was liberated in May 1945. (He was actually sentenced to death but the winemakers of Champagne went on strike, so he was sent north).
Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave Unfolding in the heart of California’s Sonoma County, Eight Hundred Grapes is the story of 30-year-old Georgia who, upon discovering a life-altering secret her fiancé had been hiding just one week before their wedding, returns to her family’s vineyard to retreat and re-calibrate. While home has always been her safe place, here she learns that many people, including her parents and brothers, have secrets all their own. I’m resisting the urge to use punny wine-related phrases to describe the tale , i.e. “the plot has legs,” the characters are a “winning blend” or the story lines are “rich with complexities.” Some of the conflict here isn’t original: does the family-owned small production winery sell to the big bad wine conglomerate? Does the main character develop feelings for someone she never expected? But, it’s an enjoyable read and the author does a good job of weaving small details of life at a winery as she pulls you in with beautiful scenery and multi-layered characters. And the title? Fun fact: it takes 800 grapes to make a bottle of wine.
Pair this read with: 2017 Lola Pinot Noir from the Newport Wine Cellar & Gourmet (check out the new location at 5 Merton Road, open Wed. – Sun. 12pm to 6pm). Follow on IG at @newportwinenchz
Sonoma County is home to more than 400 wineries and while you’ll find plenty of small boutique wineries, many (even some that appear small) are owned by the big boys: Jackson Family Wines, E&J Gallo, Ferrari-Carano, etc. Pinot Noir is one of the main protagonists in Eight Hundred Grapes and equally, is the most celebrated variety of the Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. So, LOLA is the perfect pairing for this book. It’s a boutique winery focused on creating high quality, approachable and affordable wines and the 2017 LOLA Russian River Valley Pinot Noir is its flagship wine. I had the good fortune of enjoying this wine at a Napa vs. Sonoma wine tasting event and you won’t be disappointed.
The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand Confession: this was my first Elin Hilderbrand book! I’ve known about this lovely Nantucket author, “queen of the summer novel,” for quite some time and have been following her on IG, but took my first plunge with this title last month and loved it. This is a story about 40-year-old twin sisters, one who lives on Hilderbrand’s own beloved Nantucket and one who lives on Martha’s Vineyard, and their seemingly unrepairable rift. I was skeptical as twin tales often take a cheesy turn, but the story of Harper and Tabitha, who are reluctantly brought together by their father’s death and the decline of their feisty mother’s fashion brand, is original and entertaining. Hilderbrand’s exceptional ability to drop locals-only knowledge of Nantucket and capture the Vineyard’s vibe make it particularly enjoyable to longtime visitors of the island. This first Hilderbrand novel for me will not be my last (I already have 28 Summers, a selection of the Newport Ladies Book Club, in my queue).
Pair this read with: 2019 Atlantique Cabernet Franc or 2019 Sauvignon Blanc, also from the
Newport Wine Cellar & Gourmet (checkout the new location at 5 Merton Road, open Wed. – Sun. 12pm to 6pm). Follow on IG at @newportwinenchz
There’s a lot of drinking in The Identicals (no judgement!), and with Atlantique’s exquisite bottle art and rich flavors, this French wine is trés Nantucket. Made in the Loire Valley, a region known for some of the world’s finest Cabernet Franc rosé and Sauvignon Blanc, both varieties are lovely, affordable and perfect “bring to book club” wines as they are so darn pretty. While rosé often steal summer’s spotlight, I do love a Sauvignon Blanc and this classic French vintage has citrus notes and dry finish.