17 September 2010

oh, you shouldn't have: literary critics, bad champagne

Image swiped from sunnysidenyc.com.

Over at the Paris Review blog, I notice that Parisian literary critic Nelly Kaprielian went to interview Michel Houellebecq armed with a bottle of Veuve Clicqot. It always surprises me when an expert in one field reveals a total lack of sophistication in another field. But, save for the regrettable tendency of English writers to pronouce ignorant dictums on drinking (see Ford Maddox Ford, either Amis, etc.), the two fields have little in common, so I shouldn't blame Mme Kaprielian for name-checking such a dull mass-market cherry-coke Champagne.

Image swiped from jonathanfrance.wordpress.com, c/w Mariusz Kubik.

I do, though. Later in the same article they have a Chateauneuf-du-Pape with Moroccan food, which sounds just wrong.

I think my omnicritical impulses result from having done one or two weird career-switching pirhouettes so far in my life. (Two is if you count studying writing only to immediately begin a largely unrelated mini-career in wine.) Mercifully few people ask me about the writing career - instead they ask about the transition from wine & food to fashion (what I do now, other than write this blog).

For me, the two subjects are interrelated enough, in that both prize an attention to materiality and detail. At Mozza I used to hear Nancy Silverton muse quite poetically on the precise quality requirements of the perfect breadstick, composed of just flour, salt, and water. Around the same time I'd hear my friend Cliff, who had a fashion line called Chatav Ectabit*, explain in similar detail, if not in similar terms, what he sought in a good cashmere provider. It didn't surprise me that real loving expertise in both disciplines - baking and fashion design - expressed itself in a love for the ingredients.** It's the same attention Nelly Kaprielian and Michel Houellebecq presumably pay to diction, dialogue, setting, and so forth.

Image swiped from henryjames.info.

Anyhow, it seems to me Henry James' famous (impossible) advice to writers applies equally across any aesthetic field: "Try to be one of those people on whom nothing is lost."

* Cliff has moved on but the line remains fantastic, now designed entirely by Cliff's former design partner Sandy. 
** Incidentally, Nancy has terrific fashion sense, and Cliff has fine taste in wine. 


  1. This is wonderful, but what should she have brought to the interview? And what should she have worn? I say: anything that she baked that didn't make too many crumbs, and something unfussy but chic enough.

  2. Agreed that fresh-baked anything is a nicer gesture than wine. But if one means to do some drinking with a writer, why not bring something worth drinking?

    Depends on the writer, I guess.

    For one's favorites - Leslie Daniels, Lydia Davis, Laura Riding, Grace Paley, Saul Bellow, Nabokov, Proust, and so on - I'd probably find something from Jacques Selosse. (http://www.rarewineco.com/html/impo/fran/j-selo.htm)

    For any other writer, or if I were broke at the time, I'd take a bottle of Montlouis-sur-Loire or Cremant d'Alsace from a good producer. There are occasions when you need the fame of the appellation name CHAMPAGNE for gestural purposes, but at all other times you can find much better values from more obscure regions.

    For Michel Houellebecq, I'd have brought something from Chateau Musar, the famous Lebanese winery. (http://www.chateaumusar.com.lb/english/civilization.htm) The wines would be right up his alley if he digs Chateauneuf.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. Well, yes, he should have brought Agrapart, Guy Larmandier, Mocuit, or in a perfect world, as you said, Selosse. That would have made him much more well mannered.

    Chidaine Mountlouis sparkling is currently on my to "try list". I had the '07 Les Tuffeau last night, which was not showing well. But the '05 Clos Halbert that I was serving earlier this year was destructively good.

    It's portfolio tasting season here in NY, and I do have to say, that for a big house, Pol Roger '00 blew me out of the water.

    On the Moroccan front, Lamb tagine and Viuex Telegraph "Le Crau" in a a cooler vintage sounds pretty good. '07 Pegau at 16.1%, maybe not...

    Nom, nom Musar '99...

  4. I think the thing I miss most about being properly in the wine industry is invitations to the huge more or less corporate tastings at which one gets to taste the unparalleled top-tier fruits of more or less corporate wine regions, i.e. the pol roger you mentioned...