Pairing Books & Wine

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Jennifer Simonson

Jennifer is a writer, photographer and wine enthusiast who publishes a blog called Bookworm, in which she pairs wine with books. It combines two of her favorite pastimes and is intended to make both reading and sipping wine more enjoyable. She recently received her WSET Level 3 in Wines certification through France 44 Wine & Spirits Education. She lives in Linden Hills and enjoys running around the city lakes, gardening, cooking and making art.

Have you ever noticed how your most memorable conversations about wine and about literature can sound much the same? Think about some descriptors you might use to tell a friend about a recent wine discovery or an immersive new novel, and observe the overlap. Intriguing, complex, provocative, vibrant, gripping, lingering.

While reading tends to be a solitary activity, we come together in book clubs seeking an exchange of ideas. As humans we crave this connection – one that occurs so naturally when we share a bottle of wine, as well. At their best, both pastimes allow for engaging discussion, laughter, mild disagreement, and fresh insight.

So, why not combine the two? I pair wine with books (not unlike food pairing) in hopes of creating an experience that elevates my enjoyment of both. Fiction, nonfiction, poetry, even graphic novels and cookbooks are all candidates for a pairing. If you are hosting a book club and are wondering what to pour, you can try it, too. Here’s a guide to find that “perfect” wine partner for your book.

Truthfully, most books will pair wonderfully with several wines. We all have different preferences, and an outstanding pairing for one person might not work for another. You will have the most success if you let curiosity and creativity be your guides.

A straightforward starting point is to consider the literary genre, the author, or the author’s intent. For example, if the book is a mystery, I might look for a complex wine that would require all of my senses to discover its various aromas and flavors. Or, if the novel is an author’s debut, pair it with a wine from a new or up-and-coming winemaker. Is the story intended to uplift? Then, perhaps, bubbles are appropriate.

Another approach is to think about which elements in a book are essential to the story and/or resonate mostly strongly with you. Noteworthy considerations are the characters and their relationships, the point of view, and the setting. Ask yourself if you learned anything new or surprising, and think about your overall impression after finishing the book. There’s pairing potential in each of these details.

For example, in Hernan Diaz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Trust, four characters tell the same story, each from his or her own perspective. I paired this book with Chardonnay, a grape variety that is as malleable as this story. Chardonnay can taste very different, depending upon the winemaker telling its “story.” This pairing’s success is less about a specific bottle of Chardonnay – any of your favorites will do – and more about how winemakers shape it to achieve specific results on the nose and palate.

And lastly, remember not every pairing needs to be congruent. It can be interesting to seek out contrast. For example, can a grief-filled novel be balanced with a bright and fruity wine? The decision is up to you. Sometimes I taste several wines before settling on the just the right one.

The search for new and interesting connections between fine wine and literature is a process of discovery. Happily, with so many wines to taste and books to read, the possibilities are truly endless. For more pairing ideas, visit my Bookworm Blog. Each monthly post includes a complete book review, a wine tasting note, and a detailed explanation about why the pairing works.

So You Think You Hate Chardonnay…

Three glasses of white wine
Picture of Ty Robinson

Ty Robinson

Ty (he/him) started his career in the wine and spirits industry 14 years ago right here at France 44! He took some time away to get a Masters in Gastronomy and since, has worked in every facet of the industry, from restaurants to retail. Ty is a Certified Sommelier by the Court of Master Sommeliers of America. He returned to France 44 in the Fall of 2023 and is happy to have been welcomed back. His favorite wines are Chenin Blanc, Syrah and anything from Germany or Austria.

So you think you hate Chardonnay… So did I. Chardonnay is a grape that has no one true “style.” It’s a chameleon in the wine world. It can range in style from enamel ripping acidic to rich, luxurious and buttery. I feel like Americans have a skewed vision of Chardonnay because here in The States, we have become known for the big rich buttery popcorn laden Chardonnays that our moms all drank growing up. But that is only the beginning of the story for Chardonnay.  

Chardonnay is one of the most famous varietals in the world, and rightfully so. It can really be made in so many styles that there is one that will certainly suit you. I always thought I hated the varietal until I came back to the store and have been able to taste different iterations and styles of the grape. I have since come to love the varietal and differences between the many styles of Chardonnay. 

Chardonnay is grown across the globe with the main producers being France (Burgundy) and the USA (California and Oregon mostly). What makes Chardonnay unique is the the way winemakers can stylistically manipulate the grapes to produce a range of expressions.

Within Burgundy, you can see bright high acid fruity expressions with no oak (Chablis) AND rich, oily and textural versions that have almost a honeyed tropical fruit note (Meursault).

Oak barrels commonly used to age Chardonnay wine

The story is similar stateside, where our classic California Chardonnays range from rich and buttery, reminiscent of movie theater popcorn, to unoaked varieties that are bright and zippy, with driving acidity and minerality.

Oregon chardonnays tend to be more like Burgundy as they can’t get quite the same level of ripeness as in California, and they generally utilize oak in their winemaking with a lighter hand.    

Through all our wine team tastings, I have found that I love unoaked Chardonnay or Chardonnays that use oak in a well-integrated, not overbearing manner. Recently I have been loving the Alois Lageder Gaun Chardonnay from Italy. It sees some oak but it’s there for structure and imparts no flavor components to the wine. Beautifully bright and acidic with aromas of apple and lemon peel, this Chardonnay is light and easy to drink with enough complexity to keep you coming back for another sip.

I also have been loving the Martin Woods Chardonnay. The winemaker lets the purity of the fruit shine through and uses minimal oak (and what he does use is neutral) to create a wine that is reminiscent of Chablis. Bright, fresh, high in acid and a lovely mineral tone to keep the wine zippy. 

For oaked Chardonnay, my favorite of late has been the Becker “Schweigener” Chardonnay from the Pfalz in Germany. This Chardonnay is big and bold, much like its California brethren, but it uses oak only to create a rich, mouthfeel and a creamy texture. Beautiful, lush and well made, it made me appreciate what oak can do for Chardonnay.  

So get out of your comfort zone – pick up a bottle of Chardonnay and learn about the diverse wines this grape can produce!