Unexpected Wine and Food Match in James Salter’s Novel “Light Years”

Sometimes when you least expect it, expect it. That’s how wine sneaks up on me. Not like a bottle quietly tiptoeing behind me and then, “SURPRISE!” More of a coming across mentions of it while reading and thinking about the author’s experience with wine. Such is the case of the novel Light Years by James Salter.

Here’s a scene where the main characters, a married couple named Nedra and Viri, are prepping for dinner guests:

“Give them plenty to drink,” she said. “Do you want to taste something?”

It was the pâté maison. “Oh!” he moaned.

“What?”

“It’s brilliant!

“Try it with mustard,” she said.

They were having Meursault, fromages, pastries from Leonard’s.

Usually with a luxury like pâté, red wine (particularly Burgundy) gets the nod. But a white wine from Burgundy, like the rich Chardonnays of Meursault, can be a great pairing as well. It’s a wine with enough stuffing and substance to handle the power of pâté. And with a judicious swipe of mustard, a chilled white wine sounds even better.

What Salter’s passage reminded me of is that so many “red wine” foods are actually great with white wine. Steak? You bet. Pizza? Hell yes.

But Salter’s not a one-wine pony. Dang, I’m only halfway through this book and there’s already mentions of Margaux and ruminations on Retsina (!).

Here are a couple of other posts about books with wine moments that got me thinking:

Considering Champagne in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises

The Novel “New York 2140” and Wine

Have you read a book where a scene with wine made an impression on you, like Light Years by James Salter did for me? Let me know in the comments.

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Pickled Broccoli Stems Are Great On Everything

Sometimes my favorite part of a vegetable is not the traditional star of the show. Take celery, for example. While the ribs get all the love, what about the leaves? The latter are a fantastic addition to anything where you might use flat-leaf parsley. And then there’s broccoli. The “crowns” are so valued they are sold solo. But what about the stems? They are a delight as well. So buy the whole dang thing and after you’ve separated the florets, make pickled broccoli stems.

This is done quickly. In a few hours. No boiling. I don’t really measure anything, you can season the vinegar to your liking.

Pickled Broccoli Stems

Ingredients

  • Two broccoli stems
  • white wine vinegar
  • salt
  • sugar

Directions

Cut the tough outer layer from the stems. Using a vegetable peeler, shave lengthwise strips of broccoli stem. In a relatively flat glass or plastic container, add the stems, cover with vinegar, and add salt and sugar to taste. Put a lid on and shake it up. Give the stems a few hours in the fridge or leave overnight. I ate half of mine after a few hours and the rest the next day. Can’t see them lasting longer.

Note: You can make the brine separately and taste for seasoning before co-mingling with the broccoli stems. That way it’s much easier to adjust the salty/sweet balance to your liking. I skew salty with a touch of sweet.

So what would you serve these with? I’d put them on top of a sandwich, use as a crunchy garnish for grain dishes,  or toss ’em in fish tacos. Heck, just pour yourself a beer and go to town.

Wine Recommendation

When you add a pickled component to a dish, I like to go with Riesling. It doesn’t have to be a semi-sweet/off-dry bottle, either. Dry Australian Rieslings would be great here, particularly with said fish tacos or a dang turkey sandwich with mayo and these pickles.

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A sommelier’s niche: Bordeaux classified growths

Many sommeliers find a niche of wines they love and make their restaurant a standout location for those wines. Pascaline Lepeltier has done this with chenin blanc at Rouge Tomate, Thomas Pastuszak with New York Riesling at NoMad, and Patrick Cappiello with grower champagne at Pearl & Ash.

A sommelier’s niche: Bordeaux classified growthsThere’s a new entrant into the niche game: Tali Dalbaha is showing Bordeaux some love. The wine director at City Winery in Manhattan has assembled all 61 classified growths on her list. Wait, Bordeaux? Yes. Studying for the theory portion of the Master Sommelier exam last year, she was struck by the challenge of assembling the current wines (all the wines are from the heralded 2010 vintage) from the famed classification now celebrating its 160th anniversary. She approached City Winery owner Michael Dorf who joked that his first reaction to her proposal was: “How much?”

After convincing Dorf, Dalbaha set about finding all the wines, which was not only pricey, but hard to find them all. Now, she says, they are the only restaurant in the world to offer the complete lineup of Bordeaux.

“This is a great way to introduce people to Bordeaux,” she said. “People love to say that they had a Bordeaux.”

Defying a current trend in sommeliers that have given Bordeaux less space on wine lists, Dalbaha told me, “I love merlot. I think it is a great grape.” (Perhaps a spotlight on Pomerol will be next?) She continued that “some young sommeliers feel ashamed to say they like Bordeaux. But they shouldn’t.”

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