What Goes With Your High School Reading List?

by Diane McMartin

All this fervor over The Great Gatsby got me thinking about what you might drink while revisiting your high school syllabus. Dust off those old paperbacks. Nostalgia is always better with booze.

The obvious thing to pair with Gatsby is something like a Tom Collins, or an historically accurate Champagne the characters would have swilled at raucous parties. But we’re a little more interesting than that. There’s no better way to be borne back ceaselessly into the past than with Madeira — the stuff lasts forever, just like the secrets from your past. Even at a century or two old, they can still feel zingy and alive. A favorite in colonial America, Madeira is slowly making a well-deserved comeback. Look for Sercial or Verdelho if you want something more tart and dry, and Boal, Malmsey, or phrases like “fine rich” on the label for something with toasty, roasty coffee and chocolate notes that can go with dessert or be a delicious dessert by itself.

A bonus pairing for Fitzgerald fans who have gone beyond the required reading: Provencal rose for Tender is the Night. It’s my personal favorite Fitzgerald novel and my favorite style of rose. Provencal has a pale, gorgeous color that won’t stain the white linen pants you’re wearing as you gaze into the blue, blue Mediterranean. Your life may be a mess, but goddamn, you look glamorous in those imperceptibly-stained white linen pants.

To Kill a Mockingbird calls for something classic, American, stalwart and true. Much as I like to poke fun at Napa Cabernets, this style became popular for a reason — because when they’re good, they’re really, really good. I doubt Harper Lee would approve of the over-oaked, shoved-into-a-Wonderbra style that’s popular these days — she’d want to kick it old school with something like Mayacamas. They’re also one of only a handful of California wineries that keeps a deep library of back vintages and occasionally sells them for prices that, while certainly not cheap, aren’t quite at oil-baron-in-Dubai levels.

Is it just me, or does The Catcher In The Rye really not hold up as an adult? As a 14-year-old, I had the same kind of crush on Holden that I did on Daria’s Trent. (Don’t lie, you did, too — I don’t care that he was a cartoon character!) As an adult — ugh, what a drag! Anyway, you might as well pull out Franny and Zooey, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, and re-watch The Royal Tennenbaums while you’re at it. That scene with Gwyneth in the bathtub is so perfectly Glass family-esque, isn’t it? If that whole crew was around today and liked wine, they’d probably dig cheap, but honestly made Cotes-du-Rhone. Not as heavy as a straight Syrah (it’s usually used as a supporting player to Grenache’s starring role in these blends), a good CDR goes with everything from roast chicken to hanger steak to whatever vegetarian concoction with quinoa and mushrooms you want to dream up. Good ones can be found for $7–12, and some of the ones that come in a bag-in-box are pretty good, too, especially if you want to invite your friends over and scrawl notes to each other on the bathroom mirror in soap like Boo Boo, not that I ever did anything like that in high school.

Once, in the 11th grade, we got a choose-your-own book report assignment, and I chose Lolita. Our choices were supposedly approved by the teacher, but he must have forgotten that he signed off, because as I brought out my poster and started talking, I watched the color drain from his face. No matter that I mostly talked about Nabokov’s longtime love of butterfly collecting and barely mentioned the naughty bits — the mere fact that I’d read this book apparently made me a bad influence. Cru Beaujolais (not Nouveau!) is the perfect accompaniment to this near-perfect novel. On the surface, the good ones will be full of fresh, seductive, just-ripe fruit, but they reward delving and revisiting after a couple of years.

For Lord of the Flies, you’ll need something feral and wild, and, sure, something that goes with pork barbecue. The wines of Carema, the part of Northern Italy that grows Nebbiolo but isn’t as famous as Barolo or Barbaresco, are just the ticket. Ferrando, one of only two producers in this marginal wine region whose landscape makes you wonder who the heck decided to try and grow grapes there, makes fragrant, delicious Nebbiolo with just the right amount of rusticity that would be perfect with spit-roasted boar.

I know you all have book-and-beverage pairings that will put mine to shame. Let’s hear them.

Previously: What Goes With Your Spring Crush?

Photo via michael_barker/flickr.

Diane McMartin is a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers and a graduate of a fancy-pants wine and beverage education program in St. Helena, CA. This required many flashcards and a lot of coffee. She lives in the Washington, DC area, where she works in retail teaching wine education classes, helping customers find the perfect wine, and wading through the seemingly endless ocean of bad Chardonnay out there.