Vintage Wine and “A Gentleman in Moscow” (Novel Food No.37)

summary: mystery vintage wine; very brief review A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles; information about Novel Food; can wine be classed as food?

Sigh. No wonder I’m not ever invited to be in a book club! I’m afraid I’m late for Novel Food No.37. It’s only one day, but, alas, I’m still late….

Vintage Wine

I finished reading A Gentleman From Moscow by Amor Towles months ago. At the time, I could not put this exquisitely written book down. And now, still, I cannot stop thinking about it. It is the most wonderful novel. I only wish that I could be even half as gracious as the central character, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov!

Included in the marvelous tale, there are wonderful and intriguing dishes galore featured in the novel. Here are just a few {cough} of the dishes and foods described: “baked pretzels, sweet rolls, and loaves of bread so unparalleled they were delivered daily”, “saltimbocca [herbed with nettle rather than sage]”, “kotleti”, “fennel and orange salad”, “osso buco”, “rack of lamb with a red wine reduction”, “bouillabaise”, “okroshka […] a bowl of soup that any Russian ithe room might have been served by his grandmother”, “filet of sole”, “Veal Pojarski”, “black bread slathered with [lilac-flavoured] honey”, “Latvian stew […] The onions thoroughly caramelized, the pork slowly braised, and the apricots briefly stewed, the three ingredients came together in a sweet and smoky medley that simultaneously suggested the comfort of a snowed-in tavern and the jangle of a Gypsy tambourine”, “whole [sea]bass roasted with black olives, fennel, and lemon”, and…

Or…. How about asparagus?

Nina picked up what looked like a delicate spade with a plunger and an ivory handle. Depressing the lever, Nina watched as the two opposing blades opened and shut, then she looked to the Count in wonder.
      “An asparagus server,” he explained.
      “Does a banquet really need an asparagus server?”
      “Does an orchestra need a bassoon?”
– Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow, Book One | 1922: Around and About, p.58

So many delectable delights from which to choose!

This past Thanksgiving, when T brought a bottle of wine from our dwindling stash in the basement, I immediately thought of this description of the Count in the Metropol in Moscow in 1923:

“I am ready to place my order. I will have the fennel and orange salad to start, and the osso buco to follow.”
      “Of course,” said the Bishop. “And how will you be having the osso buco?”
      The Count almost betrayed his amazement. How will I be having it? does he expect me to dictate the temperature of a piece of stewed meat?
      “As the chef prepares it,” replied the Count magnanimously.
      Of course. And will you be having wine?”
      “Absolutely. A bottle of the San Lorenzo Barolo, 1912.”
      “Will you be having the red or the white?”
      “A Barolo”, the Count explained as helfully as he could, “is a full-bodied red from norther Italy. As such, it is the perfect accompaniment to the osso buco of Milan.”
      “So then, you will be having the red.”
[T]he Count found himself in a place that even Nina had never been: the wine cellar of the Metropo.
      With its archways of brick and its cool, dark climate, the Metropol’s wine cellar recalled the somber beaquty of a catacomb. Only, instead of sarcophagi bearing the likenesses of saints, receding into the far reaches of the chamber were rows of racks laden with bottles of wine. Here was assembled a staggering collection of Cabernets and Chardonnays, Rieslings and Syrahs, ports and Madeiras—a century of vintages from across the continent of Europe.
      All told, there were almost ten thousand cases. More than a hundred thousand bottles. And every one of them without a label.
      “What has happened!” gasped the Count.
      Andrey nodded in grim acknowledgment.
      “A complaint was filed with comrade Teodorov, the Commissar of Food, claiming that the existence of our wine list runs counter to the ideals of the Revolution. That it is a monument to the privilege of the nobility, the effeteness of the intelligentsia, and the predatory pricing of speculators.”
– Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow, Book Two | 1923: Addendum, p.140, 142

Granted, the wine we opened on Thanksgiving was NOT a Barolo. (I’ve only had a very few opportunities to taste this wonderful wine!) And the label had not been purposely removed….

Also, our dinner included neither oranges, fennel, or osso buco. Instead, we dined on roasted chicken stuffed with Mum’s oatmeal dressing (I LOVE that dressing and, as far as I’m concerned, it is the only correct stuffing for a roast bird), mashed potatoes, gravy, parsnips, peas, butternut squash, green beans, cranberry sauce, all garnished with parsley and nasturtiums from our garden.

In spite of the fact that the label was almost illegible, we still knew what was in the bottle: a syrah from Crozes-Hermitage Paul Jaboulet Aîné Domaine de Thalabert 1986. Yes, the bottle should probably have been opened a few years earlier. Still, it was surprisingly spectacular. It was still fruity and bold and stood up perfectly throughout the dinner. T detected notes of red fruit, leather, and autumn leaves.

vintage wine

We’re not sure how much we spent on the wine. It’s unlikely that it was more than $30. Alas, just like the label, the pricetag is also illegible.

Still…. 1986!! A great year. T and I met when those grapes were just developing on the vine. How wonderful that this lovely wine reflects our life.

We are suitably thankful.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I cannot believe that several others, after reading Amor Towles’ “A Gentleman in Moscow”, haven’t been inspired to prepare one of the described foods for Novel Food! I only found one – the very person who inspired me to read A Gentleman in Moscow in the first place!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A Gentleman In Moscow Book Cover He can’t leave his hotel. You won’t want to.
[…] a transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel.
In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. […] Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.
– Goodreads, A Gentleman In Moscow: A Novel by Amor Towles

Vintage Wine
(No, one of these glasses is NOT for the furry black fiend!)

Novel Food

Novel Food Inspired by Adam Gopnik’s 2007 article in the New Yorker in 2007, Simona (briciole) and Lisa (Champaign Taste) launched “Novel Food”, looking forward to “hearing interesting literary and culinary stories” from other food bloggers.

There are four kinds of food in books: food that is served by an author to characters who are not expected to taste it; food that is served by an author to characters in order to show who they are; food that an author cooks for characters in order to eat it with them; and, last (and most recent), food that an author cooks for characters but actually serves to the reader.
Adam Gopnik, “Cooked Books: Real Food from Fictional Recipes”, New Yorker, 2 April 2007
In Northern California, where I live, the signs of season’s change are clear: the light has become softer, golden; winter squashes and persimmons have appeared at farmers’ markets; days are getting shorter more quickly (sigh!). In a few days the fall equinox will make the change official.
    It is therefore time to launch the 37th edition of the culinary/literary event Novel Food, which is a voyage of literary discovery and a delightful party featuring literary-inspired dishes contributed by event’s participants.
– Simona, briciole

For more information on how to participate in Novel Food, please see Novel Food #37.


Remind us to make Amor Towles’ recipe for Latvian Stew with pork, apricots and prunes from A Gentleman in Moscow! There might be exactly the right bottle of wine in the basement to go with it….




This entry was posted in food & drink, Novel Food, whine on by .

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1 response to “Vintage Wine and “A Gentleman in Moscow” (Novel Food No.37)

  1. Debra Eliotseats (Eliot's Eats)

    That wine looks totally vintage! I’ve heard really good things about this book. It’s on my list. Thanks for dropping by EE.

    26 October: It really is a wonderful novel, Debra. I hope you get a chance to read it soon. – Elizabeth


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