The Importance of Drinking Ernest

In Europe then we thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also as a great giver of happiness and well being and delight. Drinking wine was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary, and I would not have thought of eating a meal without drinking either wine or cider or beer.

-Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

It wasn’t all whisky and absinthe for our earnest Ernest. Quite a writer, he pokes at our insides with simple suggestions and a loyalty to true characters as complex and human as you and I, wrote wine into his stories as seamlessly as he did fashion, pace, dialect, and weather. Considering that Hemingway was an avid believer in the editorial process- of tossing away draft after draft of all the things that one has to put down in ink before coming to a full understanding of what he has to say, it is worth mentioning the decent amount of attention he devoted toward the wine his characters sip- their origins, descriptions, and pairings. From the bottle of 1915 Bollinger Brut that the indulgent threesome in The Garden of Eden enjoy with “large firm grey caviar”, to the bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape shared with Ernest Walsh during a decadent lunch in A Moveable Feast, Hemingway makes no secret of his discerning palate and appreciation of the consumable.

Americans have a tendency to think of wine in relation to the grape it is made of. In the Old World, wine is usually identified by its place- implying something about the people and geography, earth, sun, and wind that together make the wine what it is. In A Moveable Feast Hemingway’s characters speak of the Alpine foothill wines of Aigle and Sion, “splendid white wine that was sort of a Muscadet”, Sancerre sipped with oysters and crabe Mexicaine, light and nutty manzanilla from the lowland near Cadiz called the Marismas, bottles of white from Macon, Pouilly-Fuisse, Cahors, and a Corsican wine that had “great authority and a low price”.

And then there were the wines hardly identifiable by much more than their shade. In The Garden of Eden David and Catherine Bourne lunch on a meal typical of the area near Cannes where they were passing through- stuffed eggs, roast chicken, pickles, and fresh long bread with Savora mustard. With this “they drank rose”. Near the same area of the French Riviera, specifically the Grau du Roi, David Bourne worked long and hard to catch a strong-swimming bass. Later he grills it up and serves it with butter, celery remoulade, small radishes, home pickled mushrooms, and fried potatoes. It is paired with a local white wine. “It was a good, light, dry cheerful unknown white wine and the restaurant was proud of it”. Hemingway knew that sometimes a simple red, white, or rose would do. Like American midwest high school football heroes and Jersey fresh tomatoes, regional wines have long been a cornerstone of tradition and pride in wine-producing European towns. They were during Hemingway’s time as an adventuring expatriate, and like the enchanting vignettes he paints of another time and place, many of them untouched by the global market, still are.