“Insanely prolific,” multiple-award-winning British author Peter Ackroyd has written two dozen books in the past decade.
He gets up early every morning and writes all day. Afterward, according to a New York Times article aptly titled “Man of Many Words,” he goes out to dinner. Alone. Every night.
He has given up “spirits” with his meal because his liver has rebelled. But he does drink a bottle of wine. As I read this, my mind drifted mid-sentence: How did he manage to drink an entire bottle and then start all fresh and enthusiastic the next morning on one of the three different books he works on every day — a history book first, then a biography in the afternoon, then, to finish the workday, a novel?
When I forced my attention back to the article, I finished the sentence: “and another bottle when he gets home at night.”
Yikes. Well, he’s a bigger man than I am. Twice my size, I’m guessing from the photo. But still.
I’ve been thinking about this article for days. First I wondered if I’d become more prolific if I quadrupled my wine consumption. Pleasant thought, but no. I’d just have head-achy, sleepless nights and in the morning, words would swim queasily on the page.
Then I came upon a happier line of speculation. Just say I could drink two bottles a night. Think how I’d expand my wine repertoire! I’d be able to start the evening with an experiment and then end with a comforting repetition of a lovely familiar bottle. Or I could experiment for a week and then go back to old favorites.
Actually, since there are always two of us at dinner, we could drink four bottles a night. Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Uruguay, Croatia, New York State, France, Italy, Chile, Mexico, New Mexico, Argentina, Austria, Germany, Oregon, California — bring them on.
This evening we begin with a bottle of bubbly to celebrate our new four-bottle, around-the-world regimen. Last time I went to Corti Brothers, I came home with a highly recommended Graham Beck Brut from South Africa (55 percent chardonnay, 45 percent pinot noir). Crisp, tart and yeasty, it tastes of fall apples and tangerine. It’s assertively bubbly and just a little too easy to drink. For under $15, it makes a terrific aperitif, and when you’ve got four bottles to drink, you definitely have room for an aperitif. I might serve it with a soft mild sheep cheese on some crusty sourdough.
With our cups of white bean and butternut squash soup, we’re drinking Italian. A 2010 Dolcetto d’Alba called “Murrae,” from Rocce Costamagna. It’s a deep ruby red, rich and softly fruity, almost velvety — with a fresh cherry bouquet. A dry, slightly bitter finish helps make it a very nice companion to chicken, pork or deeply flavored vegetables. Unoaked and low in alcohol (12.5 percent), it, too, is easy to drink and just gets better as it sits. $13 at Valley Wine Company.
Next, we have a pasta course. Tonight it’s einkorn spaghetti with anchovy carbonara sauce. (Einkorn’s an ancient wheat with a deep nutty flavor, much less harsh than whole wheat pasta usually is — you can get it at the Co-op from a company called Jovial.) The wine’s from Austria’s Kremstal region, a 2011 Geyerhof Ried Richtern Zweigelt.
Winemaker Ilse Maier comes from a family that’s been making wine for 900 years. She uses organically grown grapes, in this case 100 percent zweigelt, the most widely planted red grape in Austria. One critic called this bottle “boisterous,” and that seems an excellent way to describe this lively, peppery and wildly juicy — think cherry and pomegranate — wine. I’ve never tasted anything quite like it.
Good with any sort of poultry dish, it also complements nutty cheeses. Though it’s quite food-friendly, I liked drinking it on its own, too. Locals chill it a bit before serving, but then I chill all my reds for half an hour, unless it’s mid-winter and the thermostat is registering under 65 degrees, which is my definition of room temperature. $25 a bottle at Vini.
Our main course of grilled portobello mushrooms on a bed of garlic-sautéed winter greens will be accompanied by a red from Burgundy. One hundred percent pinot noir, this Joseph Drouhin is a 2010 Côte de Nuits-Village. Filled with wild cherry, red berries and spice flavors, it also has a hint of mushroom.
A “natural” wine, this red has only indigenous yeast and the grapes were organically and biodynamically farmed on land plowed by horses. The Drouhin house is particularly dedicated to preserving the terroir of their wines, and the earthy elegance of this bottle is an excellent example. Generally food-friendly, I wouldn’t hesitate to serve it with wild salmon or grilled vegetables of all sorts.
It’s hard to finish off the evening by choosing a favorite (and hard as well to be sober by the end of the meal), but if I had to, it would be this Burgundy. I don’t get to drink Burgundies very often — the wine’s $27 price tag (Vini) suggests the reason — but I guess now that I’m indulging in the fantasy of opening four bottles a night, I may as well indulge in the fantasy of a big wine budget.
Actually there is no second day. I think I’m dying and hereby admit to the constitutional superiority of Peter Ackroyd. I wish I could drink as well (and as much) as he does, I wish I could write as well (and as much) as he does.
— Reach Susan Leonardi at [email protected] Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com