The Last Bombshell
There are times that wine and literature do a tango that goes beyond mere happenstance. Michele Mitchell speaks voluminously about how her book The Latest Bombshell is based on wine, wine, and more wine - with casual drinking thrown in sometimes for good measure.
I caught up with Michele during a wine tasting in central Massachusetts, where she explained all of the wine influences on her book writing. Apparently before beginning her writing each evening, she would pour herself a glass of Champagne - and not allow herself to drink it until she wrote five pages! She explained that alcohol is an integral part of our political scene, and she wanted her book to reflect that accurately.
The menu of wines and appetizers was inspired by the scenes in the book. For some reason even though only the first 18 pages are set in Italy, with the rest solidly in DC, our evening became one of French and Italian influences.
Tim Korby, a friend of mine who is the wine manager for a large wine shop, brought in the wines and began by pouring out the French 75s. Michele mentioned in her introductory talk that the French would serve these to their troops during World War I, to fortify them in the trenches. She said that the French soldiers would take any indignity of mud and death - but rebelled fiercely when their supply of Cognac for the cocktail was cut short. The Cognac soon flowed again.
I knew French 75s from the days of Casablanca - in the movie, Yvette is drinking them at the bar. As Tim played bartender and poured mine out, he said that a friend of his was very fond of French 75s - so every year they would drink them in his honor. Interestingly, at the tasting we had our French 75s not with French Champange, but with Italian prosecco!
The second wine poured was the prosecco on its own. For those who haven't had it, prosecco is a sparkling Italian wine that is light and on the sweet side. It is different from Asti Spumanti - less sweet, more refreshing.
On we moved to Est! Est!! Est!!!. There's a great story behind this wine, that a bishop was going through Rome and sent his lacky ahead to find good wine. The lacky was supposed to mark the inn's door with chalk when he found a good wine. The lacky was so impressed when he tasted this white wine that he wrote the "Est! Est!! Est!!!" on the door of the inn. The wine was light, delicate, with a hint of sparkle.
I was at the tasting with two friends, and while we drank we played a game with our complimentary copies of the book. We randomly flipped it open to look for a wine reference. Sure enough, EACH time we opened up the book there was at least one mention of wine on the two pages shown. Sometimes there was bourbon, or scotch. Apparently "people who drink scotch can't drink bourbon", according to the book.
Finally we had our chance to meet Michele Mitchell, the author herself. We got our books signed but she was constantly talking to other guests, so we weren't able to get in much discussion about the wines or wine-references. It was up to me to head home and read the book
I did in fact read the entire book when I got home, and while wine drinking does permeate the storyline, I have to say that I was a bit let down after Michele's long talk about her wine research. In the book, she only mentions French 75s in passing. The one name-tossing she indulges in comes when a bottle of 1986 Chateau Margaux is completely dumped in a fight. Yes, 1986 was a classic vintage - but I'd been hoping for a bit more. Just about every other reference was a generic throw-away item.
I thought back to the wine tasting we'd just finished. The tasting was of the most basic of wines, bypassing the great wines that France and Italy offer. We certainly didn't get to try any Margaux or Krug (the other name-wine mentioned in passing in the book). In a way, the light-and-breezy selections of the tasting matched the writing in the book.
In both cases they were fine for a casual perusal, but weren't quite as weighty as I would have liked. I didn't find either to be a strong reflection of what could have been offered.
My main perception of the book from a wine standpoint is that the wine references sprinkled liberally throughout the pages didn't reflect the research Michele talked about putting into this. Most scenes involve a glass of "Champagne" or just "a glass" thrown in for effect. Michele explained that even more references were removed by the editor as being excessive, and her mother accused her jokingly of being an alcoholic after reading a draft. The numerous references left in didn't add anything to the story - which is perhaps why they were trimmed.
When you read one of Robert Parker's Spenser books, you get a real sense of the how the wine choices reflect the characters who are drinking them. In Silence of the Lambs, the Amarone loved by the main character gave insight into his discriminating palate. In The Three Musketeers, the wines almost have their own life. However, in The Latest Bombshell, you could create a cardboard cut-out of "alcohol" and stick it into any given scene. It was that generic.
That insubstantial feeling was only part of the greater sense of lack of depth that the book gave me. Kate Boothe, the heroine, is supposedly a smart, savvy, sexy political consultant. This should be everything that I as a (hopefully) savvy woman should hope to promote. But what does Kate do? First off, she's obsessed with her boyfriend because he is uber-handsome. We hear about how he dresses well, how he's slick and smooth and gorgeous. This guy promptly deserts Kate during some of the roughest times of her life because "he's busy". Apparently he's too busy to even call or email her. By story end, Kate goes running back because, well, he's handsome.
Next, Kate and her coworker, a self-professed lady-killer, set out to clear the name of Kate's ex-boyfriend. There's no delving behind the scenes or investigations. Kate simply wanders from restaurant to bar and the clues are handed to her. She doesn't even really "harass" people. Events just march on around her. In many cases people explicitly tell her what to do. She feels guilty at the end that someone involved got hurt. In the meantime her "knights in shining armor" fight for her honor.
The ending was predictable. The last page mentions Champagne twice, while Kate checks her hair and talks about her handsome boyfriend.
I don't get much of a sense of journey in here - or of anything learned or gained. All we see is that people jump on bandwagons when it suits their purposes, and drink a lot while they do.
I really wanted to recommend this book and the wines served at the tasting - but I just in good conscience can't. My advice would be to pour yourself some French 75s with REAL French Champagne. Then rent or buy a copy of Casablanca. Sit back and enjoy. There's a true classic, with characters full of depth, realism, and a timeless spirit.
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All content on the WineIntro website is personally written by author and wine enthusiast Lisa Shea. WineIntro explores the delicious variety and beautiful history which makes up our world of wine! Lisa loves supporting local wineries and encouraging people to drink whatever they like. We all have different taste buds, and that makes our world wonderful. Always drink responsibly.