[Editor’s Note: Whether it’s solo at a sleepy seaside chiringuito or in the company of book club friends in an Eixample ático, Barcelona’s a natural at bringing together books and wine. When we discovered that Salut Wine Studio owner, Melissa Leighty, worked as an English teacher and writer before opening up her wine studio, the die was cast. Melissa offers up some of her favorite current reads, paired perfectly with a wine to sip while getting lost in the story.]
A Year of Good Eating – Nigel Slater
If you’ve ever caught Nigel Slater’s column in The Guardian, you’ll be familiar with his prose, which feels akin to levering open a handwritten letter on a chilly day, a steaming cup of tea at hand. His cookbook is a generous 500+ page tome, organized in the form of diary entries about what he’s cooking that day. His entry, March 31 – ‘Return to earth’, with its accompanying green olive and thyme focaccia, strikes just the right chord these days. This hefty volume is pure comfort food filled with quiet observations about life outside his window and recipes driven by what’s fresh from the garden. The recipes are short on ingredients and whip together in a moment, easy fare for balancing working at home and a busy family life.
The Wine: Sumoll, with enough rustic body to match Slater’s earthy, no-fuss recipes.
Our pairing: Mont-Rubí Gaintus Radical Sumoll 2017, €15.50
Mont Rubi is considered the pioneer in rescuing the Sumoll grape from extinction. Rustic and hard to manage both in the vineyard and in the cellar, this grape was tossed aside for easier varieties and nearly lost until Mont Rubi made the first monovarietal wine from it and gained numerous accolades for their efforts. Mont Rubi’s Gaintus Radical–named for its ‘radical’, almost natural style–is a fruity, floral wine with a punch of earthiness that makes it an excellent pairing for so many of Slater’s recipes.
The Elephant Vanishes – Haruki Murakami
Haruki Murakami’s book of short stories, The Elephant Vanishes, is just strange enough to make you forget about the new normal. The collection of 17 previously published short stories employs Murakami’s magical realism at its best with disappearing elephants, from kangaroos , gnomes that dance. Despite the heavier themes that run through it–loss, destruction, confusion and loneliness–the stories incorporate his signature playfulness that keeps it feeling like a light read.
The Wine: Trepat for a whiff of something familiar (Pinot Noir) but that still keeps you guessing.
Our pairing: Celler Carles Andreu Trepat, €15
If Mencia is the Pinot Noir of Spain, then Trepat could be considered the Pinot Noir of Catalunya. It’s light on its feet, redolent of juicy strawberries and black pepper, and has just enough in common with a good Pinot to keep you grounded in the familiar. It makes berry-fresh cavas and, despite its light body, is an assertive match for food as a still wine. Try the classic version by Carles Andreu, which offers a dollop of currants and spice on the nose with subtle savory notes like fennel and herbs in the background that might make it the perfect off-kilter match for the omnipresent Italian dishes popping up in Murakami’s works.
Why I Wake Early – Mary Oliver
Mary Oliver’s Why I Wake Early is a collection of 47 poems, which together form a meditation on finding happiness through the natural world. In each, Oliver expresses an almost giddy desire for connectedness between humans and the natural world. She turns her lens on the smallest movements, but it’s when she punctuates them with the bigger picture that she really hits home. There’s no more poignant question for the day than hers: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / With your one wild and precious life?”
The Wine: Pansa Blanca whose high-acidity zing and hint of lime blossoms will inspire you to get back to nature.
Our pairing: Oriol Artigas La Rumbera, €15.50
Made from 50-year-old vines of Pansa Blanca–Alella’s version of Xarello–Oriol Artigas has created a natural wine that captures the signature beauty of the region–a bright acidity from granite soils and a slight salinity from the sea. Oriol’s winemaking, he explains, is a search for identity, each bottle an interpretation of the landscape he grew up in. We can only imagine that if Mary was around, she’d approve.
Becoming – Michelle Obama
Becoming by former first lady Michelle Obama has been a wildly popular pick since its publication in 2018, but reading it in 2020 might just be the ameliorate you’ve been looking for. While it balances itself somewhere between personal journey memoir and memoir of a presidency, it’s a book that, despite its hard lessons about cultural matrices, politics, and motherhood, tries not to take itself too seriously.
The Wine: Garnacha, spicy yet soft on the palate to match Obama’s balancing act between a tough message and a soft approach.
Our pairing: La del Terreno Ninja de las Uvas 2018, €12.50
Ninja de las Uvas is made by the up and coming Julia Casado is making a new Spanish wine–100% Grenache in a super light-bodied style. Her Ninja de las Uvas comes from D.O.P. Bullas, in Murcia, where she produces a fruity Grenache full of crushed Mediterranean herbs and delicate floral perfume that will make you want to stop and smell the flowers.
The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Stepping into the pages of The Shadow of the Wind is truly magical, even if you’ve already read it. Zafon’s story about a boy who wanders the atmospheric corners of old Barcelona seeking the true story of what happened to Julian Carax, the author of a book he discovers in a labyrinthine old library. Set in 1945, the shadowy presence of the civil war, the novel works its way backwards in time as young Daniel peels away the complex layers of history, discovering tales of espionage, doomed love and murder. For those who want a peek into Barcelona’s storied past, there’s no better escape than this one.
The Wine: Garnatxa Blanca whose lush, aromatic intensity is the perfect match for a stroll through memories of the past.
Our pairing: Vins de la Memoria La Bruixa, €32
Xavi Nolla’s project is to honor his grandfather who fought in the Spanish civil war with his collection of 8 wines, each a tribute to another aspect of the soldier’s lived experience. La Bruixa (the witch) is named for the front that clandestinely appeared and disappeared in the battles of Aragon and Catalonia. On August 6th, La Bruixa soldiers, including Xavi’s grandfather, arrived in Vilalba dels Arcs, right where this vineyard is located. Made of (80%) White Grenache the wine was macerated and fermented with the skins to bring out the floral, herbaceous and fruity notes of the grape.
Check out The Wine Diaries for more wine and bodega recommendations.
Guest Author: Melissa Leighty is the founder of Salut Wine Studio, a small wine tasting and educational space in El Born. WSET level 3 certified, Melissa specializes in teaching all about Catalan and Spanish wines. When she’s not in her studio, surrounded by bottles, Melissa finds her happy place somewhere between chasing her wily toddler and sipping a crisp Xarello Vermell in the vineyards of Penedès.