Sunday, November 24, 2019

A Stunning Historical Fiction, French Bubbles, and Soupe à l'Oignon Gratinée #TheWinemakersWife #Winophiles #Sponsored

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of author Kristin Harmel and publisher Gallery Books.
This page may contain affiliate links, but all comments and opinions are my own.

When a publishing contact asked if one of my wine groups might be interested in a collaboration, I jumped at the chance. Then I contacted the French Winophiles and gathered a list of people who would be willing to read, comment, and create a pairing. Done!

Many thanks to Gallery Books* for the review copy and to Kristin Harmel for such a stunning book - The Winemaker's Wife. But, I'm getting ahead of myself. As the other #Winophiles' posts go live, I'll add their links below. Here is who is participating...
On the Page

If you follow me at all, you might know that historical fiction is my bailiwick. I read a lot of non-fiction, but give me a well-researched novel any day. Have it set in another country and add wine to it...and I'm a goner. In fact, after a fourteen-hour day chaperoning the robotics team, I climbed into bed with a glass of wine and didn't climb out of bed until I was finished reading this morning.

I was previous unacquainted with author Kristin Harmel, but I now have two other books of hers on request at the library. I'm impressed and can't wait to dive into her other titles. 

The book spans two times periods: Champagne, 1940, and New York and Champagne, 2019. In 1940 we meet Inès, a naïve newlywed, who is married to the owner of renowned Champagne house Maison Chauveau, Michel Chauveau. In New York we meet Olivia (Liv) Thierry Kent whose divorce decree still has wet ink when her eccentric French grandmother Edith shows up and whisks her away to Paris. 

"'I'm here because today's the day you are officially free of that soul-sucking salaud. I hate to say I told you so, but... Enough wallowing, now, Olivia. Our plane leaves in four and a half hours, and you know how security is at JFK. ...Try to keep up, dear.' Grandma Edith rolled her eyes and drained the rest of her martini. 'We are going to Paris, of course'" (pg. 11). 

Turns out Edith, Inès' lifelong friend, was part of La Résistance - the French who rallied against German occupation - and used her restaurant, Brasserie Moulin - to spy on Nazis. Inès accused her friend of serving Germans in the brasserie; Edith laid it out: "'We are fighting for France. ...Because alcohol loosens lips. ...And loose lips means that secrets sometimes spill out, We smile, and we cater to their every need, and always - always, Inès, we are listening'" (pg. 81). 

So, this is a tale about friends, lovers, secrets, betrayals, determination, wine-making, and redemption - most of all about redemption, in my mind. "'Whatever happened at Maison Chauveau, Liv, your grandmother is a good woman. But she has never been able to forgive herself for the terrible mistakes she made seventy-five years ago. ..My grandfather says it's one of the greatest tragedies he has ever seen; your grandmother has lived her whole life defined by her guilt over what she did'" (pg. 354). 

"Samuel spoke at her small memorial service, and in his words, Liv met a grandmother she had never known, a brave and sad woman who had sheltered refuges and fought Nazis in the forests of France, a woman who had found her way to America all alone to give her son a better life. ...'She was a hero, though she never saw herself that way. ...But it is how I will always remember her...'" (pg .364). 

The prose is vivid; the characters are simultaneously brave, fragile, and resilient. And the plot of The Winemaker's Wife is a heart-wrenching tale that gives us a unique insight into those who lived and survived in the Champagne region during this horrific part of our global history. Oh, and there's a shocking turn of events...but I won't ruin that for you. Just read it!

In the author's note, Harmel shares, "...one of the most fascinating things I discovered at the outset of my research was the Count Robert-Jean de Vogüé, the managing director of the storied Moët & Chandon during the war, was also the leader of the Resistance movement in this area of France. ...But de Vogüé's story is just the tip of the iceberg. Throughout the region, cellars, and crayères were used to hide weapons, downed pilots, and refugees. ...At champagne houses including Krug, Piper-Heidsiekc, Ruinart, and, of course, Moët & Chandon, people spent the war risking their lives for the cause" (pg. 381). 


In the Glass
While I typically don't opt for Champagne, I wanted to a pour and pair bottle for this post. A small bottle at that. One of the reasons that I don't usually buy Champagne is the price tag. Bubbles from other places are so much more affordable...even other sparkling wines from different regions in France, for example Crémant de Bourgogne, Crémant de Loire, and Crémant de Limoux. Most of the time I pick up bottles of Italian bubbles Prosecco or Prosecco Superiore for fancier occasions. Spanish Cava is also a more affordable choice.

For this, I picked a mini bottle of Pommery POP Extra Dry. Madame Pommery was one of the Champagne widows who took over the Champagne house after her husband's death when she was just under forty years old. Born Jeanne Alexandrine Louise Melin in 1819. She married Alexandre Pommery, a member of a prominent wool family in Reims, and had two children nearly two decades years apart before Alexandre got into the wine-making business. She is credited as being a brilliant entrepreneur and one who was a pioneer in wine tourism. She created an estate in Champagne that appealed to and catered to British tourists.


An elegant pour, this Champagne has characteristic floral notes with hints of citrus. On the palate, it's refreshingly dry with a tinge of sweetness that softens the wine and makes it incredibly food-friendly.

In the Bowl

I thought about a cheese pairing, but decided to go for my favorite French soup instead - Soupe à l'Oignon Gratinée.
Ingredients
  • ¼ C butter
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 5 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced (I use a mandolin slicer)
  • ½ t fresh thyme + more for garnish
  • 2 T dry wine
  • 3½ C beef stock
  • 1½ t salt
  • ½ t black pepper
  • slices of French bread, grilled or toasted
  • ½ C Gruyere cheese, shredded
Procedure

Melt the butter in olive oil in a large soup pot, or Dutch oven, over medium heat. Stir in the onions, and thyme. After 15 minutes, or as soon as the onions begin to brown, reduce the heat and cover, stirring frequently. Cook until the onions are caramelized, approximately 30 to 40 minutes.

Stir in the salt and pepper. Pour in the wine and raise the heat. Bring the liquid to a boil and let the alcohol cook off, approximately 2 to 3 minutes. Pour in the beef stock and bring it back to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for another 20 to 30 minutes. Season to taste with more salt and pepper, as needed.


While the soup finishes, prepare the toasts. Grill or griddle and toast your breads until they are crispy, turning frequently so they don't burn.

Top the toasts with 1 T grated cheese and lightly tent with foil until the cheese is melted. 

To serve, ladle soup into individual bowls, float cheese toasts on the top, and serve immediately.

You may find Kristin Harmel on the webon Facebook, and on Twitter.
You may find Gallery Books on the web, on Facebook, on Twitter,and on  Instagram.

*This blog currently has a partnership with Amazon.com in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to Amazon.com and search for the item of your choice.

I have also added this to #FoodieReads.
Click to see what everyone else read in November 2019: here.

3 comments:

  1. Great review, great wine choice, great recipe. Thanks for including me in this event.

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  2. I am with you, I usually read nonfiction, but now I am a Kristin Harmel fan and historical fiction. I look forward to diving into some other titles by Harmel! And yes, I also had a glass of Champagne while reading the book.... and a pairing!

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  3. I so enjoyed the book! I tore right through it!

    ReplyDelete